My one-and-a-half year old daughter has recently learned where her belly is. When asked about it, she likes to lift her shirt up and tap it emphatically. And she’s taken to doing the same to my stomach. She laughs as she watches it jiggle with each little tap of the hand.
But if I’m being honest, having a belly that jiggles is very new to me.
I’ve always been skinny—underweight, even—not by any conscious decision, but I did take pride in the fact that I could eat a giant burger with fries and a chocolate shake and not have to stress about getting to the gym later that day.
Now that that’s not the case, learning to embrace my new, post-baby body hasn’t been easy.
The problem is, we live in a culture where dissatisfaction with how we look isn’t just normal, but encouraged.
From the time we are children, we are inundated with diet ads and pictures of celebrities after undergoing surgeries to alter the way they look. Television, magazines, and even songs on the radio tell us what we need to do to look prettier or sexier, and we begin to wonder if they are right after all.
If we’re not careful, social media can prove the most difficult of all, inviting comparison and jealousy to take root in our hearts. Instead of fostering real human connection and vulnerability, we often end up curating the parts of our lives we reveal, using filters and presets to cover anything less than perfect.
So it’s no wonder that as mothers, we feel tremendous pressure not to gain too much weight during pregnancy—and we need to start shedding what weight we do gain almost as soon as we get home from the hospital. We can’t allow ourselves to be gentle with ourselves or our bodies, or give ourselves any real time to heal, before the pressure to “get our bodies back” comes on strong.
After my daughter was born, I often found myself looking in dismay at my new shape as I tried on clothes in front of the mirror. Delicate (and a few not so delicate) stretch marks made, and still make, their way across my love handles and parts of my breasts. My round belly sticks out a bit and certain clothes makes me look (and feel) like I’m expecting again.
Even nineteen months later, I have hips that don’t fit into any of my old jeans, and my once oversized sweaters are now more snug. I’m not yet used to this new body of mine. I don’t know how to dress it well, and I’m still learning its new intricacies and quirks.
While it can be frustrating to sometimes feel like a stranger in my own skin, with time I have realized if there’s anything I’m certain about, it’s that over the nine months that I carried my daughter, I changed.
My heart changed, my mind changed, and my body changed. I was made new, more pliable, softer—in more ways than one. And I have been given the chance to fall in love with who I am, for real this time, to embrace the new body I have been given.
Not only because I deserve to feel good in my skin, but because my daughter does too. And she needs me to show her how.
I am often amazed by how much my little one learns from me just by observation. She loves to walk around the house in my too-big shoes and she delights in seeing herself in the mirror.
But will she continue to dance joyfully in front of her reflection, if she sees me cringe every time I try on a dress?
Research has shown that if a mother talks critically about her body in front of her daughter, the little girl is more likely to struggle with body image and confidence. If I refuse to acknowledge the goodness and beauty of my body, my child will learn to do the same. And I want so much more for her.
When I remember the incredible feats my body has accomplished, I can’t help but stand in awe. This body made and brought forth new life to the world.
For nine months, my body fed and nourished my daughter, giving her the blood and nutrients she needed to form her brain, heart, and lungs. It is where her button nose, dainty fingers, chubby cheeks were molded.
My body endured her little kicks and punches until it, in a display of extraordinary strength, pushed her out into the world, where my arms became her safe place to land.
It gave her a safe and welcoming space to grow from a tiny poppy seed into the little girl I finally got to hold late one winter morning.
And yours did too, mama.
No matter your body type before (or after) pregnancy, motherhood transforms your body and your soul.
Our stretch marks and scars link together our past and future and everything in between reminding us of who we are—a cohesive, whole, beautiful person, worth more than our individual parts.
Our love handles and curves pay tribute to the little humans we carried and brought into the world. Every jiggle attempts to applaud our tenacity and bravery in the face of a sacrifice not known to man.
When you feel a bit out of place in your body, when you stand in front of the mirror lamenting the fact that your favorite pair of jeans no longer fit, think of your body and the story it tells—one of life-giving power and self-giving love.
You are beautiful. Own it, mama.