I want to write about body image. I want to pull together this eloquent synopsis of how magical my body is for creating a tiny human, despite it’s shortcomings. That I built a person and then fed him for a year with this body. I sustained life. I am magical. Body positivity everywhere! But I can’t pull it together. Quite honestly, my heart isn’t in it. Not because I don’t believe it. I do. I am in awe of what my body accomplished. The things it is capable of. Though my experience was laced with struggle and pain, the end certainly justified the means. When my son was tucked beneath my ribs, I marveled at my growing belly. The majesty of it all. But the one thought that scrolls through my mind, on a pretty regular basis, is that I thought my body would be mine again, once my son was born. My son will be two in a little over a week- my body just now beginning to feel like home again. But even so, it is like someone moved the furniture around while I was at work. The outlines are familiar, but the details are foreign.
When I contemplated creating a carbon copy of my own, I did consider the vanity of it all. I worried about my body changing. I will be the first to admit that I have always struggled with self acceptance. I have never looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. So the idea of altering that reflection further, gave me pause. My desire to create a life born of love eventually overshadowed the reservations. At least enough to generate this most precious of lives.
Throughout my pregnancy I slathered my belly with any elixir that promised to preserve my skins appearance and elasticity. The vanity forever in the back of my mind. The need to return to my pre-pregnancy body as quickly as possible. To retain some sort of worth. I don’t think I realized it was that, until I sat down to pen this ode to my body. I don’t know that anyone specific made me feel like my physique was where my worth resided. Not overtly. I could make sweeping declarations about magazine adds and the such. And some of that is true. But I think it may be a more basic instinct than that. One desires to be attractive. To be valued. To be wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, I have searched for my ever elusive value the entirety of my life. I have searched for it in theater, swimming, academics, career success. It isn’t something I thought I could achieve solely through my body type. But as my body changed due to a malfunctioning organ, the intensity from which I judged said body increased to a degree that would boarder on self hate. The changes I underwent over the years, as my body began to hoard weight, felt uncontrollable. No diet regimen or workout routine made an impact. Bearing a child, on the other hand, was a distinct choice. A path I walked down willingly.
As pregnancy progressed, I no longer looked upon my belly with disdain. I began searching it. I enjoyed exploring the abdomen that housed my son, feeling for a newfound roundness. I extinguished working for a flat stomach, but prayed for the swollen belly of a healthy pregnancy. Though I worried about the lasting effects of this metamorphosis, I also sat in awe of the process.
My awe ended with the birth of my son. My body was no longer a home for this being I loved more than anything I could have imagined. Instead, my body was a reflection of everything I didn’t want it to be.
A road map of stretched skin and scars-weight that seemed would never be lost. Shame.
I didn’t want photos taken of me. I didn’t want to view my reflection in the mirror. Braving the world to see friends created a panic. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. I didn’t want to see myself. My body as a source of pride had abruptly ended.
This is where it feels like I should write something empowering. The natural evolution. But I don’t have it. When I remember the first year of my son’s life, I remember scrutinizing my body in the shower. Avoiding mirrors. In addition to the examination I tortured myself and Moose’s father with on a daily basis, my body was further leased out. I was a mobile eatery for an insatiable nursling. All clothing choices ran through the filters of nursing and pumping. The activities that became a second job. An obsession I clung to. The task my anxiety required to be a success. Something I cried over more than I care to admit. A second stage to my body not being my own that I wasn’t fully prepared for.
So here I sit, just shy of three years after my transformation began. The pregnancy past. Nursing completed. The weight lost. I finally feel like myself, more or less. My body doesn’t rebel when I try to curl into a ball- my natural state of comfort. I can chase after my son in the backyard without having to pause and catch my breath. When my father sends me into tight spaces on a measure, I no longer worry if I will fit. But the scrutiny hasn’t abated. If anything, it has increased. Now I have worries of starting a life with someone new. Someone who isn’t the father of my son. The force that altered my body forever.
When I started thinking about dating- giving myself a chance at living again- I worried about all of the things anyone starting afresh does.
Am I lovable? Did I break my last relationship? Will I break the next? Are second chances possible? Am I enough?
These thoughts have become my companions. They creep into my consciousness any chance they get. Quiet moments of reflection always bear their presence. But as my divorce finally draws to a close- the reality of freedom to date again- brings new fears. Who could love this? Not just what resides in my head and heart, but this body that feels distorted. With Moose’s father, at least he remembered me as young woman. He had those memories to cling to, when he viewed this evolution. Someone new will only know this version. They won’t have the idealized vision of the woman I have become. The gradual metamorphosis into this older, changed body.
I struggle to find the conclusion to this. Frankly, because there isn’t one. I haven’t had some beautiful, eye opening epiphany that helps me view my body as an empowered woman. I follow TakeBackPostpartum on Instagram. They share these amazing posts of women celebrating the changes their bodies have experienced in the process of creating life- like bad-asses. I love their messages of loving your scars, stretch marks, and forever changed body. I envy their confidence and self acceptance. I follow them in hopes that one day I can look in the mirror and feel miraculous like they do, instead of pulling at my skin, dissecting the appearance of my breasts, or examining the evidence of my c-section. I want their message to penetrate my mind- my heart- my belief. Maybe one day it will. Maybe one day my pride for what my body did will overshadow my insecurity. But today isn’t that day. Maybe that fact- the acceptance of the fear and dissection- are what should be honored. It’s ok to not love my body. It’s ok to be exactly where I am.