The Physical Toll of Motherhood

Image Source: Elizabeth Broadbent
Image Source: Elizabeth Broadbent

Everyone loves a pregnant woman. We caress her growing belly with our eyes, estimating how much further she has to go. We ask about swelling ankles, aching hips, stretch marks. “Have you got the line yet?” one woman might ask another. We wish fervently she’ll let us feel the baby kick, or turn, or just take our hand and press it to her. “That’s the baby,” she’ll say, and we’ll smile in the knowledge of her, of her new life, of her personal everyday miracle.

Then she has the baby.

Suddenly, we’re pressuring her to “get her body back.” That means eliminating that stretched-out tummy that once carried new life. She needs to lose the weight her body gained to nurture that new life. Her stretch marks must disappear, by potion or voodoo. No skin sag. No crepe-y stomach. And just when she’s bleeding from a massive wound in her uterus, we tell her to start exercising.

She can keep her post-baby breasts, of course. Those are porn-star perky.

Her only difference? The location of the baby. Once, the baby was internal and we treated her like Madonna. Now that the baby is external, we fat-shame her, make her a pariah, insist she diet and exercise with a newborn in tow. We tell her to hate her body. We tell her she should be ashamed of herself.

She shouldn’t be ashamed.

No, you can’t fit in your skinny jeans anymore, and that may cause some tears. You have to get used to this new body, this thing that isn’t the ungainliness of pregnancy or the lithe whip of a teen. You jiggle when you walk. Your thighs brush against each other. Your tummy feels loosey-goosey, like everything will fall out of it at any second. And your stomach — your belly button’s even changed. You have a shelf of crepe-y skin. And you’re bleeding, bleeding, bleeding, and either breastfeeding or trying to dry up your milk. It’s not normal, this body. It’s not what you’re used to.

But you made new life.

You should wear your weight, and wear it proudly. Think of it as a new softness for the baby, a softening of motherhood, a warm gentleness to sink into.
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Your chipmunk cheeks gathered weight to keep your baby growing. So did your arms, your thighs, your stomach. You should wear your weight, and wear it proudly. Think of it as a new softness for the baby, a softening of motherhood, a warm gentleness to sink into. Remember as a child: the best people to hug were the ones with padding. I remember laying my head on my grandmother’s stomach and feeling safe and loved. Your weight is for children. Your weight is for you. Your weight is beautiful, because it grew a child you now hold in your arms.

Your thighs did their growing too, that gorgeous roundness mapped with red marks like a river delta. Those same red marks cup your breasts, hold your stomach. We hate stretch marks. We try to rid ourselves of them with potions and lotions and quackery. But think of the beauty, the sacrifice of your skin stretching itself to accommodate your baby. Your stretch marks are a gift. They are a physical mark of the work you did to carry your child. Hold your baby and know you worked for him. Know you worked because you loved.

And then there’s your stomach. It once stretched wide to carry life. You imagine it now, a smooth round bump, skin taut and smooth. Then the baby came out, in a mass of blood and sweat and tears. And you deflated. That beautiful bullet of a belly sagged down into a mass of skin and pooch. It tightened up in the days to come, especially if you wore a belly binder, but it’s still not … your belly. This belly wobbles. It has a shelf, and crepe-y skin dribbling down towards your pubic area.

Barring serious workout and dieting, your belly will never be the same. You will never have a teenage dream belly again.

Instead, you have a baby. A beautiful, beautiful baby who will one day lay his head on your stomach while you read him Winnie the Pooh. Your belly isn’t what fashion magazines would call perfect. But instead, it carried a child. That belly gave you the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. It might be the hardest part to live with, but it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because you made it beautiful, because your baby made it beautiful, because it will always stand as a monument to that time you carried him. Your belly isn’t perfect — it’s gorgeous.

Your body isn’t the same as it was before pregnancy. It never will be. But babies leave their special marks upon you, write the gift of themselves upon your body. Your fat, your stretch marks, your jiggly belly: all of these are a present from your child. Wear them like it. And don’t wear them as if they make you inferior. They don’t. They make you a mother; a gift to a child, and a child a gift to you. You are not imperfect. You are beautiful.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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