Girls With Guts
The journey to motherhood is different for all mothers. My personal journey involved being pregnant and giving birth twice and therefore witnessing first hand the mind bending changes a woman’s body goes through while babies are all cozy and warm in her belly. My journey also involved the inevitable post-pregnancy body issue battle. Despite my valiant efforts to avoid this battle, I did succumb to it after both pregnancies as I think most, if not all of us eventually do. After my second baby, it took about 9 months for the thoughts to start creeping in: the nagging voice in my head that pointed out every roll and every stretch mark. Slowly but surely, I began to get more and more self-conscious about my belly...my whole midsection, really... The shadow I caught a glimpse of on my morning run was a lot more jiggly than the girl I once knew and it was getting more and more annoying to try on shirts from my closet. Once in a while, I'd pull an old favorite out and think "surely, this fits now" and throw it on confidently only to find it about 4 inches too short and my stretched-to-the-limit skin pouring out of the bottom.
As I started to notice these thoughts making their way in, I suddenly felt compelled to talk about how incredibly tired I am of the body issues that plague so many people these days. I wish there was an easy way out of the trap, but since it's a problem based in other people's opinions, it's a hard one to solve. If our tendency is to wonder what other people are thinking about how we look, then the only way to stop this cycle would be if EVERYONE out there considered the following question to be the most important in terms of our bodies:
Are you healthy?
Although I think this should be the norm for everyone, no matter what stage of life you happen to be in, I find it particularly cruel to subject pregnant and recently pregnant women to the madness of the body issue battle. During my first pregnancy I stood my ground against hints at the importance of a "perfect" body. My midwives lectured me every time I got off the scale at my appointments. Over and over again, I told them that I ate healthy foods and was still going to the gym and so wasn’t worried. They didn’t let up until I finally refused to step on that scale at all. When I met my midwives here in Boulder, the first thing I told them was that I never wanted to talk about my weight. Thankfully, they took careful note and never once said anything about it. I admittedly didn’t eat as well the second time and was much less active, but wouldn’t you know, my body did the exact same thing as it did the first time around, and the weight came off at the same rate.
Any mother who has spent time being pregnant can relate to being asked the question: "When are you due?" but how many of you have experienced that AFTER you've had the baby? The worst part about being asked that question is that it's usually asked by a complete stranger right when you are starting to feel like yourself again. Most of us get mad or annoyed at the person and rattle on to our friends about how we can't believe people have the gall to ask such a question, but honestly I think we react that way because it's such a hard smack of reality. Like it or not, our bellies stretched way out in order to grow a human being and it's to be expected that it may stay that way for a lot of us no matter what we do. If you really think about it, how can we get mad at someone who honestly (and kindly) wants to share in the joy that goes along with this amazing process?
I've found a nugget of gold in this bucket of body image garbage in my daughter. Not long after she was born, I was struck with the reality that I am raising a girl. I realized that now more than ever, I need to find a way to stop contributing to this cycle. It’s going to be hard enough to help her sort through the messages she’ll get from the rest of the world, so I need to be sure to give her a strong example of a confident woman, no matter what my body is shaped like. I do not want to be the one to start her down the path of self-deprecation so many of us find ourselves on so I made it my mission to stop talking about my body in a negative way, especially in front of her. Stopping the words proved fairly easy, but stopping the thoughts was a different story. Even now, two years after her little brother was born, when she asks me if I have another baby in my belly, or why my belly is so big and squishy, I mentally take a deep breath and remind myself to look at these moments as opportunities. While I am telling her, matter of factly, that I had 2 babies and that my stomach is all stretched out from it, I feel like I'm giving her a gift. I want her to know that people come in all varieties and that being healthy is the only thing that matters. I want that to be the message she replays in her head as she grows up.
So, where am I today? Am I succeeding in my mission? Well, I admit it’s not going perfectly but I continue to say the right words and I’m finding that my heart is slowly following along. In fact, I’m going to take this opportunity to practice saying out loud what are for me, some of the hardest words to say and fully believe: I am OK. I am important. I am interesting. I am generous. I am loving. I am healthy. I am happy. I am perfectly imperfect and I am beautiful, just as I am. I say these words as someone who wants more for herself and for the women she shares this world with, but most importantly for her children.
I dream of an army of warrior women who are willing to make a stand against this battle and demand more for each other and our children. I once told a friend about this dream and she dubbed my army "Girls With Guts" . I will continue my fight but I need all of you to stand alongside me. We can stop this cycle together.