28 February 2011

Battle Wounds

Acceptance of ones body is not a new topic. It is one that men and women alike have dealt with, though possibly in different ways. It is a struggle that I am familiar with. Learning to accept the body that carries me through this life. At times, that acceptance comes easily. Those are the times when I appreciate all the capabilities that this body has. But often it is a battle to remember the wonder that is the human body and not let that be clouded by imperfection.

This is not a new topic. We have all heard it. We have probably all felt it.

My husband and I had always wanted children and we were blessed quickly with pregnancy. But almost as quickly as we got pregnant, life turned upside down. I found myself extremely ill, weak, and unable to continue in a normal way. Appreciation for the life my body had helped make was quickly overshadowed by the misery of being too sick to move. Eventually the storm that we found ourselves in would calm enough for me to be able to get out of bed and see the sun again. I started to gain back the weight I had lost and began with the usual task of gaining weight for the growing child I was carrying.

I found myself being grateful for the weight gain and the baby bump that was finally appearing. Feeling a peaceful acceptance of my body for the first time in my life, I declared “I have done it. I have finally accepted my body as it is.”

But as with life, my body did not stop changing. And one day, that “peaceful acceptance” I had so confidently expressed was shattered and replaced with the reality of the changes that came with pregnancy. As the child grew, so did my stomach. And slowly, but surely, the stretch marks began to appear. Stretch marks: nothing new, earth shattering, or life altering. But they were there and they were permanent.

When I first saw them, I could feel emotions welling up. I began to cry. Yes, about silly stretch marks. I kept telling myself “It’s ok. This is ok. It doesn’t matter.” My husband also reassured me of my beauty and that none of it mattered.

And then I felt guilt. Hadn’t I been trying to gain weight at a healthy pace? Hadn’t I been applying lotions that would help? I felt that everyone knew and were secretly judging me and my inability to take care of myself. Any pride and joy that I had in my body was dwarfed by those marks that covered my stomach.

It was ridiculous and I knew it.

Because I knew other women with stretch marks and I couldn’t have cared less that they had them. They were beautiful. They radiated warmth and confidence, even in the imperfection of mortal and fragile bodies. I gravitated toward the beauty that came from those imperfect bodies and the lovely women who owned them.

So why did I think that I was different? How could my stretch marks make me feel less when I thought no less of other women who had them too? And hadn’t I declared acceptance of my body “just the way it was?”

But that was it. I had not accepted my body as it really was. I had merely accepted my body in the one small moment in time. I realized that to accept my body was to accept it and all the changes that life would inflict on it: age, pregnancy, weight changes, health and sickness. Those changes would never end. And in essence, neither would the process of learning to love the body that I have, imperfections and all.

The first step: to stop looking at those stretch marks as permanent scars of failure and frumpiness but to remember how these marks have been earned. They are my battle wounds. They document the struggle this body has fought through the whole pregnancy. They represent a willingness to forget self and to carry another human being until she can carry herself. How can I not take pride in that? I have struggled and wept and begged for relief and those were the scars to prove it.

I can’t lie; sometimes that panicky feeling comes back when I remember that those marks are here to stay. I forget about the wonders of my body and feel ashamed and saddened by the changes that I can’t stop. But when this baby wiggles and pushes, the marks are forgotten. When my husband lies next to me, rubbing that stretched belly, smiling and musing about the little girl we created together, I feel complete and more beautiful than I ever felt without those stretch marks. And sometimes, the amazement of what this imperfect body of mine can and has done overwhelms me. And really, those are the things that matter.

21 February 2011

Women Abroad Take 2: Fernanda da Silva

The next dear woman I want to share with you today is Fernanda da Silva, who though only 16, has already lived so much more life than one would imagine in her few short years. Fernanda is from a rough neighborhood of Sao Paulo originally, but I know her as a resident of a shelter for adolescent mothers run by a small Brazilian organization I'm working for, Lua Nova.

Fernanda is an amazing mother. She loves her daughter with her whole self, plays with her and cares for her constantly. She impresses me all the time, giving so much love to her sweet daughter when she has herself received so little. Fernanda left her home to flee severe abuse at a very young age. She then fell into prostitution and drug trafficking to support herself, becoming pregnant in the process at 15. A network of Brazilian social workers took her out of this situation and brought her to the care of Lua Nova, one of the only places in all of Brazil where she can rehabilitate from drugs, prostitution and homelessness WITH her child. Typically social services will separate mothers from their children, but the brilliant thing about Lua Nova is that they focus on rehabilitating young girls with their children, as mothers, teaching them that in truly loving both themselves and their children, they can learn to break their dependence on drugs, giving them a real reason to live a full life.

Fernanda's story is unfortunately all too typical here - all the girls living at Lua Nova's shelter have some version of her story, and it breaks my heart to hear their experiences. But what is miraculous and brings more joy to me than anything else is to see these girls blossom away from their broken circumstances, becoming dedicated mothers and learning how to find their way in mentally and economically supporting their new family. I'm not a mother yet myself, but their stories inspire me so much on the power of love to transform lives and communities, motherly love perhaps above all else. It also shows to me again the wonderful power of women, of our physical strength to bear and birth children, and then to mentally find the capacity to give our lives to these new children. Motherhood is so often cast aside as some lesser form of living - "just a housewife" is a phrase too often repeated. Instead it is the opposite: there is a true transformative power in motherhood, and I am witness to it daily here with women like Fernanda!

14 February 2011

project 31: a women's movement

happy valentine's day!

in honor of the day of LOVE, i'm introducing a project that focuses on just that.  earlier this month, i took on a challenge over at my personal blog - a women's blogger challenge.  not being hip on the idea of blogger challenges, this was a new thing for me, but i love it already.  project31 is a challenge issued by blogger mandy at shebreathesdeeply.  she challenged women to blog for 31 days about the beauty that they individually possess.  it's an empowering movement to follow - truly.  personally, the thought of more women really accepting themselves and realizing their individual beauty through this journey gave me shivers.  i've read a few that are really taking off with the challenge and it's a beautiful thing to see.

and isn't the day of love a great day to really start loving ourselves?  the bloggers participating have been so inspirational {to me and many others}, and from my brief experience the journey of participation is life-changing.  

you can find the original challenge here.

the link-up at shebreathesdeeply is currently being reworked, but visiting mandy's blog here will hook you up with some fabulous women taking the challenge!

it's about time we all realized our individual beauty and celebrated our unique differences!