This week more than any other week of my life, I have stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. The full length kind that gives us a road map of everything we’ve ever done to our bodies. I’ve done this many times. First as a young girl, often looking at a new pair of shoes. As a teenager to fix my hair and wash away pesky pimples. As a young woman, upset with the frosh 15 I gained in college. But this week is different. This week, staring back at me, is a mother of two girls.
There are new lines around my eyes. Some were there before, some are new and plan to stay, and some are a reflection of the tired that set in a few days ago but will ease with time. My skin is starting to return to its natural olive tone, far from the red-raw of pregnancy. My frame is shedding the water I’ve retained over 10 months of nourishing myself and my child. My hair is thinning, shedding with it the hormones that made it thicker and fuller. My tummy is red with stretch marks and I have a flap of skin that sits annoyingly along the same height as my favourite jeans.
This is my body, and it is perfect.
My first pregnancy with my oldest daughter was not ended with the same contentment. I had gained nearly 40 pounds, my weight soaring from 150lbs pre pregnancy to a whopping 175lbs. I hardly took any photos of myself while pregnant with her, something glaringly obvious the second time around when I eagerly wanted to look back. As a young 20-something mom, it was difficult to reconcile the reality of post-partum physique with my peers who were still rapidly enjoying what is said to be the best decade of our lives.
But two and a half years later, as I look at the curve of my ever-wider hips and the feet that have gone from size 8 to 9 over two babies, I see a newfound appreciation for what the human body, pregnant or not, is capable of. All parts working in unison to fuel how we live, however that is. It’s nothing short of a miracle.
The more I look at these two little girls, the more I realize how much they have altered how I feel about myself and my body image. Some of this is a conscious change, recognizing that they are looking at me looking at myself and learning how to react to their own selves. It is both empowering and terrifying. One marked criticism about my jiggly thighs can alter how they see themselves in the same mirror. There is suddenly a huge responsibility to learn self acceptance so as to teach it to them.
As I look in the mirror my two-year-old, Isla, interrupts me. She knows something about my body is different. I no longer have the red bulge that carried her sister. She touches the soft pouch, seeing the new stretch marks there and asks if they’re an owie. I tell her they don’t hurt. They’re simply marks that show just how carefully my body hugged her and her sister before I could do it with my arms. She shrugs and kisses them better anyway. For now, that explanation is both good enough for her and good enough for me.