I'm not one of the young mothers anymore. I'm not an empty nester yet either, but since I had my now-13-year-old when I was 39, I'm older than many of the other mothers I know. I'm not a mother of one, either. No, I have the lumpy, stretched out tummy leftover from having four pregnancies. I'm not one whose skin and muscles snapped to attention after their pregnancies, who never got stretch marks and lost every ounce of baby weight within months of birth. With each baby I gained exactly 32 pounds. If I'd also lost exactly 32 pounds with each one, I'd be in better shape than I am, but each baby left me with a few extra pounds like souvenirs of our time together. The stretch marks have faded, but their silvery shadows will always mark me as a mother.
I've spent my time wishing I was one of those mothers who were able to return to their pre-pregnant figures with smooth skin stretched just-so across tight abs. I never went off the deep end with my not-perfect-body-image thing, but I've worked out in the pool and gym and on the track and mat in a futile attempt to look like one of them. I think my mild bout of abdominal self-loathing was right on par with what most mothers go through. I eventually made some semblance of peace with the way my post-baby body looked, even if I held out hope that with enough exercise, discipline and time, it might morph into something different than it was.
And then, something happened that changed my mind about all that nonsense and made me grateful to have any body at all. I got seriously ill with cancer three months after my youngest baby was born. That kicked the crap out of any silly thoughts I'd had that my body hadn't been good enough exactly the way it was with all it's belly flop, extra padding and silvery stripes. I was told my body was doing battle with my disease and my weapons were surgeries, medications and radioactive treatments, but inside, I knew that was not true.
I was not willing to do battle with my body anymore. I knew in my heart that If I was going to continue living in this body, I had to make peace with it. I had to love it and nurture it no matter what it looked like. I had to exercise it and feed it, not to make it be something it was not, but to give it everything it needed in order to be mine. I refused all imagery of battles and fights and replaced them with comforting, encouraging thoughts to root my body through the work of healing. I changed my lifestyle from one where I was punishing my body with too much work, too little sleep, too much alcohol and too little fun and finally gave it what it truly deserved -- the respect it had earned for being my receptacle for living a truly marvelous life.
Now, as I see younger mothers going through similar attempts to "get their body back," I wish I could tell them not to be so hard on themselves. I kick myself for ever doubting the beauty of my 15, 20 or 25-year-old stomach, back in its pre-child days I should have known that was as good as that belly was ever going to look and celebrated it then. I can so relate to what Nora Ephron said, "Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're 34."
Now, I'm grateful to my body for its powerful contributions -- like helping me create four truly gorgeous children and for healing me from countless illnesses and boo boos. If it's left me with a few scars and bumps, so be it. I'll live my life with Hunter S. Thompson's quote in mind:
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a Ride!'"