After baby #1, I was upset that it took two whole weeks for the swelling in my ankles to go down. I was annoyed that a month after giving birth I had to wear pants that were a single size larger than what I had been wearing prior to my pregnancy. I delivered my daughter in the late spring, and by mid-summer I was pretty much back to my original shape, only this time with enormous (by my standards), perfectly hemispherical nursing boobs. I ran out and bought a brand-new two-piece bathing suit. I think everyone in Mom & Baby group hated me.
My body: "Whoa! What just happened for the last nine months?" *Shakes it off*
After baby #2 I found myself in kind of a funk. This was my first and only encounter with "the baby blues," wherein a delightful cocktail of hormones causes you to shrug and say "ehhh" to every situation in which you find yourself. I loved my daughters, but felt like I was only doing an ehhh job at taking care of them. Going out sounded ehhh, but staying home sounded even more ehhh. And of course, my post-partum body was the epitome of ehhh. It wasn't unrecognizable-- I had only a single stretch mark-- but it was squishy and unmuscled and didn't feel like it belonged to me anymore. If I said to it, "body! Perform this physical task, and be quick about it!" it would accomplish the task. But it would do it slowly, and with no elegance or grace. I was annoyed with my body, and annoyed with myself for caring so much about it. I thought maybe this made me vain or shallow. Honestly, though, I didn't give much thought to being attractive. I simply missed feeling strong and capable in my own skin. That was a feeling that returned slowly, after many months of hiking and camping and walking, many months of hefting children up and down flights of stairs, and many months of forgetting what "normal" used to be.
My body: "Yes, I will regain muscle tone. But I will do this as slowly as I possibly can without inspiring you to adopt an actual exercise regimen."
Then came baby #3. Great, big baby #3. He was nine pounds, six ounces when he was born, and in a photograph taken six hours before I went into labor you cannot even tell that I'm pregnant from behind. I carried that big baby and all of his accouterments directly in front, with no help from the rest of my torso. My skin ripped wide open in shiny purple zigzags. My abdominal muscles were roughly shoved aside and still, six months after his birth, do not meet in the middle. His labor was long and challenging and full of question marks, and at the end of everything I was just grateful that we were both healthy and whole. But this was no first or second birth; this time my foundation had been cracked. It took me a week just to walk fully upright, and many more after that to feel as though my insides weren't on the verge of tumbling out of my stomach. I don't recognize my own reflection in the mirror, but this time it's not the baby blues talking. My structure has been fundamentally altered, and not in a way that society would deem "pretty." I look the way I feared I would when I heard women talk about childbirth ruining their bodies.
The thing is, it doesn't bother me-- at least, not for longer than the nanosecond it takes me to gasp at the scars that still take me by surprise. I measure my physical fitness by how long I can hike without getting tired (not very) and how many kids I can carry up a hill at once (three). I now know firsthand how rapidly a person's physical form can change; my body won't always be this strong-- or weak. But it will always be the place where my children grew, and the source of milk and snuggles that nourished them after they were no longer a literal part of me. That seems like a pretty healthy source of self-esteem.
My body: "Nope. There's no going back this time. Find something else to like about yourself."