The holidays are a magical time. You visit Santa, you wrap presents, you are one in a sea of about five bazillion people shopping at the last minute… You see family and friends that you haven’t seen in a while. Everyone is filled with joy and good cheer and they’re all eager to tell you what they’ve been up to this year, and looking to hear your news as well.
Enter yours truly, or more specifically, yours truly’s poor midsection, which has stretched to its limit three times and looks very much the worse for wear. In people’s quest to discover good news, their eyes invariably make a beeline to this part of the body.
The idea is for my belly to be done with its magic tricks, but let’s just say it doesn’t exactly always look that way.
Something vaguely magical and entirely tragic happens to your body after you have had children. The trauma of pregnancy, childbirth, and chasing a small squalling person all over creation really does a number on you. That beautiful elasticity that you never appreciated when you were younger takes the day off and never returns. And it gets worse each time you go through this ritual.
Did you know some women’s feet go through changes during pregnancy? Sometimes once the baby is delivered, they go back to normal, but sometimes they don’t. A mom I know went up half a size and had to get all new shoes. If your feet can be affected by childbearing, what in the world does it do to your poor tummy?!
Destroys it, that’s what.
Any woman who has gone through these changes will vouch for the toll it takes on you, but in case you don’t believe them, science has proven time and again that a woman’s body is wracked with changes during and after pregnancy and childbirth. I won’t go into gory details. If you have experienced it, you don’t need me to, and if you haven’t, please hold on tightly to your blissful ignorance.
But here’s the catch: those crazy changes have brought me three beautiful blessings. And they just keep getting bigger! And now, my three children watch my every move. I think they aren’t paying attention, but they are. They use words I’ve tried to hide from them. They see me when I’m not even aware I’m picking at my nails, and guess what they do? Pick their own nails.
And what about what my two sweet little girls might see when I look in the mirror? Do they see me suck in my belly? Do they see the disappointment that I still have a pouch? I disparage magazines and television and everything in the world for pushing the size-zero ideal for a woman’s body, but what am I teaching them, myself?
Moms! They are watching!!
I would much rather have my girls catch me with eyes full of confidence, regardless of my physical state. (It would also be wonderful if they could catch me consistently making good diet and fitness choices, but let’s take this one step at a time.)
For now, I will try to cut myself some slack. My body has performed some pretty miraculous feats. My poor belly has stretched out to the maximum with three full-term pregnancies. These were followed by three natural births, one of which — gasp! — took place in the front seat of a moving vehicle. In total, I have spent about 37 months breastfeeding those three little critters. I have carried those children all around, even when they are much too big to be carried. Cuddling. Potty training. Teaching everything from walking to cartwheels to roller skating. Intermittent periods of very little sleep.
Really, this body is in pretty amazing shape, considering what it’s been through.
I would very much like for you to join me in making a new kind of New Year’s resolution. How about we decide that this is the year we will look in the mirror with affection and tolerance? We will teach our little girls that we love the body we are in, even if it’s a work in progress. We will accept compliments with “Thank you!” instead of with surprise and disbelief. And when those insufferable people glance at our bellies, we will smile like Jennifer Garner did and say, “Yes. That’s my baby bump. Its name is Samantha, Tanner, and Emmaline.”
And yes, it may take baby steps, but let’s aim for the moon: maybe we can even come to love that baby bump.