For the first time in my life, I no longer recognize the girl staring back at me in the mirror. Fine lines define the corners of her eyes and the contours of her mouth. Deep, dark, purplish circles are ever-present under her tired eyes. Where there once was a smooth forehead, worry lines extend from one end to the other. Her once shiny, luscious, dark chocolate locks have faded into a matte brownish color, and streaks of silver are more and more visible.

On her vanity, bottles of anti-age creams, rejuvenating exfoliants, and skin illuminators stand next to concealers and corrector serums. All beauty products that were once alien to her.

Passing her hand underneath her chin, she pinches that double chin and sighs. Long gone is the delicate swan neck she once had. The once-defined clavicle that framed her shoulders is barely visible under an extra layer of fat.

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Standing up, she clenches that muffin top with both hands. Her jeans that once hugged her curvy thighs are now suffocating her waist. She needs a new pair in a bigger size, but she seldom shops for herself anymore.

Yet, the girl is smiling. Despite that strange body and face I no longer recognize, the girl in the mirror is smiling at me.

Her youth has been stripped away, but over the years, she has gained something much more valuable.

The fine lines in the corner of her eyes and on the contours of her mouth are the countless smiles she’s given and laughs she’s had. Those deep, dark circles she no longer cares to hide are from all those sleepless nights rocking babies to sleep or staying up with sick children.

Those worry lines on her forehead were gained through all the hardships she’s had to endure. All the turmoil, fear, and anxiety that come with being a mother have left their mark. They’re medals of valor for everything she’s had to survive.

Her once-proud mane has been neglected over the years. Rolled up carelessly into a bun, sometimes without getting combed, it has been placed on the back burner where it was left to turn gray. Little piggy tails needed to be tied, or beautiful French braids needed to be made instead.

That double chin, those round, pudgy shoulders are signs of good food and indulgence—no time for diets when there are cookies to be baked and cake to be had. And a much-needed pizza Friday is called for at the end of a long week.

Underneath that muffin top is the most significant change of all. A round belly where once there was a flat stomach. Three kids have grown inside that belly, the last one leaving a scar.

That muffin top is her rite of passage into motherhood. Her battleground where a flag of victory was planted and reads in bold, bright letters: MOM.

She’s proud of that muffin top. It’s a blessing to be able to conceive and give birth. That muffin top is proof her body has made miracles.

That girl smiling at me in the mirror is no longer a girl. She’s a soon-to-be middle-aged woman. And though, sometimes she wonders about the years gone by. Reflects upon the decisions in her life that have brought her to this point in time. Looks back with nostalgia at pictures of herself where she was young and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

She has no regrets.

Yes, perhaps, she would look younger had she not had any kids. Maybe she would be fitter if she had pursued a career, but the wonder fades into blissful amazement every time one of her kids learns something new.

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And yes, there are some days when she wants to hide the passage of time on her face with all those expensive beauty products. Wants to conceal the streaks of silver on her hair with a trip to her hairdresser. She may even want to comfortably fit again in those jeans in a not-too-distant future. But for now, she will change those worn-out jeans for a pair of comfortable joggers. And as she bundles that hair upon her head once more, her soft smile turns into a grin of pure contentment to the sound of a small, sweet voice coming from across the hall, calling her name, “Mama.”

Standing up, she rubs her face with both hands, pulls down her shirt over that bulge on her midsection, and walks out of her room to start another day.

She may have lost her youth, but she has gained wisdom, knowing her life has been blessed and it is written all over her body.

Tania Lorena Rivera

Armed with a degree in animal biology, Tania set out to work in research. However, she chose to be a homemaker once she became a mom. The journey into motherhood allowed her to visit another passion of hers, writing. She spends her days taking care of her family, who is the inspiration for most of her writing and photography.