Sunday, November 19, 2006

belly up

I brought two sizes of jeans into the fitting room with me yesterday. Size 8 and size 10. I figured one of them was probably the right fit, but in the end, I walked out with a 12. How would I know? It was an experiment in trial and error. I used to be a size 4, sometimes 6, but I haven't worn regular (i.e. non-maternity) pants since January, when I was 10 weeks pregnant. That was when my largest pair of H&M stretch cords finally got too tight and I went to Motherhood Maternity for the first time. I remember that night, how shy I felt, not quite showing a bump and feeling as if somehow I didn't deserve to be there. Roxy met me at the store, all eight months pregnant of her, like the older sister who knows the ropes, and we oohed and aahed over my round little tummy in the stretch-to-fit jeans and all the cute empire-waist tops. Shopping for clothes was fun back then. I used to tuck the little pillow they leave for you into the pants and under the tops and stand sideways in front of the dressing room mirror, dreaming about the big belly yet to come.

But yesterday I was alone. Alone with my shriveled skin; my brown, misshapen navel; my stretchmarks; the droopy pooch that still makes me look more pregnant than I did that day in January. I grew very big when I was pregnant with Daniel — and it was all in the tummy. My skin stretched like a balloon, bigger than a basketball, and when Daniel came out, it all collapsed into a jiggly mass, covering the aftermath of child-carrying: the odd shape of organs pushed aside, the abdominal muscles spread apart, not yet joined together again. The sagging skin, like an old woman's, that I can grab with my fists when I lie in the tub. The aches I still feel when I sit up too quickly or overwork myself. I didn't know. It's one of those things moms don't talk about much, those details you somehow miss along the way, like how much you will bleed after you have a baby. Two weeks after Daniel was born, I walked into a doctor's waiting room, and one of the women in the lobby asked me how far along I was. I used to smile when people asked me that question, but at that moment, I wanted to slap her. And then, when I got called back into the exam room, the nurse asked me the same thing. She did a double-take when she looked at my chart and saw I was there to have a post-partum issue checked out. "You shouldn't be that big," she said, but when I jumped down her throat, she apologized. No one told me things like that would happen.

I'm not used to this new tummy yet, and I'm not sure whether to hold out hope that in a few more months it will flatten out, smooth over, go back to the way it was when I had a size 4 dancer's body. I don't think it will, though. I might eventually fit back into my old clothes, but I think I will need to make peace with the body that having a baby has given me, to wear it like a badge of honor, to feel comfortable in it. I used to feel comfortable in my body, but (in retrospect) that was easy. Now, I feel self-conscious. When I see older women, or any women with children, I find myself glancing at their bellies to see how they shaped up in the long haul. I look at women's bellies the way other women might size up their handbags or shoes or hairstyles. I watched the TV clip of Brittany Spears walking onto the David Letterman set. She had her baby in September, and her stomach is already flat. I hate her. It's kind of pathetic, but I can't help it.


Elizabeth said...

I'd rather have your life than Britney's stomach. ;)

In all seriousness, I know I can't understand how you're feeling about this, but I know how hard you worked to get the stomach you had now! I hope a day will come when you DO wear it like a badge of honor - for that's exactly what it is! I bet it will get better, though. You had major surgery just a few months ago! It just takes time.

For what it's worth, I think you are a beautiful person, inside AND out! :)

LutherLiz said...

I hope that you see this since it is a few posts down now. I tried to respond yesterday but it lost my post...

Anyway, I know most replies here may seem cliche or such but sometimes cliches can be true. For what its worth, liz is right. You did work hard to get that stomach and it is a badge of honor. Give it some time to heal (Britney didn't do a c-section I don't think).

In the meantime I'm going to share something that has taken me a LONG time to realize, simple as it is. This being an issue I struggle with I feel your pain, even if I don't have the experience of changing from smaller sizes.

Here is what I know (on my better days). You are NOT defined by your size, your clothes or the opinions of others. There is a huge stigma to be skinny but the truth of the matter is that it does not relate to how loving, caring and fabulous you really are. The things that make you beautiful are not those outside things but the inside ones. Everyone who knows you sees that inside beauty all the time. I know that Steve does, and Daniel too. Weight will fluctuate. Scars will come, maybe even wrinkles too. But you will always be beautiful because you are loving wonderful wife, mother, daughter and friend. So there. ;)

(and i agree with liz again, you are already beautiful on the outside, even if you are never a size 4 again)

Emilie said...

Thank you, my lovely friends.

You know ... I do know that true beauty is made up of what's inside us, yet I can't deny that I'm human and that I'm still not used to seeing myself in this "new" body. It's OK, though. I am continually reminded - by you, by Steve, by Daniel, by essays in Oprah magazine (lol!) - that there are so many more important things in life than how my tummy looks. Like the very act of living life and being present to its many blessings.