Blessed Are the Stretch-Marked and Muffin-Topped
After I gave birth to my third child, pictures flooded social media, including a few of me holding my newborn. Beneath each, the comments. "You look great, Rach!"
Their remarks certainly assuaged my frustration with my postpartum appearance. My still-puffy body, stretch-marked and filled with fluid, did not look great, but I could post pictures that hid some of these flaws.
Then, after reading (and truly, everlastingly appreciating) some of these compliments, I started to feel like a fraud. The variation that most got to me-- "You don't even look like you had a baby!"—had me questioning people's sanity. Of course I looked like I just had a baby. So why did this compliment make me feel better about myself and at the same time so much worse?
I did not look like Maria Kang, whose Facebook posts of her postpartum rock-hard abs have taunted women across the Internet in recent months. I had read just days before giving birth about how women should not be expected to erase the marks of childbearing from their bodies. Blogger Matt Walsh wrote:
There's nothing wrong with being a mom who looks like a mom. We would never tell someone to hide their cultural or ethnic identity, so why do we pressure moms to hide their maternal identity? It's insane. It's wrong.
I've had issues with my pregnant and postpartum body for a while, but I don't want to ignore the physical changes of these stages of life. Through the God-given gift of childbearing, I gained a new, invaluable understanding of myself and my womanhood.
My first pregnancy made me feel gendered as a woman, trapped by my female body, in a way that I had never before experienced. Until then, I always felt my body belonged to me. As an athlete, my body empowered me, even paid for my college tuition. It never restricted me to any so-called woman's role. When it came to gender issues, I looked around me, and I saw my education, my right to vote, my career opportunities, and my husband folding laundry, and I said, "It is good."
It was also good, then, that when I got pregnant, I felt betrayed by my body. The all-day "morning" sickness made it impossible for me to do my job competently. My back went out. People stared at me (because pregnant) and asked intrusive questions or tried to touch my burgeoning belly. My shape was the subject of open discussion. "You hardly look like you've gained any weight," said all the liars. "You look ready to pop! I can't believe you have two more months left," said all the jerks. My GI system rebelled with a vengeance.
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