The First Time I Looked at My Postpartum Body

I was six days postpartum, and a shower at home had never felt so welcoming. Letting my toes sink into the memory foam bathmat, I toweled off and then trotted across the hallway as quiet as a mouse. That’s how we move during naptime now — quietly like mice or else. Waking the baby is grounds for murder or, at the very least, divorce.

Tiptoeing into the closet to grab my robe, I passed my floor length mirror on the back of the closet door, and I couldn’t resist looking. But I hesitated. Peeking in the mirror after you have a baby is a lot like checking your bank account after a week-long vacation — you know the damage has been done, but you hold your breath for a split second and hope for the best before you look.

With a deep breath and a step back, I swung the door shut to position the mirror directly in front of me. I stood in the silence, with as straight a posture as my new body would allow. It was the first time I had looked at my naked body since my C-section.

Oh wow.

My eyes didn’t know where to focus first. My scar was a scary shade of purple. The incision stretched from one side of my pelvis to the other, and was numb to the touch as I glided my fingers gently along the line. I felt like I was touching someone else’s body.

I had bragged to my husband only a few weeks before about fending off stretch marks. It was due to my religious use of cocoa butter, I was sure. I guess then I couldn’t see underneath my belly, because now I could see them clearly. The little, white, squiggly lines stretched from my hip bones upward to my stomach, or what should be my stomach. I couldn’t help but notice how things were a little misplaced now. Where was my belly button?

Fighting to hold back tears, I started thinking about the amazing journey I had taken over the past several days. I had accomplished incredible things since the last time I had seen my reflection. Just a few days before, I stood in front of the same mirror wearing my husband’s oversized fleece (the only thing that would cover my gigantic belly), praying for relief. Now I was standing in front of my mirror, with the same pieces of laundry in the hamper that had been there a few days before. So much had changed in a world that seemed to be the same.

I was a mother standing in the mirror meeting herself for the first time.

We were off to a shaky start. My new self looked tired, because she was tired. She was pale, and squishy around the middle. Her hair needed help. She appeared teary but hopeful, and steady in the face of strange, yet sweet, new beginnings.

She was going to be strong, because that’s just how it had to be.

As I met my new self in the mirror that day, I made a promise to love her. Some days would be harder than others. Some days, seeing her in the mirror wouldn’t be easy at all; I might even cringe at the sight. But I knew I had to find a way to love her unconditionally — scars, stretch marks, and all. I had to find a way to love my new self so my daughter could learn by example how to love herself.

***

It’s easier said than done. I’ve weathered many dressing room meltdowns over the last several months. But practicing self-love is one of the most important building blocks in the long and sometimes arduous journey of motherhood. I pray everyday to find new ways to preserve my spirit and soak up this beautiful adventure.

Today, I walked out of the shower and passed the old trusty mirror in my closet. I stopped and looked at the reflection of my 20-month postpartum body. My belly button still hasn’t found its way back to the center of my stomach, and my boobs deflated like busted water balloons after I stopped breastfeeding. But that’s not all I see.

I have reconciled myself with the mother in the mirror. When I look at my reflection, I see a mother who has thoroughly enjoyed loving and caring for the very person who caused these scars and dark eye circles. And I’m smiling because I genuinely love the vessel carrying me.


Guest post written by Emily Music. She is a mom, wife, blogger at Not Your Basic Mom, and attorney. However these days she spends most of her time presenting her case to her two-year-old daughter, Meredith. Emily gets by with a little help from her friends (and coffee).

Photo by N'tima Preusser. 


P.S. Head on over to our giveaway page and enter to win a basket full of yummy AND healthy snacks from Pure Growth Organics!

I'm With Her

Like a good number of things that end up going terribly wrong, this was supposed to be fun. The kids and I made a quick trip to Trader Joe’s for desserts while my husband stayed home to finish preparations for the ensuing pajama party we’d planned. No one was supposed to bleed in the frozen section.

But that is exactly what happened. About three cart lengths from the New York Cheesecake, my son called up to me, his little hand cupping his nose, while big drops of blood slid down his lips.

Motherhood is marked by moments when your gut says screams help! but your brain reminds you to speak real slow now. I said to both him and me, “Oh boy. Look at that. It’s okay, you just have a little nose blood.” He always calls it nose blood, never nose bleed, and I thought it best to speak his language. “Don’t worry, mama will get you fixed up. Nose bloods are no owies, remember.” The whole time I spoke I scanned our cart, searching for what I know I did not bring: wipes. Not a one. This was all going to take under 30 minutes. I brought my wallet and my phone and that is it. Still, I looked for anything to put over his nose. His hands were solid red from wrist to fingernail. Time was up 20 seconds ago.

