The morning after giving birth to my first son, I slowly made my way to the bathroom, waddling through the tenderness between my legs. Mostly unclothed from nursing, I knew the mirror was soon to confront me and tell truths I might not be ready to hear. I'd consciously avoided it's stares thus far. Inspecting the changes in my body elicited apprehension laced with terror. After a deep breath and internal pep talk, I let my gaze slowly shift toward the floor. My belly appeared to be stretch mark free and only slightly swollen. A wave of relief swept through, after months of horror stories and worry. Then the weigh-in. The scale granted more relief; I was 12 pounds heavier than I’d been pre-pregnancy, having gone to great lengths to ensure minimal necessary weight gain. I could manage 12 pounds. I’d put on 25 and run three miles daily, until the final month, stopping only to avoid the inferno that was August. I then sentenced my awkward body to 30 minutes of the elliptical machine for the remainder of the pregnancy. Hell-bent on giving my baby as healthy a start as I had control over and keeping myself in prime condition for a smooth home birth, I ate well throughout, only succumbing to cravings for pizza in the first trimester, when literally everything else sounded like a recipe for barfing. And, of course, I still wanted to look good postpartum, to retain my non-mommy body, clinging to the idea that I could and should exist as both, separately and simultaneously. Read on, lest you think me a fool.
My teens were awkward, at best. I carried extra weight after moving to a rural town in Wisconsin. I mean, it’s the cheese state, and the school cafeteria served unlimited homemade cinnamon bread at lunch. Sugar was a just reward for enduring teenage years at a new school with people who didn’t seem to want me there. Heaping bowls of Cheerios right before bed became a regular thing, cus it was fat-free, so why not? High school came to a close (praise effing be), and I sported minimal self-confidence with a Rachel cut gone terribly wrong. Think A-line bob with a long tail attached to it, seemingly from nowhere, because the 50-year-old hairstylist at the generic version of small-town Supercuts had obviously lied through her teeth when I asked her if she knew who Rachel from Friends was. I should have intuited that from the vapid stare she possessed after my description. Needless to say, attractive was not a quality I assigned to myself.
We moved back to California shortly after my rat tail was cut off, leaving me with a chubby, pale face framed by a not so flattering bob. My friends were all away at college, and I was alone. This led to mild depression, the shitty poetry phase, as I've mentally coined it. The melancholy halted my appetite and leaned me out. My hair grew. My pasty skin got a bit of California tan, I traded in my over-sized farm girl attire for feminine vintage finds and... started to get noticed. Late to the party, but nonetheless in attendance, I finally began dating.
That attention gifted a high like no other, something other girls had probably gotten in their early teens and were well over by 20. But, I needed it still, to build self-worth, to know that I held value to the opposite sex. I wasn’t just the “smart girl” anymore. My still malleable identity accidentally got intertwined with being stylish and thin. I had other attributes I was proud of as well, but it was all a jumbled up mess and remained that way beyond the birth of my first son.
And beyond the birth of my second.
Then came Indigo. A move. And 40. And no job. And no second income. And another body to tend to that wasn’t my own.
I had to skip workouts regularly because, Life. And because I didn’t want to throw myself back into adrenal fatigue from pushing too hard or pulling myself out of bed before the sun, sacrificing much needed rest in the name of fitness. Energy trumped skinny out of pure survival.
Botox wasn’t in the budget.
Cute clothes weren’t either. I was a stay at home mom for the first time ever, dressing up would certainly be lost on my toddler. And, I’d moved to a notoriously casual town. Think Patagonia- a puffer jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes, with a greasy bun on it. It sure helped that these new moms I was sharing a city with weren’t prioritizing the aesthetic either. My new local trendy was fleece paired with “don’t give a shit,” and the timing couldn’t have been more kismet. Don’t mistake this for self-neglect. These chicks get things done. It’s really just a shift in priority commingled with a more action-oriented definition of being a woman. I needed that.
For most, this epiphany doesn’t require three children. It took that many for me to officially lose the emotional space to give any fucks about going out into the world and being noticed. There was no conscious choice made. It was forced upon me by the requirement of caretaking. Cus, ain’t nobody got time for that (that referring to anything/everything and anybody referring to mothers).
Untangling the value of beauty and youth from motherhood, from womanhood, from personhood, was less angsty than I’d anticipated. I’d watched my mother come to terms with aging, often seeing a woman far less beautiful than was there, and I worried how I’d manage, what the mirror would reflect back to me, unwittingly imprinting upon my self-worth.
But, I see the grey hairs springing forth from my scalp for the first time this year, like tiny radars tuning in to a higher frequency as I level up, and I smile, not rushing to cover them with dye. I earned each one with colicky babies, years of late nights spent snuggling and nursing instead of sleeping, with the endurance of one temper tantrum after another, the hysterical refusals of eating seemingly benign dinners, three children crying in unison while my husband and I exchanged vacant stares, taking mental leave for survival, and brother’s turning on one another at a moment's notice, screaming in the backseat because someone’s unwelcome fingertip is resting upon their forearm.
I earned this shift in perspective. I’ve never worked harder for anything, and I deserve the new brand of beautiful bestowed upon me.
Now, the smiles on my children’s faces act as the most important mirror of all, reflecting a worth that is predicated upon the joy they experience, the fullness of their bellies, the love held in each beat of their hearts. Of course, there is so much more to me than motherhood, and I welcome any and all “nice butt” comments my husband has to offer, but the way I look and how others perceive the wrapping of my soul is of little consequence in comparison to my role as “Mommy.”