Bastian walked into the living room the other night and stopped short. Wonder and shock crossed his face. “Mom,” he gasped, “what happened to your legs?!”
I was wearing shorts. Apparently I hadn't done that in recent days.
“I gained 50 pounds,” I said, tersely, “that’s what happened.” He leaned in, his long spindly fingers caressing the air around my thigh. “I just want to squeeze them! They’re so…squishy! And squeezy!” He spent the next fifteen minutes pretending to be Gollum, treating my leg like a raw fish. There was hysterical giggling and attempted bites before I finally beat him off.
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
I will continue to teach my ten-year-old boy about respecting people's body's. But I have also chosen to appreciate the humor in this moment, in the unfiltered reaction of a child watching his mother increase in size at an extraordinary rate.
Their wonder at my largeness is a daily experience.
Last week I was sitting on the floor in my room, working on my computer. The younger three were all gallivanting around me, yowling. Bastian walked in and took one look at me and started giggling. After the Thigh Incident, he has been working hard on not saying anything about my current shape. Apparently this was too much.
“Are you laughing at me?” I asked.
“No!” He tried to skitter out of the room.
His pointed little chin peeped back around the doorframe. “I can’t help it!” he protested. “You look like a chubby baby using a computer!” He ran, howling, down the hallway.
It's an accurate comparison.
Last month I walked 15 out of 30 days, for an hour. At a brisk pace. I did a good job on my diet. And I gained 18 pounds. In a month.
In 28 weeks I’ve gained 55 pounds. I just. Can’t.
My body retains fluids and toxins like it’s going out of style, while holding on to every single calorie like it’s never going to see food again.
Jasper looked at my knees one night, which have pretty much disappeared, and he said, “Can we just talk about what’s happening here?” It’s a knee, you little jerk. A knee.
To their honest inquiries of, “What is happening to your body?” my wailing response is, “I DON’T KNOW!” It just happens.
Whether we like it or not, as women, our bodies change. Between puberty and hormones, stress and life, child bearing and menopause, we change shape and morph from one thing to another. A little or a lot.
In pregnancy, we make space for life inside of us, our bodies spreading out, expanding, softening. We are a microcosm in which the miracle, the drama of growing and sustaining life blossoms and, sometimes, dies.
The fluidity and flexibility that our physical forms demand plays in to the very nature of femininity.
In all the years of wrestling with my sensitive body, I have had a lot of emotions about how it looks and how it works...and doesn’t work.
I remember, as a teenager, thinking that it’s really hard, in our culture, for women to make peace with their body. Compared to the plastic, photo-shopped, surgically altered models and movie stars, we can never be enough. We can never have the right size or shape of breast, thigh, ass, stomach, leg, chin, nose, lips, teeth.
As so many of our own mothers wrestled with their own self-love, unable to pass down what they did not have, that tender place of feminine identity wasn’t given a whole lot of hand-outs. Puberty sucks for most of us. Even with the most secure parental attachment and healthiest sense of self-worth, you’re going to face a lot of challenges as your face sprouts zits and you realize your left breast is half a cup size smaller than your right. And you can’t seem to figure out how to put a tampon in. And the oily hair! And the stretch marks! And the emotions!
It’s going to be hard. Awash in hormones. Finding your way. It just is.
And then you’re looking around at what everyone else thinks you’re supposed to look like and it feels like you might as well just give up before you even start trying. I accepted that I wasn’t one of the pretty girls; I was never going to fill that space in any year book. So I was going to be me and not envy what I wasn’t. But great scot, it was hard.
To accept, love, and have grace for myself oughtn't to have been so difficult a terrain to navigate.
In my 20’s, when I had vestibulodynia, I realized I had the option to numb out...or process this new way my body wasn’t working. I am me, so, I dove in. I remember standing in the shower, watching the water flow down, over my breasts and abdomen. I looked young and nubile from the outside, but I felt like an impenetrable fortress. I felt barren and brittle. I felt like a vast expanse of desert. My fertility was inaccessible. And it was out of my control.
I had to wrestle with that place, with the dichotomy of appearance and reality, with the devastation of expectation. When my best friend got pregnant on her honeymoon I was surprised to discover the depth of sorrow that rose up in me. Pregnancy, whether I wanted it or not, was not an option for me. It might never be. What did that mean, as a woman?
A lot of things lie between those moments, 13 years ago, and today. Healing and pain. I am blessed that I have had the experience of carrying life inside of me…as much as I hate the process. It is an honor, and I don’t ever discount that.
I remember, in my years of imposed barrenness, wondering what I would be like pregnant. I imagined I’d be like the aunt that I’m built like, that I’d have a little basketball belly and some morning sickness, but I’d keep dancing and doing yoga and...life.
If you’ve read any of my blogs in this series, you know that is SO not the case.
13 years later, on my sixth pregnancy, I can say with great confidence that pregnancy does not become me. Aside from all the sickness and misery, I have my moments of cuteness, of emanating the vibes of a ripe Fertility Goddess. But they are just that, moments. Most of the time I look like Gus-Gus from Disney’s animated Cinderella. I don’t carry my weight well. I pack on upwards of 80 pounds and every part of my body protests this transformation.
