I used to have a flat stomach. I remember having one at least. I also remember having breasts that were a normal size, not the jugs I have now, which seem to be the result, at least in part, of seven years of nursing three little girls. Yes, seven. Two, two and three for the baby. What can I say? I needed the calming hormones released through breastfeeding more with three kids that two or one. Yes, nursing your child until she can chat with you while she is unbuttoning your blouse is a bit over the top, I admit, but I’m telling you, I needed that calming hormone. And besides, she was my last baby. But back to the stomach thing.
I am not a complainer. I had three children at home with a midwife and no anesthetic. That ought to let you know that whining is not part of my nature. However, I do feel a bit whiny when it comes to my stomach. Call me paranoid, but somehow I suspect that three pregnancies – five if I count those two miscarriages at the end of my first trimester with each – had something to do with my current state of disrepair. No, I can’t blame my pregnancies entirely for my untamed belly, but certainly I can for a large part of it. Before having kids, I had a lovely tight abdomen with skin that stretched taut across it. Post pregnancies – even after one baby and only moderate pregnancy weight gain – that taut skin was history, never to be resurrected. Well, in truth, I became very thin while nursing each of my children, but once those hormones ended with my last child, my belly moved from thin to flabby over the course of a few months. It has never returned to that pre-pregnancy state.
I have been self-conscious over the change in my body in exchange for my exceptional children for a few years now. While there is no contest as to what is more important – yes, the children do win, as you might imagine – it still is undeniable that my body was forever altered. That isn’t to say there aren’t women out there who did the aerobics or yoga (or both) to get their body “back,” but if the truth be told, I’ve met very few of them who have maintained their enthusiasm for more than a few years. Most women accept that stretch marks at the very least are the price for babies and often its stretch marks and stretched skin that remains that way long after the babies have grown up. One might not feel so bad about this if we didn’t live in a society where svelteness is next to Godliness, but we do. Alas, this shift in appearance comes as a surprise to most women, me included. I naturally thought I would beat the odds and still be doing yoga long after those deliveries. Alas…
Recently, I visited a Korean spa with my now grown middle daughter as part of a birthday gift from her to me. This was a place where robes were optional in very hot rooms and it wasn’t long before I was shedding mine. While I was self-conscious at first, I soon noticed that there were three daughter/mother pairs who were going to the various rooms at about the same rate as my daughter and I. These mothers – all around my age – chose to also remove their robes and I had a chance to see how their “mother” bodies resembled mine in almost identical ways. They, too, had large, pendulous breasts from much nursing of babies and abdomens with an extra layer of fat accentuated by faded stretch marks.
What struck me the most about seeing these women was the sense of connection I felt with them through our shared experience and appearance, as well as an almost instant reduction in my anxiety (or lament) over my own imperfect body. Seeing these women in their fullness of life with bodies that visibly demonstrated their decisions and follow-through gave me great comfort. How beautiful they were standing there with such ease. How lovely it was their daughters – with perfect pre-pregnant bodies just like my own daughter’s– were there with their beloved mothers. The products of nine months of baby growth were right there, making it clear that surface appearance is exactly as one might conclude: trite, insignificant, irrelevant when coupled with a greater outcome. When I looked at the mothers in the group, I found myself thinking their flawed bodies were somehow even more beautiful than their daughters because they held the battle scars of risk and hope.
Since returning from that visit to the spa, I can honestly say that I feel happier and prouder of my body than I have in years. I have come to realize that I am part of a wonderful tribe of women – mothers – whose bodies reflect their rich, individual, yet universal experience. How fortunate I am to have such a strong and wise body that remembers – and reveals – some of the happiest experiences of my entire life. What comfort lies in that new knowledge.