I was 12 years old when stretch marks first made an appearance on my body. 

While I had noticed them before, it was in a dressing room where they especially stood out. I was at a department store with my mom, trying on swimsuits for my ever-changing, rapidly-growing body. With hips bare, there they were: streaks of white that seemed to glow under the glare of fluorescent lighting.

My mom seemed surprised, even confused by the sight of them, asking what “those marks” were and how I got them. I don’t remember my exact response, but as a late middle-schooler, I can imagine I didn’t do much more than shrug my shoulders or mumble some disinterested, even slightly embarrassed response.

While she meant no harm and was probably shocked by the pace at which my body was growing, the tone in her voice told me those marks were something to be afraid of. And that they certainly weren’t something to be admired.

I remember the swimsuit she bought me that day. It was a bright teal one-piece, constructed from stretchy, ribbed fabric, that showed off my hips—and my stretch marks.

The suit lasted for a season—my insecurity for much longer.

When the next summer rolled around, I focused on hiding those stretch marks with suits that featured boy shorts and high rise bottoms. And as the seasons came and went, I continued to choose swimsuit styles based on how well they covered up those marks.

Fast forward 20-some years and it’s not just my hips that are streaked in white, but my abdomen and breasts, too—the result of carrying babies in my womb and producing milk for their consumption.

I can’t say I was happy when stretch marks began spreading across sections of my body that had previously been smooth to the touch. During my first pregnancy, despite their presence being rather minimal, I was horrified when they appeared near the bottom of my baby bump just weeks before my due date. Little did I know that future pregnancies would leave my body even more scarred.

My final baby was born over three years ago, and from that pregnancy came the most significant amount of stretch marks I’ve developed. They started to appear early in the second trimester and multiplied by the day. And when swimsuit season rolled around again, I chose the fullest of coverage: a tankini with a swim skirt. And, of course, a cover-up I dared not take off.

While the marks on my body are external, they’ve caused an internal battle for most of my life.

I’ve felt deep pressure to hide what doesn’t look perfect. To bury my body under layers of fabric at the pool and turn off the lights when the bedroom starts to heat up.

But maybe it’s true that with age comes wisdom. And self-acceptance.

Because just days ago, I stood in front of a hotel bathroom mirror, with a toddler at my leg and a child’s laughter seeping through the cracked door. As I prepared to shower off the day’s sweat and chlorine, I took a good look at those stretch marks. Again, I observed how they seemed to stand out under the fluorescent lighting. And I finally saw my stretch marks for what they really are.

Evidence of an abundant life.

There I was, a grown woman, body marred, but with so much to show for those marks. Growth. Life.

My body has survived growing pains and birth pains. My babies are growing into children. And it was in front of that mirror that I saw beauty in everything this body has done for me and the places it’s taken me.

But mostly I saw a life that has been worth every scar. And I’m no longer going to hide them.

Jenny Albers

Jenny Albers is a wife, mother, and writer.  She is the author of Courageously Expecting, a book that empathizes with and empowers women who are pregnant after loss. You can find Jenny on her blog, where she writes about pregnancy loss, motherhood, and faith. She never pretends to know it all, but rather seeks to encourage others with real (and not always pretty) stories of the hard, heart, and humorous parts of life. She's a work in progress, and while never all-knowing, she's (by the grace of God) always growing. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.