“Okay, let’s see here, let’s see. You are doing a great job Rid Man, just keep holding your hand there, I’ve almost got it.” Motherhood is a series of lies. That sounds dark, like the opening line in a thriller, but man if it’s not the truth. Almost there, she’s sorry she hit you, shots are like a tiny pinch.

I was panicking. I knew what I needed but I had no earthly idea how to obtain it. It never occurred to me to calmly walk over to the paper towels, open a package, and clean my son. I just stood there talking, paralyzed between the orange chicken and the fruit pies, watching my daughter attempt to leap from the front of the cart and my son blow blood from his mouth,.

And then help came. It came in the form of a woman about my age, with what I presume was a son of her own in her cart. Her dark hair was cut in a blunt, chin length bob, and she wore one of those dusters that looks like something your grandma knit, but you know cost three hundred dollars. She said, “Excuse me?”

Truth, my first thought: why would this hipster talk to me? I was wearing maternity joggers that have stretched to MC Hammer proportions and a well-loved sweatshirt of my husband’s that yes, I do sometimes wear to bed (did I wear pajamas to Trader Joe's? You decide.). My hair was in yesterday’s braid. I looked like a pregnant woman who maybe helped a friend move all day.

“Here you go,” she said. Her fingers unfolded from around a paper cup with the stamped logo of an indie coffee place. She handed me napkins. Three of them. Brown and 80% post-consumer they claimed. Salvation.

I almost cried. I did blubber.

“Thank you, oh thank you so much. Ridley look, here buddy, put this on your nose. Thank you, I just ran out of the house for a second and of course didn’t bring any wipes. Thank you very, very much.”

I cleaned my son’s face and said thank you a few more times. As we approached the checkout line, I passed her again going into the wine section, and because I never miss an opportunity to be awkward, I stopped her to say thank you twice more.

“Really,” she me, “I’ve been there.”

Once we were all three buckled in the van, the desserts we came for in the seat beside me, I exhaled. I enjoyed the relief of believing these would be the most agonizing moments of January. 

I was wrong. 

***

Out of the countless obvious differences between me and the blunt haired mom, the thing I keep coming back to is I don't know who she voted for. No clue. This is a politically charged time and we live in a town where the yards signs vary as much as the cars parked near them. Perhaps she and I agree on policies and politicians as much as we agree on haircuts and fashion. But for all of our time together in aisle 3, politics were forgotten. 

She is mom.

I am mom.

She saw that I was in trouble and she helped me.

That’s it. As simple as three napkins.

As profound as providing me the tools to clean and care for my scared little boy.

I couldn’t get it out of my head.

***

Two weeks after the nose blood incident, my friend Lauren and I took our kids to the zoo. I loaded all of our supplies (and then some, fool me once) into our trusty double stroller. It is spacious, it is thoughtfully designed, it turns on a dime and folds down like a dream. It’s also wide as a Mack truck and thus, shut down the first restroom we entered that day. To set the scene, we are in a three stall restroom filling up with women and children. My offspring laden stroller is clogging the path from the sinks to the toilets while I unsuccessfully attempt to maneuver this thing out the door. Not only have I blocked one stall completely, rendering its occupant trapped, my stroller and I have also made it impossible to access the two available bathroom stalls. I feel myself begin to sweat.

Four women enter the bathroom. I hesitate to call them old, but I am certain they employ phrases like what a hoot and sign their names Love, Grandma at the end of the Facebook comments they leave for their grandkids. But the difference in age didn’t stop them—these women immediately come to my aid. One holds a stall door in place so I can back out, one talks to my kids to keep them happy, another opens the exit door for me until I am all the way free.

I start my profuse thank you track again.

“Sweetie,” the one in the visor says to me, “we are you, 30 years from now.”

How much longer would I have been stuck in the bathroom if they’d not come to my aid? Would the lady in stall one have had to crawl out from under her door to rescue us both?

“I hope so,” I tell my visor-clad hero.

And I certainly do.

***

My son got lost in January. Those minutes were the most agonizing of the month. The nose blood hardly compared.

It happened inside a children’s museum. I lost him inside a children’s museum. That’s how I am supposed to say it, right? It was definitely my fault.

