After I gave birth to Theo, my belly was a gently distending, gracefully curving arc; so soft it indented with little, red, baby footprints after I held him. I loved it. Probably, I was prepped to. First from the scene in Pulp Fiction where the French woman explains the benefits of round bellies to Bruce Willis. Then in sage Marisa’s yoga class where one of the cues to relax into savasana is to picture your belly as a big, deflated balloon. When I had that thought about my body after birth, it felt welcome and right.
Some of my least favorite pregnancy hogwash is about women’s bodies. We talk about what pregnancy “does to us,” as if it is an alien condition, describe dramatic and grotesque changes in terms of being endured, and take for granted that after a woman’s body gets all ruined, she should strive to bounce back to her previous self. A mindset wherein the best compliment you can receive is “you don’t even look like you’ve had a baby.”
I’ve heard that compliment and still have no idea how to reply. I sometimes feel good and sometimes feel robbed of an accomplishment. A couple times my unfortunate response has been to emphasize the kindness of a photo’s angle or the looseness of my clothes (allusion: no really, I hate my body as much as you do, we’re on the same team!). I don’t hate my body. I did say “I’m fat” once, after seeing a post-pregnancy photo of myself, but fat didn’t feel like the right word for the new, redistributed weight even as I said it. A better word would be solid. I’m more solid.
I especially like this descriptor because of its opposition to fragility.
Does it make sense to bounce back from a state of solidity to one of fragility? Is it solidness that makes us label mom bods unattractive? Less like a member of “the weaker sex?” If it does anything, birth proves we’re not weak and my post-baby body, despite its need to recouperate, feels damn near invincible. Ask me to lift a car. Fight an angry dog. Sleep very little for weeks on end (I’m about to go pro). If this is the grotesque change, sign me up for five more.
The stories I’d heard about pregnancy prepared me for a negative experience with the catch that it was worth it in the end. For some women, that description of pregnancy is correct, but for me it wasn’t so, if someone ever asked, I’d offer a different view on a few points:
- Our bodies are made for pregnancy – the whole thing feels a lot more natural than you’d think. It’s like puberty. Big changes happen gradually and your body comes out looking different, but just fine. Take a lesson from your 16-year-old self and don’t feel uncomfortable in the locker room this time.
- A mom bod doesn’t look like a non-mom-bod and that’s ok. Why spend a lot of energy trying to hide it? Beauty is subjective anyway. It’s based more on society than set ideals and our current capitalistic society wants you to feel insecure so you’ll spend lots of money. Distrust this society’s definition of beauty.
- There are contemporarily recognized aesthetic upsides to the mom bod. Mom boobs, for instance, are fantastic. They’re big and full, with nipples that are pink (raw, from breast-feeding) and perennially perky (also from breast-feeding). These are the breasts women ask for when they pay thousands of dollars for boob jobs.
- Belly-area changes are most dramatic but totally lovable. My belly button now has a lived-in look (a phrase that makes me smile) intersected by a dark line that won’t ever go away. My midwife described the latter as a battle scar and that’s a perfectly badass way to think about the whole package of stretch marks, belly lines, and lived-in buttons.
- Pregnancy and birth expand your understanding of your capacity for stength. Mom bods are strong. Female bodies are strong. To define a beautiful woman as one that is small (frail?) is a denial of this and so should be ignored.
- The opportunity to reveal to yourself reservoirs of this unexpected strength is not to be missed.