A Mother’s Body
The skin is pulled tautly over my rounded belly and my full breasts sit high on my chest. The photo of my pregnant body in its ninth month is displayed on the bookshelf above my bathtub. I look at that picture almost nightly. Not only do I find the curves and silhouette of my maternal frame captivating, I am drawn to the expression on my face. There are no lines indicating worry or discomfort, my lips rest lightly together, and slightly curl at the ends but it is the eyes that speak to me. There is a peaceful calm exuding from my stare, owning my nakedness with a confidence that I had never felt before, or for that matter, since.
Many women feel at their most beautiful when they are pregnant. Sarah, a mother of three from Ottawa, loved being pregnant and describes her first pregnancy as though it felt like an experience she was waiting her entire life for. “My wide hips helped make my first birth a relatively easy process (as far as births go). I just loved never having to suck in my belly – I could let it all hang out! I really do feel like I never felt better than when I was pregnant the first time.” Sarah is not alone in admiring how awesome a woman’s body truly is. Mirielle, a Toronto mother of two, says of her pregnant body, “I was in awe of its incredible capacity every passing week… it was truly one of the best experiences of my life where I could focus on myself and the needs of my unborn baby without feeling guilty for neglecting something else.”
Some nights, when my self-confidence is wavering, I look at those pictures and long for that unbridled self-love. Soaking in the bath water, I admire the toll three pregnancies have taken on my body. Like battles scars the silvery stretch marks tell a story. The long spindly looking one running up the left side of my abdomen is from the first time my belly stretched to cradle an unborn child. The series of red claw-like indentations along my pubic bone are the newest markings to my canvas. My breasts and stomach sag, the skin like a deflated balloon and a thickness has settled around my waist.
I knew that pregnancy would forever alter my body and most days I wear these changes with pride but living in a culture where celebrity baby bumps has become a spectator sport and images of lithe post-baby bodies are plastered across virtually every glossy tabloid magazine, I would be liar to say my body image hasn’t taken a hit.
I remember being shocked at how my body looked in the days following the birth of my eldest son. I wasn’t prepared that I would still look pregnant. The experts at Just The Facts Baby say that when a woman leaves the hospital after giving birth her uterus is still as large as when she was twenty weeks pregnant and Baby Centre reports that post-baby a woman’s body can appear rounder in the hips, thicker in the waist and softer in the tummy after she has bore a child.
Sarah’s first pregnancy was a singleton and she found that she was able to bounce back into shape pretty quickly but after the C-section she experienced with her twins her post-baby body image wasn’t as positive. “Between carrying two babies to term and having a c-section my stomach is a mess of yucky, saggy skin and stretch marks. I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder whose belly that is!” While Mirielle was forewarned, by her mommy-friends that she wouldn’t be slipping back into her skinny jeans a few weeks post-partum she remembers being surprised by the length of time it took for her to fit back into her shirts due to breastfeeding.
A Mother’s Energy
Since having my third child a few months ago, in addition to the changes in my body, I have noticed a change in my energy. Exercise and alone time used to re-charge me but now I find that the demands of having three young children under the age of four take up most of day and energy, leaving little left over for myself. Sarah, Mirielle and many other mothers report the same thing.
This post is the first in a series. Next week will explore how to incorporate exercise into busy lives, the benefits of exercise for a healthy body image, and how parents can use exercise to provide the ultimate self-care.
How has your body image changed since having children? Or has it?
photo credit: http://www.blogcdn.com/www.parentdish.com/media/2009/08/naked-pregnant-woman-240js080509.jpg
I, too, am a mom of three – my youngest is almost 9 months old. There is much about my body image that has changed for the better – I feel so much stronger and actually more feminine since becoming a mom. I was never a girly-girl, so I think the process of being pregnant and giving birth really put me more in touch with my own femininity (or maybe it’s because I have 2 girls). But it has also changed in a negative way – similar to what you’ve shared…how is it that all of the real moms I know suffer from the aftermath of pregnancy and childbirth (stretch marks, sagging, enlarging), but not the celebrities?