We were in the physics exhibit. Why would you take a 2 and 4 year old to a physics exhibit?

I kneeled behind our stroller to put away a water bottle. You looked away.

When I stood, Ridley was playing in the rope maze in front of me but Kajsa ran to climb on top of the table with the weird mirror and the light. Your two year old has a tendency to run away. Great job, mom.

She could have easily fallen off the table, but more frightening was her proximity to glass and a hot light bulb. I darted off to get her down. You left your son you left your son you left your son.

When I turned back around, Ridley was gone.

I called his name. No answer. The panic hadn’t set yet, but it hovered, waiting. I swung Kajsa onto my hip and walked past the maze where he’d just been. I said his name again, louder now, but still cheerfully. I said it three times, then four, then I kept saying it and I kept walking and I kept scanning and I knew he was wearing a bright shirt so I should spot him anytime and I looked at the greeter standing by the exit but she was on the phone but surely if someone walked out with a little boy she would have seen something and I said his name again, louder now —

“Are you looking for the little blond boy that was playing with the ropes?” Her compassion was tangible.

“Yes,” I answered. “Yeah, he was just here, and my daughter was climbing so I just wanted to grab her …”

She interrupted me to speak to her own daughters. "Girls, stay right here. Do not move, do not get up, I will be right back.” Good moms tell their children things like that before leaving them alone in public.

“Let me help you find him.”

Two voices shouted at each other inside my head. One went over the facts: where he was, the amount of time I was gone, how close I was to him even at the table with the mirror and the light, the color of his shoes. How good it will feel to hug his little body.

The second voice said only this, over and over, the way I called his name: bad mom bad mom bad mom bad mom.

I could hear the other mom saying my son’s name too, saying it with me. “Brother’s playing hide and sink,” I told my daughter while we searched. Ridley calls it hide and sink. He loves that game. He doesn’t understand it’s not always safe. I experienced a flash of comfort because I am certain he is hidden on purpose, crouching somewhere, trying to stay out of sight while we hunt for him.

The flash of comfort was brief. I spent puberty liturgizing myself on Lifetime movies and true crime episodes of Dateline. I can go from zero to worst case scenario in nothing flat. Against my will, one part of my brain was already there.

What if he’s not hiding? What if he’s sinking?

“I found your boy!”

I ran toward her voice.

My first words when I turned the corner and saw him standing there: of course. He wasn’t hiding. He was drumming. In the twenty seconds it took me to retrieve his little sister from certain concussion, he’d bolted to Toddler Town to play the little Fisher-Price drum. Irrelevant to him was the fact he has a full drum set at home. It’s ridiculous he would run to the little plastic toy. And it was a grace I do not deserve .

Relief left me nearly speechless. “I can’t thank you enough,” I told the mom who found my son.

She waved me off like it was no big deal. As she walked back to her own children I noticed for the first time the differences in our ages, and our clothing, and the way we’ve chosen to style our hair.

People might say we don’t go together.

Don’t we?

Many of us have been blessed with a tribe: I know who to call if my kids are sick and we’re desperate for groceries. I know who to text if I’m struggling and need prayer. If our car breaks down I can think of five friends in the same number of seconds who would drop their day and pick us up. But what happens when we’re really stranded? Who is there to help when we are less wolf pack and more lone wolf?

What I’m learning is that becoming a mom is not like being initiated into an exclusive club. It’s more like being adopted by an ancient sisterhood.

In thirty years I want to put on my best visor and go with my girlfriends to the zoo. I’ll hold doors for tired moms and smile at their babies, and tell them how my grandkids have a Sophie teether too.

But more than that, I want to spend the next 30 years firmly establishing myself on Team Mom. The next time I’m out I hope none of the moms I meet have bleeding children or lost children or are without a much needed pack of wipes. But if they do, if they are, I'll be ready. For those seconds or minutes or moments that are happening in real time but lasting in cruel suspension this will be the only truth, that’s my sister. She is cooler than me, and older than me, and a better mom than me too. But it doesn’t matter. I'm with her. 

On Making Pearls

Sometimes I feel trapped.

Two sets of poopy diapers and exhaustion create their own sort of cage.

So does the semi-panic I feel when I think about leaving the house with both children by myself.  

And so usually we stay in and the curtains stay drawn for half the day and the oldest one gets bored and I never get around to brushing my teeth. When night comes, I end up feeling a bit like an empty oyster.  I've got this shell on the outside that's a little worn and weathered, yet it's hanging in there.  But there is no pearl here on the inside. I seem to be missing the part that helps me feel like I have anything to offer of beauty or worth.

