Witness the Body Roller Coaster
In America, many women complain about how childbirth and pregnancy ruin their bodies. They’re fatter, saggier, stretched out. For me, though, my births helped me finally gain the respect and love for my body that I’d always missed.
Almost 6 years after the birth of my first child and more than four months after the birth of my second, I am at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been (not including my weight while pregnant, of course). My torso is covered in stretch marks and I have trouble finding pants that fit me at all properly. I would be lying if I said these things didn’t bother me – they are certainly annoying. But they don’t make me love my body any less.
I was sexually abused between the ages of 4 and 5. When the abuse finally stopped, my abuser – my father – then rejected me and had little to do with me. A child of that age internalizes everything, so I figured I had done something wrong, that my disgusting body caused him to hurt me the way he did, then also caused him to throw me aside. If you look at pictures from before the abuse, you see a svelt little girl with big, self-confident smiles. When you look at the pictures post-abuse, you see an overweight and sickly kid, smiling meekly for the camera.
That was the start of my roller-coaster weight gain/loss. My daughter Stella often gets confused when she looks at old pictures of me. Why was Mommy incredibly skinny at her wedding, but very round when she and Daddy first met? Why is Mommy so fit when she’s in her 8th grade cheerleading outfit but then so thick when she’s in her junior year school picture? I explain that Mommy’s body goes through lots of changes, but that it’s beautiful no matter what. I don’t tell her how I used to order a large pizza with garlic knots and consume the whole thing when I first moved to New York City, but I also don’t tell her how I made myself throw up three times a day the months leading up to my wedding. I don’t tell her that through it all I hated my body – hated it so badly that I wished violent things on it. I don’t tell her how I felt not only ugly, but disgusting. How I felt that people around me wanted to vomit when they looked at me.
What do I tell her? I tell her how my body grew two babies and nourished them wonderfully. In fact, both times, my body was so good to my babies that they didn’t want to come out! Stella arrived 11 days past her estimated due date, and Sam came 5 days past his (but don’t get me started on how those “due dates” are a crock of bull). I tell her that my body knew what it was doing when it was time to give birth, and that it brought forth both of my babies safely and sweetly. I tell her how overcoming the incredibly intense (and yes, painful) experience of giving birth without medication helped me to see how strong and capable I am. I tell her how my body makes the perfect food for my babies and helped her become the big, brilliant, amazing girl she is today. I tell her that my body is the third most amazing that I’ve ever witnessed, after her and her brother of course. I tell her I love my body.
This love affair with my body is new, but I feel like it’s going to last. I hope that other women out there can stop worrying about what society expects of us and stop looking at their bodies as merely a vehicle to attract and keep a mate. Our bodies are capable of real miracles – miracles that can stretch and reshape them in all sorts of ways. Souvenirs we get to wear every day.