Romper

I Think I Look Better After Having Kids Than I Did Before I Got Pregnant

Courtesy of Rae Steward

In 2011, I worked out regularly because I could go to the gym whenever I wanted. I was tan from countless hours spent at the beach, and I was thin, even though I ate huge portions of (mostly) healthy food. I had super short hair, and wore big, chunky jewelry, tank tops, and miniskirts.

I got pregnant with my first child almost exactly 5 years ago. Since then, I don't remember the last time I set foot in a gym. I still go to the beach, but now I slather myself and my kids in sunscreen and spend my time building sand castles and making sure everyone has snacks. I'm not as thin as I used to be. I'm curvier now, with wider hips and a softer stomach. Sometimes I am so busy chasing the kids that I forget to eat, or I eat their cold leftovers standing over the sink after everyone has gone to bed. My standard uniform these days consists of cozy sweaters, jeans, and Converse high-tops, and my big jewelry has been retired after being yanked on by tiny hands too many times.

Everything about me has changed, including how I look. But I still think I look better after having kids than I did before I got pregnant.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

The change in my appearance is partly due to age. I was just 27 years old when I got pregnant with my son, and I'm 32 years old now. I have wrinkles under my eyes, along with dark circles from countless nights rocking babies back to sleep. Grey strands of hair catch the light, which contrasts with the original deep brunette shade of my hair.

But age doesn't account for all of these changes. Carrying my babies changed my shape forever, leaving fuller breasts, stretch marks across my thighs, and a steadier frame. I'm stronger in a different way than before. I can carry a crying four-year-old boy up the stairs to put him to bed. I can hold the baby for hours on end if she needs me to.

Becoming a mother awakened a desire within me to learn how to be vulnerable, authentic, and humble. My long hair, understated jewelry, and simple wardrobe are reflections of the way I have been internally transformed by motherhood.

I know that by society's standards, I looked "better" before I gave birth, because I was fit, tan, and always looked sexy and put-together. But when I look at pictures of myself before becoming a mother, I don't recognize the woman I see in the photos.

I know that by society's standards, I looked "better" before I gave birth, because I was fit, tan, and always looked sexy and put-together. But when I look at pictures of myself before becoming a mother, I don't recognize the woman I see in the photos. I see a girl who is scared, sad, and lost.

Before my first pregnancy, I suffered from untreated depression and anxiety, and I often felt as if I didn't know what my purpose was or what kind of woman I wanted to be.  I still struggle with depression and anxiety, but I take steps to treat it and I no longer suffer the way I did, because my kids need me to be as healthy.

For the first few years of my son's life, I hated looking at pictures of myself, unable to see anything except the extra weight, the awkward lumpiness, and the tremendous exhaustion on my face. Now I can look at those same pictures and see how beautiful I am in my mothering. I look loving and fierce and kind.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

I might've felt aimless before I got pregnant, but I feel like I do know what my purpose is now. That's not to say that my children are the be all and end all of my life, because they're not: There are still parts of my life that don't include my kids, and they are important to me because they are my own. But becoming a mother elucidated a sense of purpose and direction that I'd previously lacked. Now, I know that my job is to love my children unconditionally, to model the behavior I hope to instill in my children, and to leave the world a better place than I found it. Being a mom forces me to check in with myself about whether I'm consistently living up to my own ideals.

Motherhood has transformed me inside and out.

I get less attention from people now. It wasn't uncommon for strangers to compliment me or flirt with me when I was in my 20s. Now, not so much — and that's OK. I don't need validation from others the way I used to, because I'm busy, tired, and honestly just don't care. Life is just different now, and I'm different in it.

Motherhood has transformed me inside and out. On the outside, I may be less conventionally "attractive" than before, but those external changes reflect the internal ones that I love so much. I am grateful to be more grounded in who I am, more confident, more driven, and more committed to being of service to my family. Motherhood has led me to embrace a sense of selflessness that I couldn't possibly have understood before.

Courtesy of Rae Steward

I used to criticize my body and my looks almost constantly. But when I look in the mirror, I see a very tired, very happy, and very beautiful woman. I still have my moments of criticism and self-doubt, but for the most part I love who I am, both inside and out.