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.