Or I have forgotten how to nurture it, at least.

At the end of the day, when all I can say I've accomplished is that everybody ate or that we went outside for a few minutes or that we watched Minions for the sixth time this week, I have trouble noticing much beauty or worth in life in general. 

I know the beauty and worth is around here somewhere. I know there are plenty of adventures and sweet moments and joy-filled nuggets to be gathered up and embraced. Way down in my heart, I know this to be true.

But I'm still trying to figure out how exactly to leave the house with two children.  

Never mind seizing the day. How do I hold it without dropping it?

Now that there are two, I have to learn again how to make pearls out of the everyday.

I think of all the advice and encouragement I've been given and wonder if this is how it's done: be kind to yourself, take it one task at a time, slow down, write about it, remember grace, get out of the house, be consistent, make a schedule, it gets easier, take a shower every day (easier said than done), treat yourself, reach out and ask for help, this too shall pass ...

Some of these seem like the end of a journey and not so much the beginning of one. It seems like there should be more steps to take before I can automatically be kind to myself. Sometimes I don't arrive at grace immediately. Slowing down isn't something I truly understand how to do. And showering definitely seems like its own sort of victorious conclusion these days.

These words of wisdom seem more like pearls to me. And pearls take time to make.  

I remember the grains of sand, and that pearls are created only after much irritation and discomfort.  

I think about the tired eyes and battles of wills with my toddler and the perplexing fussiness from my baby. The amount of preparation it takes to leave the house to visit the aquarium and the packing of all the stuff and the demanding to be carried out of the house by the child who can walk perfectly fine by herself. The lingering healing from childbirth and the sacrifice of all my time and the glass of sangria I poured myself two days ago and still haven't been able to finish. 

Maybe I've got the makings for a pearl after all.  

But if all I am is irritated and uncomfortable all the time, that won’t be enough. The key to pearl-making is that oysters continually layer that irritating grain of sand with a protective substance, and it's this that makes the sand lovely.

The repetition and continual layering on of something beautiful is what gives an ordinary grain of sand its worth. 

And so I keep at it. Layering thankfulness and hope onto my grains of sand. Seeking out the tiny details in my days where meaning lives. Snapping photos of them so I can remember. Making myself go on adventures outside of the house despite the fear that all hell will break loose. Persisting in setting aside time to do something I love, even for a few minutes. Doing that next thing, even when all I want to do is curl up in a ball under my bed covers and sleep.  

Over time I'm noticing that perhaps I do have some beauty and worth to offer. I've got layers of perseverance and patience and bravery, for this motherhood thing is not for the faint of heart.  

My eyes are also growing more accustomed to seeing the beauty and worth in this life too.  In the jubilant hugs and kisses from my oldest. In the gloriously fluffy hair of my youngest. In how I have the ability to teach my oldest kindness and selflessness. In the way my youngest gazes with wide eyes. In how raising kids together with my husband brings us closer in a way nothing else can. In how I am learning more about how God loves as I love them.

With each struggle, I layer and I understand a little more about what it means to be kind to myself, to give grace, to slow down.  

With each layer, I come closer and closer to a finished pearl.


Guest post written by Sara Smith. Sara is a journalism grad from the University of Florida and is currently putting her degree to use as a full-time mom to two little ladies.  She's married to an adventurous officer of the law, loves Jesus and can't say no to sour gummy worms.  She writes about motherhood, marriage and faith at Feathers & Roots, and you can also find her stringing her everyday pearls together on Instagram.

Photo by Emily Gnetz.


P.S. Head on over to our giveaway page and enter to win a basket full of yummy AND healthy snacks from Pure Growth Organics!

Perfect

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It’s Wednesday and I’m standing next to the wooden stool that holds the sign-in clipboard at my son’s preschool. The sun is toasting my back while I wait. His dirty blond head pops out the door and he runs toward me at full speed, the Lightning McQueen backpack plopping his backside as he goes. I scoop him up in my arms and lift him high off the ground with a familiar squeeze. One of the preschool founders strolls out waving a piece of paper in the air to get my attention.

I smile, remembering that I owe $12 for the parent holiday gift. Oops.

“I just wanted to tell you something about this evaluation,” she starts, handing me a folded piece of paper with Everett’s name on it.

“Oh?” I say, my curiosity piqued.

