My husband borrowed my sewing tape measure the other night to measure himself for his military uniforms.
On a whim, I measured myself too, remembering all the times my seamstress mother wrapped the soft tape around my bust, waist, and hips throughout my teenage and young adult years. I’d memorized my “normal” numbers, easily rattling them off in bridal shops or plugging them into size charts as I shopped online.
I swallowed hard at the numbers I now saw and dramatically flung the tape at my husband: “Here! Take this instrument of misery!”
Five inches. That’s how much my once-slender waist has expanded since I’ve had children.
My hips have gotten bigger too but not as much (whew!).
And let’s not even talk about my once perky breasts, now in a love affair with gravity after breastfeeding four babies.
Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror after my shower, my fingers tracing the deep stretch marks and lax skin hanging in small exhausted folds, dragging downward towards my c-section scar.
I poke at my belly button, once a cute innie, now permanently an outie (I recently learned the term “herniated navel.” Yuck); I suck in my stomach.
Yeah, it’s no use.
I let out my breath and everything settles back into place.
This is my body.
For the past few months, I’ve been encouraging my core writers for Mothering Beyond Expectations to write something about motherhood and body image.
I was eager for someone to share their thoughts, their wisdom, their journey. Goodness knows I didn’t want to write that post.
Neither did anyone else. I’ve had zero volunteers.
I know some women love their postpartum bodies, or they’ve been able to work their way to a new set of abs after pregnancy. I love seeing their success stories in blog posts or my facebook feed.
But I’m not in that camp. I don’t have any After Pictures to show on social media. I’m more in the camp of women who whisper to themselves things like this:
I used to feel beautiful every day, not just when I put in a ton of effort.
I hate my stomach.
I can’t lose weight.
Five freakin’ inches (or whatever damning number shows up on your tape measure).
I get that too.
Being a mom changes your body forever.
On one hand, I think my body rocks.
It has grown babies.
It has carried TWINS.
It has produced gallons of milk and helped my babies grow fat and strong.
In many ways, I love the way I look. I love my curves, my muscles that allow me to sling my boys into carseats and lift them overhead as they giggle and squeal. I love that I can take care of my home and my kids and love my husband.
My body is incredible.
On the other hand, I sigh.
You know, don’t you?
I don’t even have to write a paragraph about the things I don’t like. You could write your own paragraph, or page, or book, couldn’t you?
So I swing between love and hate, rejoicing and resignation.
And I wonder, “is there a middle way?”
If I accept my body the way it is, what do I do with my desire to lose weight or whittle away those five inches?
How do I love and live in the meantime, the time where I am far from my ideal weight, when my jeans are tight and my arms jiggle?
Maybe the answer lies within the very heart of motherhood itself, this journey of expanding and contracting, of giving and learning, of growing more each day.
I love my boys for who they are…but each day I discipline and teach my kids in order help them learn and grow. I accept their limitations, embracing the truth that they are immature.
It’s the push and pull, the balance between saying, “I love you for who you are” and “I want you to become a better person.”
It’s the same with my body.
I’m not at my perfect (whatever that means) weight or size but I’m going to love myself where I am today.
I’m also going to keep disciplining myself, choosing good foods and exercise, learning and growing and moving forward.
Maybe this is the middle way, the both/and.
I both love my body for all the amazing things it’s done in the past, and I will keep loving my body in order to be healthy and strong.
“Five inches!” I wailed to my husband. “Five inches.”
He slipped his arm around my middle, where I carried each of our babies, now growing into young men.
“And I love each of those five inches.”
I’m thankful for my husband’s love. And I want to say “I do” to my body too. But it’s complicated isn’t it, to love your body, to love yourself?
But I think I know how to do it because I know how to love my kids: with acceptance and encouragement as I push us to be the best version of ourselves.