I love my stretch marks. People liken them to a badge of honor during pregnancy (and after) — a reminder of what their body was able to accomplish. For me, they’re the embodiment of a miracle. They're a warm memory of a physical connection to my 2 year old, a person who once relied on my body to sustain him, who’s now quickly becoming his own self all too quickly. I adore my stretch marks — no, that's not quite right. I love my stretch marks. They created life. And all throughout mine they'll serve as a physical reminder of the life I carried inside. The physical changes to my body have been overwhelming, but when I stop and think about what those lines signify, I can't help but feel sheer pride.

I am someone who’s never been as comfortable as I should with my body, especially if I've gained weight, but my pregnancy was something different. After years of being an amateur athlete (and joking about the need for lots of pictures of me being fit before getting pregnant), I wanted so badly to be pregnant. It had been the plan all along. I wanted a baby. And I was willing to take on the whole experience, lumps and marks and all.

Stretch marks didn't come until late in my pregnancy. At my baby shower, eight months in, a friend asked me if I'd gotten any yet. “Nope!” I crowed. I thought, somehow, that maybe I’d "escaped" them by clean living. Or maybe I’d lucked out in the stretch-mark department, I thought, since I wasn’t gaining a ton of weight at the end of my pregnancy because of strict dietary restrictions due to gestational diabetes. Lucky me, I thought.

Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner

Years earlier, puberty handed me stretch marks on my thighs, and I can't say that I'd ever been a fan. Overnight I went from just a plain old skinny kid to a skinny kid with thighs and boobs. In sixth grade there was a rumor that my ex-boyfriend (we held hands by the kickball field once during our torrid romance) had called me "Thunder Thighs." By seventh grade I was a kid who was maybe starting to get "chubby," and then, immediately after, I was a kid who restricted her eating a little too much to be healthy.

I’m real. My son is real. A walking, talking reminder of what my body could accomplish. My body did this, just like millions of others have done.

Fast forward 20 years later to my pregnancy and this time, the presence of stretch marks didn’t scare me. I wasn’t confused or unnerved by the sight of them, and I was willing to go through pretty much anything if it meant there was a reasonably healthy baby at the end. I mean, we agree to carrying the damn thing, eschewing cocktails for 10 months of our precious lives, and to giving birth. So stretch marks? I could deal with that.

Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner

My pregnancy was no walk in the park, either. I wasn't one of those women who "glows" and talks about how magical it was. I wasn't one of those women who's sick or in pain the entire time, either. Instead I just suffered from a lot of the common miseries and wanted to sleep approximately 20 hours a day. It could have been a lot worse, but when you’re sacked out on the floor with insomnia every night — on the floor because you can’t stay in the same position for more than 30 seconds without squirming or flipping over and you don’t want to subject your partner to that — you really start to feel like this isn’t the most fun you’ve ever had.

My stretch marks are evidence that as I've grown and changed, so has my body.

So yes, my stretch marks are proof of my strength, but more than that is the fact that they ground me. I’m real. My son is real. A walking, talking reminder of what my body could accomplish. My body did this, just like millions of others have done. And my child grounds me in that passage of time, too. The time of my life with happy hours followed by naps is over, as is the time defined by America’s Next Top Model marathons, eating a hunk of bread for dinner, and spending every other Saturday night waiting in a club at 2 a.m. for my husband to load drums out after a show. My stretch marks are evidence that as I've grown and changed, so has my body.

Courtesy of Kelley Gardiner

We joke, sometimes, when my kid pokes me in the stomach. "That's where you used to live," I tell him. But it's not just a stilly thing to say. He did live there. I kept him as safe as I could. He might hate to be reminded of it the older he gets, as we're still soundly stuck in the cuddling age, but I'll always still feel that physical connection to him. I made this kid. He lived in me. I fed him for the first months of his life.

Some people say that stretch marks are something to remove or hide. And you know what? I won't begrudge a single woman who feels that way. It's your choice, much like it is mine. If you want to spend money on creams and treatments to reduce redness caused by stretch marks, by all means, go ahead. But I made my peace in a different way. I love the reminder my son's birth has on my skin. There are all kinds of beauty in this world — and I'm reminded almost daily that strength and life are beautiful too.