Two months after giving birth to Henry, I inspected my postpartum belly (again) for signs that maybe (just maybe?) it was starting to shrink. Instead, I was overwhelmed with repulsion. I thought I had it bad after having Luke? Nope. The umbilical hernia I developed had created the most bizarre shape. There was a firm, pointy, protruding area right behind my belly button, and just below that - my stomach was almost flat, yet with extra skin hanging off the entire thing. Sounds HOT, right?
I knew that as things healed more, it would look better. I knew as I lost more baby weight, it would look better. And I knew, someday, when I was done having kids and I could get that hernia fixed up, it would look better. I can never go after rock-star abs at this point - I just, didn't want to look pregnant when I wasn't!
After thoroughly disgusting myself, I decided to ask Matt what he thought.
Ya know, 'cause nothing attracts a man to a woman like a "check out how deformed and loose my body has gotten over the years!"
Don't ask me why I thought this was a good idea. I guess I was hoping for one of his generic, "'babe, you look beautiful" 's or something - even though I wouldn't buy it anyway. I guess I just had to share it with someone else - make someone else cringe. Or, perhaps, I knew deep down that he'd surprise me somehow.
I stood, profile, in the bright light of the dining room, displaying my misshapen torso for him, and if the look on his face wasn't enough - I was surprised to hear him say - "yep....that is pretty bizarre looking".
He was brutally honest! He didn't sugar coat it! He didn't give me any sign of "it's not forever" or "you're gorgeous anyway" - and I LOVED him for it! Instead of being hurt or demoralized, I was somehow happy that he acknowledged it. Don't ask me why! I just, wanted justification from someone who actually knew the problem behind it (since strangers don't about the hernia, I get looks like - you have a toddler and a tiny baby and you're already pregnant enough to be showing?? - and that's what every woman wants right? To be mistaken for being pregnant. Joy of joys!)
So, I covered myself up and sat down....still feeling gross, but somehow satisfied, too. I couldn't articulate it, so I decided to ask another question.
"So, why aren't you repulsed by me? I'm repulsed by me. How do you still want me?"
He stood up, walked over to me, and while he looked straight into my eyes with the intensity of sincerity he said, "Because I love you". And then he kissed me.
He loves me. He loves me. Well, duh.
He must, with all the crap he puts up with and all the things he does for me. I know this. I mean, how could I not? But there I was - thinking of how simple that truth is. If he loves me, than he loves ME - nightmare belly and all. I know this! Why was I tripping all over it?
And then the sun came up.
I don't love me.
It's not that I was depressed or discouraged (though I have been both on occasion in the past). It's that I wasn't paying enough attention to myself in order to love me. And understandably so - I had two babies suddenly - one whose lively-hood was entirely dependent on my body and paying complete attention to his attitudes and patterns, as well as my own, just to keep his food supply coming. It didn't leave a lot of room for anything for me, despite all of my desires and ambitions. And for that moment - I was okay with that. I wanted to remember Henry as the smiley, chubby, 13-pound version he was, and Luke at his hilarious, imaginative, loving phase - and if I wasn't moving slowly enough to soak that in, how would I have done that?
It's okay that I didn't have time to love me back then, or when I'm uncomfortably pregnant, or after our next baby arrived and I had to evaluate the aftermath of a third pregnancy. I mean, I've been loving life despite it all! I love the flow of most of my days, and I love the people I spend them with (particularly my boys!). I think it's okay to put myself aside for a little while as each season of life requires. Because as each one of them pass, I become a little more accepting, and a little more loving - I am able to see myself through God's eyes, and those of my husband. It's kind of impossible to create and nurture new life and not have more clarity when it comes to love!
I feel a little guilty at times, still, when I start harping on my imperfections - like God would be angry with me for not loving myself. The judgement I make of my body and the standards I set are NOT things He would care about at all. But I am only human, and we live in a beauty-based society, so I'm working towards my own level of acceptance. If Matt and my babies can know and love me the way I am, I know I can find my way there, too.
Now that Jake has joined our family, and round three of "ruining my belly for the rest of my life" is complete, I'm really kind of used to it. It still bothers me, and my stomach will never again see the light of day, but...I don't know, it is what it is. Maybe it's time, or experience, or age - I'm not sure. But I've made progress towards accepting my body for what it's become. It's the mark of the three beautiful, healthy, wonderful children I've helped bring into this world. There's no sense in wishing I was blessed with better DNA and I could bounce back like nothing ever happened - like so many other women I've seen. I can't help but compare myself to them at times, who wouldn't want the ideal? Yet the fact remains - I have a husband and kids that love me regardless, a God who meant for me to be exactly this way, a physical reminder of what it took to bring my babies into this world, and a new ability to not care so much what everyone else thinks.
And those are priceless gifts.