My first pregnancy was exhausting. I threw up almost every day for nine months. My hair did not get beautiful and shiny and instead fell out, leaving me no choice but to cut eight inches off in an attempt to keep some semblance of health. I remember getting compliments the whole way through, people saying that my body looked like I was born to be pregnant. I had the perfect “basketball” bump, but still, I woke up every morning and frantically checked myself for stretch marks or varicose veins, terrified of any lasting damage that would come to my 21-year-old body. I hated seeing my body morphing before me, losing the pieces of me that had made up my identity for so long.
When I looked in the mirror and thought it was impossible for me to even picture when I had been not pregnant, when I thought I would never know what I looked like without an extra 40 pounds clinging to every part of my body (even the non-pregnant parts), my daughter was born. I winced when I first felt my squishy, hollow belly right after birth. No one tells you about the first time you try to hoist yourself up without anything in your abdomen to give you leverage. Your baby is in your arms, but your abs are still in the wrong place. I waited anxiously in the days following for the excess water to drain out of my face, ankles, and arms. I checked the scale too frequently, waiting for the numbers to look more familiar, willing myself to take any opportunity to try on the two-thirds of my closet that had been neglected for the better part of the previous year. I convinced myself to be miserable until I was back to the person I wanted to be. And miserable I was.
But one day, a few months later, I woke up normal. I had no memory of stretch marks or hip pain or heartburn. I could see hints of some abs creeping back to the surface on my belly. I burned over 600 calories per day nursing my big baby girl and I relished it. I started to work out, with one baby in tow, and I felt like I’d achieved the unachievable: I beat post-pregnancy. I looked normal. My body was thin and my hair had grown back thick. (It pays to get pregnant when you’re young!)
Cue Pregnancy #2. My husband and I have always wanted a big family and as a twin, I wanted my kids to experience siblinghood close in age. We got a positive test when my daughter was seven months old, and we were thrilled. I reminded myself the whole pregnancy– through sickness and through stretch marks — that I would go back to normal quickly after it was all over. I had already overcome pregnancy once! How difficult could it be to do it again? So, I ate a few more cookies and I worked out a little less. My post-baby body was the new image I kept in my head going forward, and when I stared at myself in the mirror at nine months pregnant, I started to love what my frail little body had done in the last year. Two babies in 17 months! What a feat!
I did not flinch when I felt my water balloon tummy after birth, and I did not step on the scale every day. I held onto my stretchy waistbands longer than I probably needed to and I trusted that my body could overcome the second trauma I had put it through. My mind went back to normal long before my body did.
Cue Pregnancy #3. I am currently pregnant with my third, due the first week of December. My oldest will be not-yet-three. My second will be 17 months. At some point, the benefits of being pregnant young are overruled by the inability to stay not pregnant. My body remembered quickly that we had done this not too long ago. My hips took no time to start stretching and my bump could not be camouflaged nearly as long.
It’s just different now. My pelvic floor aches for a while after I have sex, or jump, or sneeze, or laugh too hard. The “perk” of having a nice full chest is less of a perk (because there’s really not much perk left in them, three babies later!). I know that this time, my body will cling to some of my “baby insulation” even after this sweet baby is no longer inside. I know my hair will probably thin and I will need to cut it, as I have every time so far. My skin will break out when my hormones can’t figure themselves out and I will use at least three times the amount of deodorant that I used in my pre-pregnant life. My body is just so different. Even when the number on the scale is the same, my body just isn’t the same shape. My skin is just not the same texture.
But neither is my heart.
I look in the mirror, over halfway through this pregnancy, and I feel no fear of the stretch marks and extra skin that await me in four months’ time. In fact, I kind of look forward to them! My body has carried three children in less than three years. It has withstood traumatic labors, joint pain from extra weight, and emotional, hormonal roller coasters that left me breathless and crying.
Three babies in, I wear these stretch marks with pride, knowing that whatever body I have when all is said and done is something that could only be created through the bravery and resilience it takes to carry a child from conception to birth. It is a terrifying and challenging and noble feat. It takes pride and sacrifice, selflessness and self-assurance. It takes succumbing to exhaustion, taking late assignments, knowing my limits. I’m finding that the strength I thought I had the first time around, pretending that I wasn’t in any way weaker or changed as a result of “condition” was all just a ruse. It takes more strength to take care of yourself. It takes more work to ignore the housework and take a nap. It takes more confidence to succumb to comfort and wear a stretchy waistband than it does to squeeze into a prideful pair of jeans.
It took me three rounds in three years, but finally, I am recognizing that the very thing I dreaded — resented, even — is the thing that makes me strong enough to do it all.
Mama, may your beauty and your self-worth be ever deepening as you create worth for the little people in your life. May you know your strength by the times you say no as deeply as in the times you say yes. May your body never look the same, because this is the way it was always intended to be, and may you embrace those marks with a pride that comes only in the knowledge that no workout or surgery or lotion could ever remove the proof that you created life from scratch. Cheers to swollen ankles and wide hips, mamas! May our lives be intimately changed, just as our bodies have been!