What do you get when you add stretch marks, loose skin, an umbilical hernia, and ab separation together?
If you guessed “my stomach” you would be correct!
Before pregnancy, I wanted flat and defined abs and exercised to get them: planks, side planks, crunches, day after day of 5-minute ab videos on YouTube. Flat and defined abs made me feel strong, made me feel beautiful. The month before I found out I was pregnant, I bought a crop top—my first ever!—to wear with my black, high-waisted jeans. I wore it once before the first trimester bloating and discomfort pushed it to the back of my closet.
My pregnancy was uncomplicated, but my daughter shocked us by weighing 9 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. After I delivered her, I hemorrhaged. I spent the first night she was alive in the ICU, recovering from emergency surgery that did, thankfully, stop my bleeding.
Some moms talk about how strong they feel after they have delivered a baby. I could not relate to those moms.
I was weaker than I had ever been. I could not walk from the living room to the bedroom without losing my breath. I needed help lifting my baby, feeding my baby, and doing anything around the house. I drank daily beet and spinach smoothies to boost my iron counts because I had lost so much blood in the hospital.
I regained my strength. After five weeks, I was able to start taking care of my daughter by myself. Breastfeeding and daily walks helped me lose the pregnancy weight. But my stomach still looked like a warzone.
Some moms talk about how strong they feel after they have delivered a baby.
I cannot relate to those moms.
I still go on walks and occasionally do and squats and lift light weights for my arms, but it has been four years since I have done a 5-minute abs video on YouTube. The thought of doing crunches with an umbilical hernia makes my heart race. My stomach has deflated naturally, but to say it resembles my pre-baby stomach would be untrue. Very, very untrue. On a recent trip to see my parents, I saw a picture of myself, taken when I was 18, in a purple and green Target bikini.
I remember that body, I thought.
And then I put my hands on my stomach, the stomach that has stretch marks now, and loose skin, and the umbilical hernia, and ab separation.
The day my daughter was born, I was given a fresh pair of eyes. The new eyes see that life is short, that nothing is guaranteed, that I can think I am in control one minute, and the next minute control is ripped out of my still-clenched hands. With my fresh pair of eyes, I am also able to see the beauty in battered bodies. Specifically, in my battered body. It is a reminder that I grew a baby, that I delivered a baby, that my nurse told my husband when they rushed me to surgery the first priority was to save my life. It is a reminder that I survived.
My daughter just celebrated her third birthday. We ate hot dogs and cake and then she took her tricycle outside, pedaling up and down our street until long past her bedtime. I thought about how I pushed her on the park swing when she was a baby, steamed and blended carrots and potatoes and peas for her to eat, held her hand when she was learning to walk, let her go so that she could run, taught her to say “love you” and “mommy” and “thank you” and “please.”
My battered body did all of that.
Maybe I am strong, after all.