A recent comment from a poet and friend “Learning to admire my not-as-narrow waist and not-as-board-flat-tummy” inspired me to post this again.
My friend, Emily, cuts my hair at Off 7th Studio, Steamboat Springs. She and I were pregnant together and talked a lot about every thing: would pregnancy turn us into women we wouldn’t recognize. Would we really fall head-over-heels in love with our babies even if they weren’t cute? Would our baby boys eclipse our love for the work we loved now? Would our bodies every look the same?
We didn’t need to worry quite so much. We got together this week and sighed in relief about some things; Emily still cuts hair and I still write and speak.
This week we talked about our mommy bellies. We both have lots of dissatisfaction to go around.
For several months since Finn’s birth I’ve been wondering if I”ll look as good as my friend, Stephanie, after she had her first. Will I get my waist back like she did? Will my stomach ever feel firm?
The Time Factor
Emily tells me how she’ll open up magazine articles that promise five easy steps for getting your body back or losing your mommy tummy. These usually feature a glowing, flat-tummied model or celebrity. For an example watch this short Today Show clip, “Getting Your Sexy Back.“ Reading along the fashion mag columns Emily finds the crucial difference between us and them, LEISURE TIME.
“If I had that much free time, or a nanny, or a personal trainer,” exclaims Em, “I’d look that good, too!”
Emily, like me, is a working mom who does not enjoy the benefits of childcare. Her husband parents their son, Sawyer, when she works. Sometimes a friend or family members will help out, but these are unusual times. Emily covers nighttime feedings and the morning shift until she leaves for work where she stands on her feet for eight hours making the women of Steamboat beautiful.
When is she going to work out and get rid of her mommy bulge? Us non-celebrity women whose job does not require we slide into size 4 jeans wake-up to different schedules. We rise for 2am feedings, spend our work-out energy on caring for our babies and our bodies look like, well, like we once carried a baby inside.
When are we supposed to get our old body back?
Here’s a picture of me and Dale three months after Finn’s birth. Notice, I’m wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes, but I can tell even if you cannot that my belly is not the same as before Finn arrived. I’m NOT posting this to get encouragement that I look great, or to hear you tell me to be more patient or I have nothing to complain about.
I’m posting it to note and admit, to be bold and own my body’s changes.
“It’s hard!” Emily says and we co-commiserate about people in our lives who make rude comments about our bodies. These usually come from women who have some “helpful” advice. We remember the bodies we used to have.
Sometimes, I think Emily is more honest than I. That’s why I like her.
Flat tummies are beginning to fall flat on me.
As I think about my tummy, I think about other abdomens that housed humans. Eve’s belly, the one artists like to paint more rounded than flat. The womb of Mary, the mother of God, Elizabeth, her cousin, who was pregnant with the kicking, spirit-filled boy we know as John the Baptizer. Have you ever noticed how male artists capture these Biblical women’s bellies? They’re often shown with rounded bellies, even after birth. Take this one of Eve, she’s not afraid to bare her pre-baby pooch. I don’t think Mary got absorbed into Fit Pregnancy’s article to find out how to fit into her skinny jeans . . . err robe.
Even an artist as modern as Edvard Munch did well to paint this nude of Mary with a respectably rounded, sensuous belly. I like that rendering of this young mother.
The anxiety I feel to “get my pre-pregnancy body back” wasn’t something Mary navigated each day. I don’t think Mary would have believed the belly bulge comments about her post-Jesus body. I can’t imagine her referring disparagingly to her pooch as a “pooch.”
I used to be able to lay my forearm flat against my stomach, a flat bridge linking two hip bones. Now I lay my arm against my abdomen and I must curve my wrist, cradling the space that Finn called home. It’s a gesture of nurture or protection, not a measuring stick.
I could keep cradling the space that made room for Finn.
In the good times (read well-rested), in the moments when I wake after Finn has graced me with a full night’s rest, I value my post-Finn body. I don’t want my flat tummy back because that tummy never stretched to accommodate my son.
Competing Against Myself
My photography friend, Savannah, once said, “I find myself constantly referencing my mom friends with their pre-baby bodies. It feels like in this modern day, where so much focus is on the young childless woman, that the woman who has born children is looked down upon and can never return to the ranks of the barren bodies. You bear a child, you are hereby cast out of the class of small hips, tight stomachs, perky boobs never to return again so don’t bother to believe that your bodies new shape can be attractive.”
Honestly, I think that’s the issue, we moms are afraid we’re not attractive anymore. I remember looking at my friend’s post-baby bodies and wondering if they wanted their old bodies back, had they given up? was it too difficult? Would I be the same?
There’s a Saturday Day Night Live sketch “Mom Jeans” that haunts me. But when I watch it I always laugh. My favorite line, “I’m not a person, I’m a mom!”
Frankly, there are things about my body that aren’t as attractive. But I now know I don”t have to sign up to become a quirky, unaware person. I don’t have to wear those jeans, for instance.
Savannah and I discussed a photograph at the blog Art and Motherhood, that has us wondering about our own feelings about pregnancy.
The caption below it reads, “Is this sexy?” I struggled with two things as I look at this picture.
Why are we trying to find stretch marks sexy? Can’t we value the sacrifice without feeling like we have to lie? Savannah said she’d rather re-title it, “Is this Attractive?” Another idea would be “Can You See My Child?”
The picture feels vaguely competitive in a way I don’t like, even forcing this woman to compete with her pre-pregnant body. Aren’t our lives competitive enough that we don’t have to compete with earlier versions of ourselves, too?
