A pregnant friend recently emailed news of a food binge—two scoops of green tea ice cream. Huh? When I was pregnant, my binges ran the size of densely populated villages. Though her little confession made me laugh, I could sense her silent, raging worry—the fear that after the baby, she would never have her fat-free, compact form again.
Last week, my son dug his little fingers into my stomach, grabbed a handful of excess flesh, and launched into a song-and-knead act. It was performance art with a real live mommy for a prop. I had to smile. To give mythical flair to my much-adored rubber ring, I explained to him that Mama didn’t always have this little pillow; that he had brought it along when he came into my tummy and that his little brother had brought his own as well. “Patung-patong?” he asked. Exactly. One on top of the other. That’s what caused the mini pile-up. He lowered his head on the family cushions to ponder the weight of his contribution before he disappeared, leaving me with a full view of the, er, upholstery.
I was surprised this glaring spread of recently acquired flesh did not upset me. Though I wasn’t as obsessed as my two-scoop-binge friend, my first pregnancy did give me moments of worry over losing the shape of my gym-addicted body. Every little jiggle made me panic. But motherhood changed all that. Pregnancy and childbirth introduced me to a different kind of physical strength. That my body was house and home to my child put everything in perspective. Its size and shape ceased to be my main concern, impressed as I was by its amazing ability to stretch, store and ingest things on the food chain it never could before.
After giving birth, I found that I no longer enjoyed lifting weights and detested the incessant whirring and clanking of machines. I switched to Pilates, a form of rigorous but fluid exercise that is strengthening but not jarring and can be done in quiet surroundings. I was exercising now not just for a strong body, but for a kind of physical centering as well. That it made me look better was a mere bonus.
When I gave birth to my second child, my body surprised me even more. This time I felt its full power. That primal mother-child dance was an experience of a lifetime. The slow, excruciating effort between us to bring my baby into the world changed me forever. I see, experience and appreciate my woman form for all it is—and I don’t mean bulging quadriceps and perky biceps either. I have been inside this body and through the avenue of its true power. Biceps, abs, and quads mean totally different things to me now. The first lift and cradle my children. The next housed them. The last helped me squat to bring them into the world the way nature intended.
Sure, there are days when enlightenment eludes me and I torment my husband with a litany of my physical imperfections. When he’s not swinging a bat at me to shut me up, he reminds me (with authentic fondness, I think) that they are my battle scars—proof of a life fully lived. He is right, of course. On good days, I see them as medals; my most meaningful badges of honor.
I think about my friend, myself and all the mothers who have spent a good part of those nine months fighting that beautiful, bountiful pregnant swell. Where did we learn to be so silly? There is no better time to appreciate a woman’s body than when it is in full bloom. It is a time of expansion and growth in both the physical and spiritual sense. Why can’t we just relax and enjoy– nourish and grow into it? Why trade this marvelous, pulsating, blossoming girth for that hard-worked, over-exercised, perennially deprived body?
I don’t mean eat yourself to the size of a mural (though I may have done that the first time). I mean it would be liberating to celebrate the size and shape of our bodies, especially when we are carrying our children inside us. What’s a little dent here and there compared to all the cuddling and love that will fill your home forever?
Sure, I am no longer that taut, ripple and flab free girl I used to be, but I have become much more. I am a mother. I have nurtured and nourished life. I have a heart that is full to bursting with a caliber of love I have never known. I look at my once-hard stomach and smile that it has become a compact loveseat with two little pillows on it; that little fingers can burrow into my flesh and find enough joy there to inspire its owner to break into song. Every mother should feel pride that she has used her body well—to love, be loved and bring life into the world. The little dings and dents and pockets of sweet softness are not embarrassing scars but unyielding proof of womanliness.
I wouldn’t trade my portable two-pillow loveseat for anything in this world, not while sweaty, sun-scented heads still daydream on it. Nope. Not even for Brad Pitt’s ardent affection. And you can tell him that.