My body is my hero!
Translation & editing by Masha Kon
My two pregnancies were very different. The first one, when I was 20 years old, ended in an emergency surgery at 36 weeks. I met my daughters only several days later. The second one – at 35 – ended in a planned surgery on the due date. Fifteen minutes after its start I met my son and five minutes later I was breastfeeding him.
However, the common theme for both of them was my worry about my changing body. I remember how the 20-year old me was crying in front of the skirts in my closet that I couldn’t fit into anymore. After the birth, I was terrified about my flabby abdomen. Neither massages nor working out helped to get rid of it right away. I never wore a bikini afterwards and decided that after the next pregnancy I would get abdominoplasty. With my second pregnancy I kept taking photos of my growing belly in a mirror and couldn’t wait for it to be noticeable. I didn’t have to wait long. “Just one baby” decided that the apartment previously occupied by two is not enough for him and he spread out with comfort. Early on I started looking like a cruise ship. I became ashamed of my body – the beautiful and strong body that was carrying my next healthy and long-awaited child. Silly, wasn’t I?
“A pregnant woman needs a big reserve of self-love to support the heavy weight of pregnancy – figuratively and literally”
A pregnant woman is very sensitive. She needs a big reserve of self-love to support the heavy weight of pregnancy – figuratively and literally. Certainly if I were a woman who had a healthy relationship with her body, I wouldn’t have had those issues. But I doubt that those women exist in more than a handful. To my surprise I realized that all pregnant women are constantly competing.
The winner gains the least amount of weight. She also has the smallest belly. As if a belly size can be influenced by the woman. If a future mom failed to “tell” her baby to roll into a tight ball inside of her, she can rest assured she will hear many jokes like “Are you sure you are expecting only one?” At some point I got very stressed out about all the ballerinas around me that start showing right before their due date, while I already needed to buy a separate parking spot to fit my whale-like body.
Social media is full of beautiful lean pregnant women taking milk baths, covered with flowers, on silk sheets, or in pink airy tutus. Meanwhile I chose not to go to a friend’s baby shower to avoid our bellies being compared, to avoid being named the hugest pregnant woman in the world. And suddenly my long awaited pregnancy made me want to shrink and become invisible.
“«Having a child is not a reason to be fat», – is a quote from a blog discussion about postpartum weight gain”
After my second C-section I faced another disappointment. At 21 I left the hospital skinnier than before and kept losing weight postpartum despite eating tons of carbs in huge portions. This time around I exercised and watched my diet throughout the pregnancy, yet six months later I am still working on losing weight. Instagram is parading fresh postpartum girls with long legs in shorts. Their six packs stare at me in the face and judge my failure to achieve the same. Instead of being proud of delivering a healthy baby, I mourned over the fact that I would never fit into my old jeans. I was ashamed to be naked in front of my husband of 16 years. I stared in the mirror at my stretch marks, at my new scars, at my swollen arms and legs and cried out of pity for myself. I felt unattractive. And sometimes I still feel that way.
One might think that my personal journey of angst and self-deprecation is the product of my own personal demons. But it is a product of our society as well. Social media is one of the sources. Also remember the compliments given to skinny moms. “You look as if you never gave birth!” “Can’t tell you had twins at all”, “You look like a little girl yourself”. They sound harmless and pleasant. But they give an impression that actually looking like you just gave birth is a shameful thing. “Having a child is not a reason to be fat” – is a quote from a blog discussion about postpartum weight gain. As if a woman has to justify her looks (regardless of having children or not). As if she cannot be considered beautiful if she couldn’t lose weight after birth and should be ashamed. She carried a new human for nine months, compromising her health, career, and social life. She doesn’t sleep, pumps milk all the time, carries her child in her arms all day despite her sore back. Yet she is expected to regain her slim figure quickly. And if she fails, she looks down on herself – and unfortunately other women reinforce that.
“Their «tiger stripes»of stretch marks a living evidence of a place where their children fought for life“
Looking back, I wish I paid more attention to the voices of women that rebelled against the societal norms. These women do not consider their bodies to have failed them, they consider their “tiger stripes” of stretch marks a living evidence of a place where their children fought for life. Such women took part in a beautiful photography project “The honest body” by Natalie McCain. When I first saw her photographs, I broke down in tears in amazement of these beautiful, loving, courageous women. My tears were also due to my regret for being so hard on myself for my giant belly, extra weight postpartum, and for comparing myself to other women. When I confessed about it in my public Facebook post, I was elated and upset at the same time from all the responses of women who felt the same way. Still, this confession gave me a great relief in knowing I was not alone.
I now remember how after my first pregnancy I came out with an ugly uneven cesarean scar. But my husband said “This belly is my hero. It carried our girls”. I wish I listened to his loving voice more than to the comments of others or my own anxiety. I wish I thanked my body more than I was ashamed of it. I wish I could provide more support to women in similar situations after giving birth.
In conclusion, I do not regret all of my scars, stretch marks, extra kilograms and other evidence that I have experienced motherhood. Finally I am realizing that my body does not owe anything to anyone, and my beauty does not depend on whether I have given birth or whether I was able to return to my pre-pregnancy shape. To me the beauty is in living in love with my family, and hopefully in love with myself. At least I am learning to acknowledge that – through pain, tears, happiness, and gratitude. And no one, including ourselves, has the right to judge me or you for not looking good enough.
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