We were at the lake this summer when I saw her, the woman with my body wearing a bikini, her thighs round and her stomach rounder, both decorated with long lines chasing each other up her skin, identical to my own stretch marks which go on into infinity. I stopped and I admit I stared, although I hoped she didn’t notice because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say or make her understand that I meant it, which was, “Good for you, mama” and, “I wonder if you know how beautiful you are?” And then she was off, into the water, playing with her kids, splashing in the sunshine, living her life with her scars on the outside like the playing and the living were more important than the flaws. I loved her in that moment for being brave and being herself and teaching me to love myself a little better.
To be clear, you won’t catch me in a bikini. Ever. Not because I think bikinis are bad or that only women with certain body types are entitled to wear them. If you want to wear a bikini, friend, I will go all Mama Bear on anyone who says you can’t, shouldn’t or to DON’T. But me? Nope. Not interested. I’m happy to leave my bikini days behind me, along with skinny jeans, leggings and feathered hair.
Which is why this is a strange transition I’m about to make. A strange thing I’m about to do. A strange turn of events to follow my (stretch-marked) gut and push publish on this picture of my belly, bare for all to see.
How in the world do you make a decision to bare your scars to the world? To wear the bikini at the lake… or to stand virtually naked in front of a mirror in the quiet of your own home and tentatively take off your shirt and step out of your jeans and lift the camera and watch the light and suck in your gut and puff it back out and choose to push the button that will capture this image? The one of the belly you love for growing babies? The one of the belly you hate for the scars that drip like candle wax? The one of the belly that made one friend gasp in shock and another say how beautiful? The one of the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t? The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?
How in the world do you make a decision to share that belly like it’s lovely? Like it’s worthy of not just words but a picture, too?
For me, it was this e-mail from my friend Sarah. This e-mail that made me laugh and smile and cry and run my nails along my scars and nod and say, “I know. Oh, I know.” Because Sarah wrote:
My husband grabbed my now dried up boobs last night and I started crying.
He was laughing and then I started crying.
And then he stopped laughing.
And I couldn’t stop crying.
Remember that time he found me in the fetal position crying my eyes out about the fact that I could not stop the train wreck of motherhood that was hurtling toward me?
It was just like that. Except this time I was crying about the aftermath of the wreck and how I was no longer, nor ever going to be again, the woman with the perky boobs and nice rear he married. The full effects of having a child have left their ugly, stretchy, purple, saggy marks all over me.
My glory years are officially over. Or at least that’s what I was feeling like in the moment.
And, yes. My glory years are officially over, too, Sarah. Or rather, my glory years have been transferred from my broken body to something deeper and less physical and far more profound than a mere body. Not that that matters during the crying moments. It doesn’t. Because broken bodies must be mourned.
But someday – eventually – just like motherhood gets stronger, the body matters less. Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life. And I don’t just mean to our biological babies. Oh, no, I sure don’t. Because this body of mine was broken with my first baby even though another mama grew her. My body was broken by late nights and early mornings that melted into each other. And by the burn in my back from holding her and holding her and holding her. And by the grind and the gore and the grace and the glory of motherhood which walk, always, hand in hand.
When I see myself in the mirror now, I think, almost always, “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Which isn’t sacrilegious. Or self-deprecating. Or disdainful. Or sad. Not now. Not anymore. No. Because the broken body points always toward life. Always toward triumph. Always toward resurrection. It just took me a while to find the sacred in the scars.
P.S. I laughed out loud at my panties the other day. In an epic move of comedic solidarity, they thought it would be awesome to mimic my stretch marks by getting stretch marks of their own.
Good one, Panties.