I went up 10 pant sizes after my first baby. I had NO idea that was going to happen. Three months post-partum, I remember attempting to try on a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans. I couldn’t get them past my cankles. How had I EVER been that small?! I packed up every scrap of clothing I owned and gave it away. Four months later, when I returned to a size 8, I regretted that decision. But seriously, I had no idea my body could CHANGE like that. With Tansy, I went up 16 sizes. That was something else. How is it even possible?!
Albeit, I have a small rib cage, but it’s ten inch expansion is like, freaking crazy. Sometimes I like to take out my nursing bras and put them on my head. Because that’s how big the cups are.
How is that EVEN POSSIBLE?!!!!
I am mystified by the scale of dimension my body can fluctuate on. Who EVER would have imagined that pregnancy would do that do me?! I’ll tell you who…nobody.
I feel powerless in the midst of this flux. I can’t imagine the exercise and crazy dietary pains I’d have to take to do anything other then what I do. (The first month of this pregnancy I was doing Whole 30. I gained 15 pounds.)
Genetics might have gifted me with a body that likes returning to it’s healthy weight, but let me tell you this, losing 80 pounds is never easy. I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. To not have anything to wear. To want to feel pretty, whatever that looks like, but feel the opposite.
Sometimes it’s because of the expectation of our culture. Sometimes it’s my own insecurity and the wounds from my life. Sometimes it’s just wanting to look like myself again.
I wrestle with feeling like “me” when I’m pregnant. Cause...I look so damn different.
My best friend spoke straight to my angst a few weeks ago, encouraging me that this version of myself is still an expression of who I am. Even as my body has a retention problem, as a person, I retain everything I can, to supply what is needed for my family, to always have enough to provide for those around me. My body encircles my children, acting as a buffer between them and the toxic things around us.
In this form I give life, gather, provide, protect.
It may not be my favorite version of Me, but it’s an external expression of a powerful internal reality. I'd also like to love and accept this Me better. Even if this baby comes out and I never lose another pound, I'd like to be at peace with my shape, grateful for the hard work my body has done and the sacrifices it's made.
I'd like to see the beauty in myself in all of my many shapes and sizes.
It’s challenging, living in a body that changes so often I hardly get a handle on it’s shape before I’ve become a different person on the outside…again. In this, the last pregnancy of my child bearing years, I am meditating on this flux, on this expression of myself.
I’ve been altered; I want to understand this alteration.
Like most women, having babies has marked me. I’ve paid a cost to bring life forth. Aside from the sickness I've suffered and all it's entailed, emotionally and mentally, the consequences for our family, my thighs and abdomen have lines crisscrossing them like a map of the Sahara. I have more skin then I know what to do with. My joints are shot. I pee myself all the time. My abdominal muscles ripped down the middle. I have tendonitis in both wrists.
I will never do jumping-jacks like I used to. (Both cause of my hips and knees and the peeing.) I will never climb like I used to. (Cause of my wrists...and probably the peeing, too, let's be honest.)
But I grew life inside of me! I brought it forth. I sustained and nurtured it with my own body. Even when I was sick and miserable, huge and cranky, I gave life.
And then, when they came out, and I discovered that feeding them was hard, I wept through bleeding scabbing nipples and supply issues and pumping and figured it out. Why? Because the pain is momentary. The joy of the years to come, when I would hold those babies in the darkness, feeling their sweet soft bodies against mine, while my own body gave them life, that joy will last forever.
For me, it was worth it. I found peace in the process.
I gained experience. By the last baby, even in the pain, I found that nursing her was simple. I understood my body. I accepted the pain. I knew myself.
I had matured. As a breastfeeder. As a mother. As a woman.
Sometimes I feel the pressure of our culture. And I miss what my body used to be and what it used to be able to do. I wish I hadn’t expanded and retracted four times. I feel the insecurity of what I’ve lost, what I didn’t know I was going to have to sacrifice.
One night Hannah suggested we ask Jesus what He thought about our bodies. I wasn’t super excited about this suggestion. But I asked anyway. He’s trustworthy. I expected something sweet, maybe a commentary on my insecurity.
Instead, He showed me the ruins of an old church. It reminded me of buildings I’d visited in Ireland; small, ancient chapels, built of stone, nestled in green valleys. The structure was half fallen, open to the brilliant sunlight and the clean air, which flooded through it gloriously. Vines were grown all over the stone, twisting about the rough edges, their flowers filling in the empty spaces, so that the building was half stone and half living things. It was a holy place.
“You are a temple crushed,” Jesus said to me, “and you are beautiful.”
This is motherhood. This is surrender. Allowing yourself to be broken, your physical frame paying the cost of childbearing. And even for those who do not physically bear their children, still, allowing yourself to be broken in the extraordinary process of selflessness, of prioritizing someone else needs, crumbling the things inside of you that are small and ugly, immature.
“I see your sacrifice,” He told me. “I honor it.” In life, I have come to love the Truth of this. In that the more I am crushed, the more Life grows up and through and all over me. The more I settle into Being. The more I am a structure built not by human hands. The more I am my true self.
Find more of Kristianna's story at www.cookingformonsters.com