At any rate, I’m so sorry for my long comment, but your post really got me thinking. I’m looking forward to more in this series!
I have never felt more feminine than when I was pregnant too and like you, I know not to compare myself to celebrities portrayed in media (because let’s face it, what we see is not reality) but somehow, sometimes, I lose sight of that. What I really want is to find time to nourish my new body and love it. Find time to exercise for my sanity and yes, my butt.
The other day my five year old grandson asked if he could see my “baby marks”. That made my heart melt. I have a very distinctive pattern around my belly button that looks like a pot leaf. Strange I know. That is from his dad. My daughter left several lines on the left side of my stomach.
Yesterday I was at my grandson’s house and they have the belly cast from his mom hanging in his room. He wanted to know everything about it, asking me all sorts of interesting questions. It was a great conversation to have with him. His mother is a doula so he gets to see a lot things about pregnancy and birth and sometimes he has the funniest questions or comments.
I think birth is the most magical and wonderful thing ever. Pregnant woman are gorgous. It’s nice that we don’t have to hide it anymore and act as if it’s shameful. It’s a thing of beauty and pride.
I love that you call them “baby marks” and like me, know which marks are the result of which pregnancy. I feel so much better about my post-baby body reading these comments and the emails that I have received. It further supports my thinking that women’s bodies, post-babies too, should be celebrated for what they are and not subject to (media) scrutiny.
Thanks for you comment. Cute story about your grandson.
I wish I had been able to experience this but alas was unable to biologically have my own children. I have an adopted son who I am grateful for every day. I always felt/feel on the outside of discussions amongst other mothers of motherhood around birth, breastfeeding (could not do this either) and biology (he looks like you, no he doesn’t, does he look like your husband? or your father?). The conversations reached a mythical level glorification and sometimes vilification of the scars of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding. I try to remind myself that this does not make me any less a mother in every sense of the word, which is assisted by the fact that I am also adopted and understand the dynamics of the relationship personally. Birth is wonderful, and your scars should most certainly not be sources of shame. Just be conscious that there are all kinds of mothers out there 🙂 I have scars from the journey of bringing my son into my heart and family and although they are things of beauty, they are not necessarily visible from the outside.
Your comment just made me stop. And think. I have re-read it several times, and I am moved by your openness. Thank you for reminding me that not all mothers birthed their children but they travelled no less of a journey to arrive at motherhood.
Thank you for that – and I love the blog!
I find that I am much more forgiving of the flaws wrought by motherhood than the flaws wrought by genetics. The heavy thighs shared by most of the women in my father’s family? An abomination! The stretch marks on my tummy–a tummy that curved inwards before pregnancy, and will now, I suspect, be forever squishy? A beautiful memento of the time my two girls spent there (separately). I would not change them, or remove them, for the world. My waist is permanently thicker, and I’m absolutely fine with that too. I’m unimpressed enough with the varicose veins that I will be having them treated, but even so, in the meantime I regard them with an amusement that I don’t experience when contemplating my pre-childbearing aesthetic flaws.
But my body’s reproductive failings have also generated new levels of loathing. I never liked my breasts. But when they failed comprehensively to produce anywhere near enough milk to sustain an infant, that become hatred, viscious hatred. (Ironically, I had thought that having children would make me finally like them, once they’d done their biological task!) And I lost two babies to blood clots my uterus developed for unknown reasons. I hated my body then too, because it felt like my body was attacking my babies. I have felt very detached from my body at times, when it has felt like my body has not wanted my babies to survive and to thrive.
While pregnant, I treated my body with tender loving care for the first time in my life. For as long as I can remember I have struggled with eating disorders and battled my body. I still struggle at times–I don’t think anyone ever completely overcomes ED–but after having my daughter I sought ways to support, nourish and appreciate my body instead of punishing it. Yoga was the answer for me. It helped me continue through the door pregnancy had opened and make peace with my body. It’s definitely a journey and some days are definitely better than others, but I don’t hate my body. Most days I actually appreciate it. While I don’t have a perfect figure, I’m strong, healthy and I feel good.