The best Mother’s Day gift ever (and it’s probably not what you’re thinking)
May 7, 2015
Once upon a time during the last stretch of post partum insanity in our house, I found myself brushing my teeth and simultaneously indulging in one of those always, always ill-advised full-length mirror assessment sessions.
As I scrubbed and flossed and spit, my eyes narrowed as they travelled discontentedly from north to south, critiquing, assessing, and generally surveying the damage wrought by sweet baby number 3, at this point nearing her 5th month ex utero.
(grumble, inaudible huffing, grouse) “I’m still so fat. I can’t believe this is real life.”
No response from the master bedroom which adjoins our bathroom.
(slightly louder) “I CAN’T BELIEVE I STILL LOOK LIKE THIS, SHE’S ALMOST 5 MONTHS OLD.”
Silence from beyond the door, then the sound of a page turning.
Rolling my eyes, I holstered my toothbrush and returned to the bedroom, flopping onto the end of our bed and sighing heavily. Dave looked at me over the top of his book and his eyes softened as he lowered it to his chest. Now I had his attention.
“Sweetheart, you’re beautiful. And you had a baby not too long ago. Be merciful with yourself.”
I was in no place to be so easily consoled, so I grumbled something about that elusive “body after baby” and how hard I’d been working out with a trainer at our gym, and how wasn’t it a delightful fairytale spun by lactation elves that breastfeeding melts away the baby weight?
Undeterred, he spoke again, and this is where he said the thing that I’ll remember forever, the thing that told me that we’re in this for the long haul, and that he gets it, that he sees what I’ve given up and what’s been given over and what, exactly, has been sacrificed on the altar of motherhood:
“Don’t compare yourself to women who are contracepting. You’ve been generous with your body, and it shows. You gave life to our children.”
My jaw dropped and I promptly burst into tears, because there it was, in three simple statements.
Here was the actualization of what we’d been professing in those early years of our marriage, what we’d spoken in our vows, and what we had discerned time and again as the prudent course of action (another baby, another little soul…and another 18 months of utter loss of bodily autonomy for mommy.)
And he got it. He got it in a way that I didn’t even fully get, at least not without his help.
Ever since my wise husband spoke those life-giving, life-affirming words to me, I’ve found such solace and some real healing in what has been a life-long struggle with disordered eating and poor body image and a general disposition towards self deprecation, particularly where full-length mirrors are involved.
And while I’d certainly never have put my finger on it without his help, his observation was spot on, at least for me.
And it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given as a mother (I mean, besides the kids themselves.)
I have never looked “recovered” from childbirth and pregnancy within the culturally-expected timeframe, at least not the one playing out in my mind. Even “nine months on, nine months off” has proven a tad ambitious in my case, at least beyond baby number two. This is not the case for every mom, because genetics and body types and all kinds of reasons beyond anyone’s control.
But the point is, I’ve never looked like I didn’t have a baby a year after the fact. One, because I had, in fact, had a baby, and two, because, at least so far by that point, there’s always been another little someone coming down the pike.
I’m not saying this scenario is familiar to everybody, or that it will resonate for every woman, but there is a common truth that I’ve clung to, and that I wish I could speak to the heart of every married woman, whether she be 24 or 67, and it’s this:
It’s okay to look like a mother.
It’s okay to look like you’ve had babies, to have babies, to have a body that is strong and capable and soft and maybe a few (or more than a few) pounds heavier than you would prefer it to be.
It’s okay to be criss-crossed with Cesarian section scars, weighted down by the unwanted pounds that accompany hormone injections and which linger long after the broken hopes and dashed dreams following a(nother) miscarriage.
It’s okay to look like we’re doing battle here, because we are.
And it’s so, so much easier (still not easy, but easier) to come to a place of acceptance of the natural consequences of openness to life and generosity when you have a man by your side who has eyes to see the beauty, the sacrifice, and the realness of motherhood, and who can tell you with a straight face that it’s fine that you don’t look like your neighbor or your best friend or his co-worker in the office down the hall or a faceless stranger on the internet…because his eyes and his heart are working in tandem, and they’re both looking at you.
And I think that NFP has a lot to do with that. Aside from his natural virtue, his pursuit of holiness, and his dedication to the vocation of marriage and fatherhood, I see how NFP has taught us both rich, deep, hard lessons about what is real, about what matters, and about what real beauty constitutes.
I’d say this is the number one benefit to practicing NFP, at least in our experience.
Because yes, it’s hard, and yes, so much is about sacrifice and self denial and sometimes even suffering. But I look at the fruit of it and I have nothing but gratitude. Well, and stretch marks. But hey, there’s a cream for that now!