Expect the Unexpected (In which I discuss body image after baby…or babies)

What I’ve learned from parenting so far is this: Expect the unexpected. Planning a picnic? Don’t forget the umbrella. Scheduled a family photo shoot? Learn to love photos in which someone is crying (not necessarily a child). Going out for drinks with the girls? Until some sweet child you have no choice but to claim as yours loses her dinner all over your sweater and hangs onto you for dear life as she carries on with a scene rivaling those of The Exorcist (not speaking from personal experience or anything). Oh, and that uterus of yours that’s built to house one baby? Congratulations, you’re having twins!

Expect the unexpected. I should eat these words because when the doctors at my ob-gyn practice warned me that my stomach would be stretched beyond recognition (I’m talking postpartum here), I didn’t believe them. They told me that most women who have multiples end up getting tummy tucks, but I brushed it off without a second thought. I’ve always been (somewhat) active, I try to eat healthy, I’m not overweight by any means, and within weeks after giving birth to Mia I was back in fighting form. Maybe not pre-baby form, but fighting form nonetheless.

After I gave birth to the boys (via c-section), I knew it was going to be a long road back to fighting form when I left the hospital nearly the same size I was when I went in. Worse, my entire body was swollen. I told Zach that I looked like a completely different person. He joked that I looked like I was wearing a fat suit while my dad thought it was okay to verbalize that I resembled someone with elephantitis. Score one for the men in my life.

Before we left the hospital, the nurses told me to drink water like it was my job, so I did. Eventually, the extra fluid drained out of my body and everything was pretty much back to normal. Except for my stomach.

There’s something we do as women that I think is fantastic: we talk about stretch marks and c-section scars and varicose veins as battle wounds, scars worthy of superheroes, the marks of bringing life into the world. We build each other up, confirming our roles as warriors, as the bearers of pain that threatens to split us in two but one that is uniquely ours. We know that the pain is only something to be pushed aside in order to get to the prize because what’s waiting for us at the finish line is a moment, both permanent and fleeting, that can’t be put into words: the euphoria of holding our baby for the first time, of looking into their eyes and speaking that language between mother and baby, the one that gets lost in translation to anyone else. And when we bounce back after giving birth (and by “bounce back” I mean work our asses off), we’re the first to cheer each other on and trade high-fives because we too have fought/are fighting the battle against baby bulge. And if we’re one of the lucky ones to have given birth to multiples (I mean that earnestly, by the way), our climb is only that much steeper.

But I wonder if the battle wounds are visible to only those who’ve gone to battle. Are stretch marks recognized as the mappings of motherhood by anyone other than mothers? Is all the “Yay, rah! Go us!” a grand facade to hide the truth that when we look in the mirror we still mourn our childless bodies? (Or maybe that’s just me.) When I look in the mirror I think of that game, Which one of these is not like the other? It’s my stomach. Still a bit paunchy no matter the sit-ups crunched or miles ran with loose, wrinkled skin rivaling that of an 80-year-old and a sad, droopy area formerly known as my bellybutton.

I’ve thought about this frequently since having the boys, when the ghost of abs past haunts me, and I wrestle with wanting a tummy tuck vs saying, whatever, I went to battle, I’m strong, I am woman hear me roar. It’s just that sometimes I would like to roar with a stomach that doesn’t look like a warm slab of dough thrown against the wall.

infant twin boys

I know they were worth it, okay? I know.

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24 thoughts on “Expect the Unexpected (In which I discuss body image after baby…or babies)

  1. alexiskrystina says:

    I only had one baby (so far) and I feel the same way. I’m back to my normal self… except for my stomach. I did gain 50 lbs during my pregnancy, and that’s half my weight! I’m really small so we joked that baby Diego didn’t have any vertical space so my belly just protruded and I was stretched to the max.
    I’m petrified of surgery (never had one), and I think, am I really that vain? That I can’t live with a flabby belly? I’ll just wear one pieces–they do have cute ones now. But it still doesn’t change the fact that once that one piece comes off and I look in the mirror, I’m like, ew. I go back and forth wondering if I should get a tummy tuck (and/or a breast lift.. but that’s another story lol) after I’m done having babies, and I can’t decide. What if–God forbid–something were to happen to me during surgery? Then I would have left my babies for vanity, which is not okay. So, like you, I’m torn. Someone help us!!! lol

