The transition that takes place between not having kids and suddenly being responsible another person's life, can be a tough one. It was an especially difficult change for me, in more ways than one. I've been at this whole parenting thing for a while now; some days I feel like a rock star, other days I feel like a frumpy failure. So when my toddler son said something to me the other day about what he thought about me, as a mother and my less-than-stellar appearance, I melted. Because kids say what they really think about their parents, a kid's take on damn near anything can be humbling and scary and even embarrassing and, well, what my son said about me left me feeling completely shocked.
Before I had kids, I was a competitive athlete. It's hard for me to even remember a time I wasn't practicing or competing at a tournament or training in the gym. I was fit and healthy, and I could run a ten minute mile without even breaking a sweat. Now that I've been a mom for a few years, just the thought of a ten minute mile gets me out of breath. My boys are only 15 months apart in age. I found out I was pregnant with our second kid when our first was only seven months old. If my first pregnancy took quite a toll on my body,then my second one basically put it through a full-on, merciless beating. I hadn't completely recovered from my first pregnancy before my second one was in full swing. My body was depleted of so many minerals, my hips and pelvis still hadn't returned to their normal, stable state, my hormones hadn't even remotely leveled, and I was still emotionally dealing with all the changes I had just experienced. I ended up getting a tiny fracture in my femoral neck from the stress on my pelvis, which made my postpartum recovery a literal pain in my ass.
Between my injury, my weight gain, and the constant pressure of making sure both of my boys were taken care of, not to mention heading back to work after only five weeks, my postpartum body didn't really look all that postpartum. Having never really been someone who worried much about her physical appearance, my postpartum pounds felt foreign. When my weight (which was at a perfectly healthy level) didn't fall off immediately, and when I couldn't squeeze back into my pre-baby jeans, I began to think severely unkind thoughts about myself and my body. I would stare at my new shell in a full length mirror, picking apart every stretch mark, dimple, and extra pound. I would look at pictures of my pre-baby abs and my muffin topless silhouette, cursing mother nature for robbing me of my once athletic frame. I would get caught in the downward spiral of picking myself to pieces, critiquing every little insignificant bit of myself, slowly falling deeper and deeper into a pit of self-loathing. This went on for weeks, and then months, and then over a year had passed and, still, I hadn't learned how to love my new body.
My dear, sweet grandmother knew that I was struggling with my postpartum body image, and wanted to help me feel better. In an attempt to cheer me up and put a smile on my clearly easy-to-read face, she bought me some new clothes. That woman is a saint in my eyes, but she also thinks I'm still the size I was in high school. I'm not unhealthy and I'm not one to even dwell on size, in general, but I'm definitely not the size I was when I was 18. Like, not even close. I was at home with both of my boys when I decided to try on the things she bought me. Most of her purchases didn't fit, or they didn't look the way I wanted them to look, so I began my usual downward spiral of self-hatred as I picked my body apart. Her attempt at making me feeing better had backfired, and I started feeling even worse about the body I was now inhabiting.
As I was looking at myself in the mirror, wearing one of the skirts my grandmother had bought me, my almost three-year-old walked into my bedroom. His sweet little face lit up and he said something that so surprising that, still, I get emotional thinking about his sweet voice. "Mah, you look like a princess!" he exclaimed, very interested in the colorful skirt I was wearing. "Really?" I asked him. My son sweetly replied,"Yeah, you're a princess."
I had been so busy picking out everything that I didn't like about my body, completely obsessed with my appearance, that I completely forgotten about what was really important. My body changed for two beautiful reasons and it did something miraculous twice: it gave me my sons. My boys won't remember whether or not I had love handles or a few extra pounds on me; they won't remember if I was the picture of physical perfection, or if I had a little flab around my belly; they won't remember the size of my pants or if I fit some socially created, predetermined standard of beauty. No, they'll remember me playing in the pool with them, even though putting on a swim suit makes me quiver. They'll remember me taking them to the park and playing on the monkey bars with them, even though going out in public (wearing something other than my pajamas) gives me anxiety. They will remember me and how I made them feel and the laughs we shared and the memories we made, not their mom's "imperfect" body.
Of course, there are things that I want to teach my sons about body positivity, but I never imagined that they would be the ones teaching me to learn how to love my body. When they look at me, they don't see a person who isn't worthy of love or admiration because she never "got her body back." They see someone who builds them blanket forts and provides them with endless snacks. They see someone who reads them countless stories and runs through the sprinkler with them without a thought or care in the world. They see someone they love and trust and care deeply about, and someone who deserves to be loved and respected.
It's still going to take time and I'm still working on completely loving the body I now have, but when I start to dwell on the pounds or love handles or some inner-need to spend a significant amount of time on the treadmill, I think about what my sons really see. They see a princess, and it's about time I started seeing that, too.