I jokingly posted on Facebook yesterday about my enviable willpower at the grocery store involving a regular sized Snickers bar. (Spoiler alert: I ate the whole thing.)
Truth be told, pregnancy is a time of life for me that is is fraught with peril over food choices and body image, old issues creeping to the surface like so much first trimester acne, erupting in formerly smooth spots where I’d have sworn only a few months ago there were no lingering scars, that I’d successfully exorcised these particular demons.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. For my thin and not-so-thin friends alike, there is something uniquely vulnerable about child bearing, about your body becoming not-your-own in a way that is so radical and externalized, inviting commentary and observation from the outside world as it does. It doesn’t seem to matter if a mom is 120 or 190 pounds when she starts growing that baby; it can be jarring whether you’re moving from a size four or a size fourteen.
I used to roll my eyes when my really skinny friends complained about topping out at their full term weight that was within spitting distance of my “healthy” (or at least, typical) before weight. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that even my objectively beautiful friends have their own issues, and that few are the women who stand before a full length mirror fully satisfied, for better or for worse. My girlfriend with the enviable self control at the appetizer tray and a 27 inch waist hates her hair and her nose. She thinks her arms are too big and she wishes her c-section scars could be erased.
When I look in the mirror and see a stomach wrecked by life-giving love and arms that my dad once jokingly dubbed as “baby cranes”(you know, for hoisting babies. All my sisters share this gem of a family trait.), I know I’m looking through eyes that some have admired for their shape and color, past a nose I’ve been told is perfect, pursing lips that are just the right fullness and look great with color on them.
So it doesn’t seem that all the objective beauty in the world can quite make up for the perceived subjective flaws we all see in ourselves. And for me, the unique spiritual/emotional/physical triple punch of pregnancy is prime time for all the self loathing. My belly is cute, but only with help of the right shapeware. After 5 pregnancies “firm” is not a word that can be accurately applied, at least not at 4 months along. My skin doesn’t glow, unless the adolescent eruption of redness counts for at least a nice change of pace. And worst of all, as I see the numbers creeping upward on the scale week after week, my resolve to treat this body well melts away like the dregs of a Dairy Queen blizzard, leaving behind a sticky, high fructose corn syrup mess of regret by 8 pm most nights.
If I’m going to gain weight anyway, I reason, it’s hard to not slip into a YOLO mentality where MSG is concerned. I can’t explain why my pregnancy cravings have more to do with processed chemicals than any real food, except that it’s stuff I’d only rarely “let” myself eat during normal life, and that pregnancy feels like a kind of free for all so what the hell, I shrug, eating the stupid chips.
I struggled with an eating disorder from age 15 until about age 26, more than a decade lost to a vicious cycle of binging and purging. When I was a 2-practices-a-day competitive swimmer and track athlete it was easy enough to mask the damage being done. I think that I even attributed some of my svelte body to the behavior, not realizing that I was wrecking my metabolism in the process.
Now, half a lifetime later, some of those same feelings surface again each time that second little pink line shows up. If I can keep the first trimester gain below 10 pounds I consider it a victory, knowing that I’ll be limping across the finish line at 40 weeks having gained about 40 more pounds. I’ve had pregnancies where I exercised 6 days a week, limited carbs, even maintained a running schedule into the third trimester, and every one of my children has come bearing the gift of a 50 pound weight gain.
This most recent break between Luke and Cinco Bing was our longest lull between babies, and so I didn’t just shed the baby weight from his pregnancy, but also the excess that was still hanging on from his 3 older siblings, for a whopping total of 65 pounds lost.
What I can’t explain is why I don’t feel ecstatic about that. Even if I gain my usual 50 this time, I’ll still be 15 pounds shy of where Luke the giant Duke took me. But the thought of gaining the 50 pounds again is mentally crushing. The memory of rolling over in bed with a huge, distorted abdomen pulling on my lower back, trying in vain to find a comfortable sleeping position. The 16 months of careful dieting and exercise it took to get back to a manageable number. The fact that I’m older than I’ve ever been for this pregnancy, that I’m tired, that the mere thought of having to try to lose that weight again only to have it (very likely) come piling back on if we ever welcome number 6.
The hardest part of being open to life for me is this radical, bodily loss of self. It’s not the sleeplessness, the financial strain, the emotional toil or the creativity required to keep 4 other humans alive. So far, at least, it’s this: that my body is not my own, and that I have no realistic hope that it will be for quite some time. And by the time I get it back, it won’t be something that I’m all that thrilled to have autonomy over again.
Do I feel recklessly selfish admitting this? You betcha. Call me a selfish, self centered millennial who wants to look good in pictures, but I hate the way I’m being called to give myself away, piece by piece, until there’s nothing left but the knowledge of having loved and having been loved. I feel like the Velveteen friggin rabbit, and it should fill me with sacrificial joy and satisfaction but mostly it fills me with resentment and dread.
Because I still want to be of this world. I still want to be pretty on Instagram. I love when people raise their eyebrows and tell me I don’t “look like” I’ve had four kids. I want all the accolades that come with being thin and fit and pulled together, and I want to offer a living sacrifice made of something other than my literal, actual body. Pretty much anything but this
And that’s just not how it works.
Most people won’t look awesome after more than 2 kids. Which is perhaps why many women (not all – please don’t mistake this for obtuse ignorance of infertility, I beg you) stop there. And those women who do look like petite tennis players after birthing 6 strapping boys? Would probably have looked that way anyway, babies or no, because genetics.
I have to learn the balance here. Which is perhaps why God has given me yet another amazing little life to nurture, the lesson having been not fully grasped in a haze of Doritos and prodromal labor 4 times over. While my body is a gift that I am invited to freely give, it will be taken from me whether or not I cooperate willingly. And I sometimes think I’m self-sabotaging with the poor eating habits and indulgences spanning 10 long months because “the weight’s gonna pile on anyway,” which is accurate enough, though a pound of roasted sweet potatoes is probably not equivalent to a pound of potato chips, all things being equal.
How then, to gracefully, willingly, joyfully give myself away this time? Entering into a spirit of real self gift, not resigned fatalism and death by chocolate.
I don’t know the answer. But I know that God has some healing here, in this place that is so deeply wounded, torn open afresh by the gift of another new life.
Yes, I will probably still gain a ton more weight than my doctor would like to see. And no, I’ll probably never have a celebrity pregnancy invisible from the back and erased by 8 weeks postpartum. But I can change my attitude. I can beg Him to change my heart. I can enter into this time of waiting and preparation with open hands, asking the Lord what He wants to show me about the broken ways I see myself and the broken relationship I have with my own body, hoping that even for a grand multipara of advanced maternal age, there is still hope for reconciliation.
I wanted to put this all out there in case I’m not alone, in case there are other women who struggle in this way, who aren’t completely thrilled with their bodies – babies on board or no – and who are still walking along that road of recovery, hoping for an eventual miracle: to not care about food, and to be at peace with their bodies.
I don’t have the answer, but I’m glad to have been given another opportunity to get in the ring and fight.
I don’t want to wake up and be 50 years old, still filled with self loathing over the reflection in the storefront window. I want to be healed. And I want to believe that things can be made new in an area of my life that feels, frankly, unredeemable.
But He makes all things new. Even, I want to believe, tired old moms with teenage insecurities still clinging tightly like spandex on hips.