As I watch my body change, not necessarily back to what I looked like before, I am amazed. Perhaps, maybe I even hope to bear a few scars from this time. It really was too monumental to want my body to look like it did pre-June 2009. (Read birth story)
Secondly, this photo seems to imply that we cannot call stretch marks ugly, the sagging parts “unsexy” without feeling like we’re betraying moms, motherhood or our children. Why don’t we have the freedom to just call it like it is? Honestly, if I saw a woman with these scars, I would not call them attractive. They are something else, powerful, dignifying, amazing. But let’s not fool ourselves and call them sexy.
A Good Shape?
It’s easy for me to feel apprehensive of how my body looks NOW.
(Aside: yes, I do realize I’m very lucky to have a body that fairly easily got fairly close to what it used to be–I write this because I can already hear some of you thinking, “Sheesh, if my body looked like hers, I would NOT be complaining!” My point, however, is that after pregnancy, ALL of us face things that are NOT THE SAME about our bodies, and whether these look glaring or imperceptible to others, they matter to us, when we face ourselves in the mirror.)
Several years ago my chiropractor in Los Angeles tried to assuage my sadness over my miscarriage by saying pregnancy, “Ruins a good shape.”
I thought about that for awhile, even talked about it with Dale. It offered paltry comfort for the longing I had to GET a belly, to be pregnant at the time. But it raises a good question, what is a good shape?
A mother of three children and good friend once gave me a picture without a corner. When I asked her about the missing piece, she told us that she cut off the part that had her in it. She hated how she looked, particularly her stomach and she was embarrassed. Maybe it was a bad angle, maybe she really looked unattractive, but I’ll never know as I didn’t see the picture.
In real life, my friend is a lovely woman. She had a stomach much like my own. She didn’t think her shape was good enough for viewing. I get that feeling.
On my desk there’s an invitation for a baby shower with a silhouette of a woman very, very pregnant. She has her hands on the small of her back, pushing the large belly curve out even farther. The artist obviously thought the huge belly was a good shape.
Last week I told a friend at the pool that I don’t have my body back, yet. “But you’re so thin!” she said. She’s right, I have lost a lot of weight.
“Thanks,” I told her, “But I’m not strong, yet. If I can feel strong and still look like this I THINK I’ll be able to accept my body for where it’s at.”
Yesterday I planned to meet Dale for a surprise along the road. Since we live on the side of a mountain I knew that I could handle the walk downhill to meet him. He could drive me, Finn and the three corgis back up the hill. I drank a little water and grabbed two handfuls of trail mix, excited to surprise him and share lunch together and set out.
I left at 12:10pm, Dale had said he planned to be home around noon. I walked out of the house with Finn on my back (in the Beco carrier) and no sunshade, no sunscreen, no water, no watch and no cell phone (this is because Dale was carrying the one we own). I walked for about 20 minutes before I switched the sleeping Finn to my front side to protect him from the sun. I walked downhill for another 20 minutes before I thought it might be possible that I had the time wrong.
By this time, I was near to the busy road and I knew I couldn’t walk further. So I waited in the shade of a kind aspen for about 15 minutes. The corgis were bushed. I was hot and tired.
I couldn’t imagine walking up the hill all the way home.
Slowly, I realized I had no other option.
It was painful and slow going. I rested a lot in every shady spot I could find, the corgis rested too as the sun was beating down.
Every car I heard made my heart leap.
Dale never showed.
Once home I found out he had called the house to tell me he was eating lunch in town. The last few steps up the driveway, I heard the truck’s diesel engine. I marched, my shirt and Finn’s carrier a sweaty mess, straight into the house, too tired to wait for him. I headed inside and amazed myself by two things: not getting angry and the next morning, not being sore.
So it’s true, my body is in good shape; it’s strong again. My body once again has the power to re-shape reality, to climb and hike. My body is the right shape to carry me farther than I think possible.
My friend (and family and marriage counselor), Robin Moore, often asks her clients, “Is your body meant to serve YOU or are you serving your body?” She also encourages self-talk that involves telling our bodies “thank you” for things other than appearance. She calls this a 3-d approach to our bodies rather than 2-d. As she puts it,
“I want to rebel against my self-image being defined by how I look in 2-d pictures. I actually think facebook is helping our culture, because people are less in control of pictures of themselves and are getting desensitized to less-than-portrait quality photos. They learn to live in 3-D. Not allowing the 2-D pictures of ourselves to limit their/our value.”
So my dear body, I thank you.
- thank you for having power to hike up steep mountains in the sun with Finn on your back.
- thank you for having the will and desire to make love, even after a night of little rest.
- thank you for supplying food for a 20 lb baby, day in, day out, night in, night out.
- thank you for making your arms strong to garden and pick up stocky, wriggly corgis and hug your husband tightly.
Before, Pregnant, Now
I look at these pictures and feel proud of what I’ve gone through. Thank you, sweet body, for still standing so strong. I don’t want to erase all the marks of change.
I had just said offhand to another mother, “This certainly won’t help me get my tummy back in shape!”
“I said, ‘I’m going to enjoy this even though it won’t help me get my shape back.” I grinned and took a gleeful spoonful.
He stopped eating and looked at me critically, “Jonalyn, your shape is better now than it’s ever been.”
That had me stop and look dubiously at him. He nodded, and said, “You’re not as skinny!”
I still love my body. I can’t call it flat tummied anymore, but I’ve found another word, a good word: shapely. I still have a good shape, it’s not the same, but it’s good.
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From the archives, July 27, 2010.