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.