“We only have one concern with Everett starting kindergarten next year, and I wanted to explain …” she continues.

I brace myself for the worst, not even knowing what the worst could be.

“We’ve noticed that Everett is a bit of a … perfectionist. He gets very upset when his work isn’t perfect, and, well, Kindergarten is a lot harder than preschool, so we just wanted to bring that to your attention,” she winks at me, looking at him. Everett is watching his friends get picked up, blissfully unaware of the conversation happening over his head.

I crack a half-smile. This is not new information.

“Yeah, we’ve noticed that at home,” I say, “I’ve been trying to teach him that he can turn his mistakes into other things, you know? Like he accidentally drew a scribble in the sky on one of his drawings and I told him he could turn it into a bird ...”

I feel defensive, although I don’t know why.

“That’s good,” she nods, “You know, sometimes at preschool we intentionally make mistakes to show the kids that it’s okay to mess up.” I smile at her, imagining the preschool teachers purposefully hitting the wrong piano keys during circle time with a cutesy oops! 

I could never be a preschool teacher.

“Is there anything else I should be doing?” I ask.

She laughs. “I don’t think there’s anything to do — part of it is just his personality.”

I look down at my son’s little hand holding mine and feel a twinge of guilt. There’s no doubt about it: I am the original carrier of those perfectionist genes.

“Well, thanks for letting me know,” I say as we turn toward the parking lot.

“He’s a good kid,” she says in a hushed tone, “Very bright. We’ve just noticed that sometimes he can be his own worst enemy.”

***

Later that afternoon, I watch Everett attempt to draw a dinosaur at the kitchen table, mess up, get frustrated to the point of tears, and crumple the paper up in his hands. I start in on my script for this opportune teaching moment: It’s okay to mess up, honey. Everyone messes up sometimes.

He’s not buying it. I can see the skepticism on his face, paired with determination. I know he thinks he needs to try again. I know he thinks he needs to work harder. I know he's getting discouraged and scared. And I know that eventually, he might become so afraid of failing that he won’t even bother making art anymore. He might go days and weeks and months without drawing anything at all. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore the call to create when you think disappointment is lurking on the other side.

I know this, of course, from recent personal experience, which makes me feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite.

Who am I to tell my son it’s okay to mess up, when the fear of messing up often keeps me from creating art in the first place? Who am I to reassure him that his drawing is good, when I constantly call my own work “not good enough”?

Here’s an interesting fact. My son had zero insecurity attached to his art until he was actually good at it. For the past two years I’ve watched him scribble all over a coloring page with a blue marker and hold it up proudly saying, “Look momma! I colored blue!”

But now he’s four, he knows how to hold a marker, and he has seen a glimpse of what could be. He knows how to color in the lines. There’s no going back from that level of knowledge and success. His pride lasted exactly two minutes before disappearing into thin air while he worked on a second coloring page, biting his lip all the while.

And there we sat at the kitchen table together, brows furrowed under our own insurmountable pressure. Him, coloring. Me, writing. Both of us trying to make our work perfect. 

Don’t you love it when you and your preschooler happen to be learning the exact same lesson at the exact same time?

It’s only a picture, sweetheart, I said to him one day while he cried.
It’s only a book, babe, my husband said to me one night while I cried.

Someday when my son is older, I hope I can tell him about my experience with art. I want him to know that I had to fight the urge to give up, to walk away, to crumple up an entire manuscript and throw it in the trashcan because at one point I thought it wasn’t good enough. I want him to know how many stories were never written down because I was too scared to start them. I want him to know how many stories I deleted because they were not up to par. I want him to know how many times I accidentally scribbled in the sky and was too damn stubborn to turn that scribble into a bird. I want him to know how scared I am, still, after all this time, every time words float from my heart into the universe.

I want him to know that being an artist isn’t about being perfect. I want him to know that being an artist is about showing up with your imperfect work and offering it to the world anyway. Being an artist is about courage and bravery. It’s about joy and discipline and wonder and truth. Being an artist is about taking the talents your Creator has laid on your heart and allowing them to shine when fear tells you to bury them in the sand. Being an artist is about cherishing what you learned in the process of creating more than the final product itself.

Being an artist is not easy for anyone. It is messy and complicated and terrifying.

But being an artist is about choosing the risk of failure over the risk of regret. 

And that’s what I want my boy to know as we sit at the kitchen table together. Him, writing his name at the top of the dinosaur drawing. Me, staring at my name on a book.