in which I learn to see: what a photograph taught me
“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.” Brene Brown.
At first glance, I see my round face, I see what I dislike, what makes me feel most vulnerable. I say: yuck and I won’t be showing this one off.
That angle is not my best. Anything but that. I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and each pregnancy I seem to carry this plush padding, that I otherwise don’t carry on my frame. It’s foreign and a wee bit scary to me.
I can also see the fatigue in my eyes, even though I’m trying hard. That day was a rough one, and nausea and aching back bones nearly had me collapsing in the grass. It was one of those days where I really didn’t want to capture the beauty of pregnancy.
You see, pregnancy and I often bonk heads, hard. I am one of those women that sheepishly admits that I do not like being pregnant. I know it’s awful to say, since many women struggle with infertility, but I have my own struggles in my physical body that just make pregnancy dang hard.
A wonderfully kind and caring reader, Stefany Alviar of Alviar Photography generously offered a family and maternity photo shoot for us. What an amazing blessing! She’s a natural, especially with Florence. She wasn’t fazed by what Florence could or couldn’t do, by our juggling of her 30 pound, floppy body over my huge pregnant belly. She really made us feel at ease.
So, this photo is not about her skills, rather it’s about me and my acceptance of myself in this season.
I flipped through the rest of the lovely photos and came back to this one. And then I felt that raw burning in my eyes, that emotion creeping up and into all of me. I saw what I failed to see at first, blinded by my own judgements towards myself.
Looking at this photo a second time, I see so much more.
First, I see Florence’s beautiful, precious feet.
I see feet that are crooked, because she hasn’t ever walked. I see feet that can cause her pain. I see feet that have been wept on, kissed a thousand times, bruised by IV’s, covered in plaster and casted. I see feet that bring good news, shod with grace and glory. I see tiny seashell pink toenails, and a milky brown beauty mark smack dab in the middle of her left foot.
I see legs I know so well, covered in luscious layers of fat, but lacking muscle tone. These legs have been caressed and cradled in our arms since day one.
I see a body, wholly dependant on me to carry her, near or far.
I see my precious child, unable to move but full of delight and joy and inner strength.
I see how my hands hold her, just so. Curved around all the vulnerable parts, careful to keep them tucked in so they don’t fall by her side and threaten another fracture.
I see my blonde curls and hers too. She has my curls.
I see just how breathtakingly beautiful she is, just as she is.
I see the smile on her face that says: This is so fun, don’t ever let me go Mama!
I see it in my face too: I will never let you go, my darling.
I see the wings of a protective mother enveloping her daughter, mirroring the actions of a faithful God.
“Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers…” Psalm 91:4 (VOICE)
I see a very pregnant belly, hanging low. Inside, a baby feels the weight of his or her big sister against it’s bum.
I see a titanium and bone spine that bears the weight of a quickly growing baby and a 3 foot tall toddler.
And then I see it, and my eyes start to fill with tears. I’m thankful no one is around to watch me cry over a photo of my own self and my little girl.
But I see it, I finally see it. Strength.
I see the years…the years of hard labouring and weeping and groaning under the weight of all the brokenness in the world. Maybe that’s what’s lining my eyes, pooling there around the rims.
I see a woman that chose, hand in in with her husband, to carry another life in her womb, with the odds, statistics, fear and perhaps judgements lurking nearby.
I see a mother.
I see hope.
I see beauty.
I see beauty growing out of the ashes, watered by the strength and hope lavished upon me by God.
Too many woman don’t accept their bodies, failing to see the beauty in front of them: I need a face lift, I need to lose weight, I’m too skinny, I’m too fat, if I could just change this, if I could just lose that bit there, if only my hair looked less drab, if only my skin was clear, my teeth straighter.
But I choose to see beauty. In me. And in you. The most beautiful people I know declare beauty over their so called broken bits and misfit pieces—the typically unwelcome features and attributes in this perfectionist world.
There is a lot I would change about the photo if I could, and it wouldn’t be the angle. That photo is a slice of my life, it’s a moment on my timeline.
And this is what is looks like: weakness, strength, suffering, overcoming, hope, beauty.