all together lovely
Before I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was lithe and naturally lean, one of those who heard, “Oh, you’re so skinny!” often and more than enough. I “ate like a mouse,” and had “chicken arms,” and “weighed 90 pounds soaking wet.” It didn’t really bother me, although comments like that aren’t flattering.
It never occurred to me that I might one day look at my postpartum self in the mirror with an “I’m not beautiful anymore” ache, grab at the pudgy bits with disdain, drag my fingers across the subtle pearly white streaks in my skin, stretched to accommodate another human. I never thought I would have to work up the gall to run my hands across my hips, or attempt to reconcile with my new body. It felt so … juvenile. But my body, once a size 2, now felt unfamiliar, and so uncelebrated in this world. Nothing in my closet fit. I sold my favourite vintage dresses with the tiny busts as they hung in my closet, unworn for over a year after giving birth.
I struggled even more with the parts of me that wouldn’t come back together. I expected a belly button, not this popped out thing. I expected my abdominals to stitch together, not stay two fingers’ width wide. I expected my hips to narrow again and my love handles to shed. I expected so much of my body, that I forgot to praise the parts I still found beautiful.
In my first pregnancy, I grew and expanded in all the right places to make rich, hearty breast milk. Hips and thighs and love handles appeared, and I laughed at the future. Until I weighed myself at my monthly midwifery appointments. Pencil to paper, I found myself fudging the numbers ever so slightly. Five pounds turned to three, fifteen pounds turned to twelve. By the end of my pregnancy, my wide German cheekbones seemed to disappear beneath my moon face.
I was well out of the normal range of “healthy pregnancy weight gain.” I smirked at the forty pounds allotted to mothers. I had somehow gained that before I reached twenty-eight weeks. I was also quite sick, and threw up until I was nearly into my third trimester. It seemed nothing was going to stop the widening. Everyone laughed and said maybe my body needed it, and I looked great. But I was way out of my comfort zone.
Now, in my current pregnancy, all the soft places seem to be responding with the same enthusiasm, soaking up the steady ladling on of weight. My kind midwife doesn’t mind if I stay off the scale this time. Bless her.
But in my first trimester I cried in my husband’s arms, as my body responded in the same way: “I feel fat! I’m so big and I’m not even that pregnant! I don’t feel very … pretty! And I have barf on my shirt.”
He held me at arm’s length so he could look at me straight, his eyes wide. “You are not fat, you are stunning. You are the most beautiful pregnant woman and I love you just the way you are.”
I barely heard him. I was not happy with the way I looked, and no sweet words, however true they may be for him, could smudge away the gnawing unease. I had been through this before, but the fact that it was happening again made my self confidence waver. The unease deepened, as we were in and out of the hospital with our daughter. Everything in her life, our life, was beyond our control. This time around it seemed this pregnancy was magnifying my lack of control, highlighting the heart aches. As my heart widened and shuddered, broke and mended, so too did my flourishing body.
So much emphasis is placed on controlling our bodies, our weight, our muscle mass. But what of the deep work that is going on in our hearts? What of the hurts and the need for repair? Sure, an extra smudge of eyeliner and spritz of perfume make me feel a little fresher, but they do not tend to my heart issues.
Eventually, I got a hold of myself, wandering out there in the world. Smarten up lady! You are falling into the trap. This is not who you are. The world gave me permission to judge and fret and frown at my reflection. I believed the lie that my beauty must look a certain way. There are still days that circumstances weaken my resolve, and I slip into self-reproach. I imagine my postpartum body with dread.
So I tell myself again and again: my body is a wonder. It is marred (ever so gently, in reality) by a child, but so is my mind, my spirit too. So much of me has changed on this journey. It’s time to let go of what was, and embrace what is and what will be.
Together, let us embrace the softening and our sizes, no matter what. I need you to love yourself, so I can love myself. I glean from you, you glean from me. We are in this together. Let us unearth our beauty right where we are.
You see, you and I are beautiful, in our pregnancies, our barrenness, our aging, in our forever postpartum bodies. We are beautiful as we lean into the hard years, and find untoned places. We are beautiful, and we don’t need to lose a few more pounds to feel it. We are beautiful in our grieving, in our bending and breaking. We are beautiful as we battle, as we tend to the vineyards of the people, as we cultivate life in the fallow places.
We are breathtaking in our height and width and depth. There is no right size or fit or body for us. We are embraceable, we are rich in love, we are strong. We are feeding the hungry and standing against injustice. We are mothering foster children and breaking free from abusive marriages. We are pouring through adoption paperwork, giving joyously, battling cancer and depression and heartache.
We are all together lovely, every part, every inch. All those patches of cellulite, hair and age spots, every scar and stretch mark, every gray and hairless head, every piece of us is rich in love.
If I paraphrased Song of Solomon 1:5-6 (dark am I, yet lovely), it would sound something like this:
I am weathered but still beautiful,
oh dear sisters that surround me, sing this with me:
I am worn by the long days, tired to the bone, dark like the night sky.
I am softened by time like wind whipped flags of silk.
But don’t look down on me because I feel worn, scarred, different, plain, broken.
Though I have worked and toiled, though I have lost and fought,
my hands embrace this beauty.
I am weathered but still beautiful,
oh dear sisters.
Sing with me.