    • Lara says:

      I’m on the small side too, which is why the doctors were so adamant at warning me about the after effects of a multiple pregnancy. I just didn’t want to believe it. The thought of surgery (especially for the sake of vanity) scares me too. Turns out I’m prone to hernias and my doctor said that if I get one in the future they can just do a little nip and tuck while they’re in there (already having surgery so I might as well), so I think that will be my deciding factor. Until then, it’s one-pieces all the way. 🙂

  2. amandalayne says:

    Amen, sister! My c-section wrecked me with just Cruz. I too left the hospital as big as I arrived and was super swollen. Comments hurt and I never knew it was normal until I just read this – almost two years later! Thanks for your honesty! Keep blogging! I look back on our journalism days fondly and miss you. i should get my butt out of bed (spring break), and begin my new-normal morning of weighing myself and making my protein shake in hopes to finally get this weight off and body back (because I too think I can do it on my own). Sigh.

      • Lara says:

        Oh, I miss you too! Wish we lived closer – we could workout together and hold each other accountable. So sorry you had to experience the bloating too, especially with everything else you went through with Cruz. Are you still blogging? Writing at all?

  3. cookie1986 says:

    I so hear you. I didn’t have twins, but felt like everything went back to normal except my stomach. Which is why I thought I should just hurry up and have the second baby right away. While everything is still messed up.
    And you know what else? I think having a tummy tuck is a fabulous idea. I think it should be part of the services offered by our OB as part of the childbirthing process.
    Right?

    • Lara says:

      Totally. Now I understand why celebrities get tummy tucks immediately following the births of their babies. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.

    • Lara says:

      Why is that the greatest job in the world requires such a transformation — physically, emotionally, philosophically, etc. No wonder this motherhood gig is so exhausting. 🙂 As always, thank you for reading.

  4. ccpruett says:

    I am not married nor in any position to be having children any time soon. But for someone who wants a family and children very much one day, I must confess this is a big fear of mine. It’s hard enough now, completely babyless to keep fit and in my so-called “skinny-jeans”, I can’t even imagine it getting much harder :/
    But I love the honesty of your post, and the picture at the end… it really does seem to make all the vanity grow strangely dim 😉 They are beautiful by the way!

    • Lara says:

      Oh no, I don’t want to scare you! Believe me, at the end of the day, it’s so so very worth it. Just invest in some Spanx and you’re good to go. 🙂

        • alexiskrystina says:

          This is so funny because I used to say that I wanted 5 kids too, and everyone who had kids told me they said the same thing.. Until they started having kids. I have 1 now and I’m starting to think maybe 2 or 3 kids will be better. But maybe 4 will be good, or maybe itll be too much. I’m obviously still torn here. Lol

  5. now at home mom says:

    Oh! yes! they are worth it! I know, I know it too! 🙂 but like you the only thing I was not able to loose was my belly! I used to be a runner, I got pregnant, I was healthy, I had a horrible pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum), lost a lot of weight and gained only 20 pounds throughout my entire pregnancy. Had a very difficult “birth”; 26hrs of labour and it ended with a c-section. When I came home, like you I was swollen, I had gained weight, I was bigger than when I was admitted to the hospital. It was awful, so when I read your story, I could relate. My brothers kept teasing me about it! I love how you describe what so many of us went through and I still find that woman who give births to twins are amazing! 🙂

  6. 1veggieatatime says:

    Oh gosh – I only had one baby and I still know what you mean. I look 34 all over and my belly looks 85 from the stretchmarks…and I only gained 23 lbs during pregnancy. We are warriors…but it is OK for us to sigh and mumble a few swear words at the mirror. Great post.

  7. muddledmom says:

    Ugh, the horrible after baby belly. My babies are 7 and 10. My daughter likes to look at my belly and proudly announce that SHE did that. It was beautiful after my son. It did not survive my daughter. But I’m thinner now than I was before kids so I can’t complain. 😉 Just can’t show it off in a bikini.

    • Lara says:

      Ha. My daughter laughs at my belly and says, “It looks so funny.” I’m not even that sad that I can’t wear a bikini anymore. Well, maybe a little. Like when I see other moms wearing bikinis. Sigh.

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