Soon after giving birth to my fourth child, The Baby, I went to the beach with my family. I was holding her and watching my big kids surf and listening to the soothing sound of the ocean. Bliss.
Except not really.
Because instead of enjoying my husband and beautiful children and the warm sun and crashing waves, I was looking at the innumerable bikini-clad college girls thinking to my 36-year-old self, "Self. You're never going to look like that again. Ever."
While my first three pregnancies were relatively normal, I gained something like 55 pounds the fourth time—probably closer to 60, but I boycotted the scale after 50. About 30 of those pounds firmly rooted themselves around my rear and midsection. Oh, and you know how breastfeeding helps you "lose the baby weight"? Lies. So many lies (in my case anyway).
So here I am, on the beach, 30 pounds and one human baby heavier, and all I can think about—literally all I can even consider—is how my husband is probably now going to be forced to have an affair because I'm old. And not just old, but fat. And my primary function as a human being is acting as a milk keg for another human being who is up all night, asleep all day, wetting their pants. Also I have stretch marks, and my previously almost-flat belly is nowhere near flat.
Clearly he has no choice but to have an affair.
I must be some kind of supreme failure because a supermodel who also just had a baby is wearing an evening gown on the cover of People. Without even a hint of breastpad peeking. And it's lowcut so I know she's not wearing spanx. And every time I turn around, another magazine cover shows some other famous woman who also just had a baby and looks amazing in her bikini/evening gown/underwear. Meanwhile I'm a stuffed sausage crammed into my my skirted one-piece with a towel covering my lap, because god forbid someone see the mass of cellulite that is my hideous thighs.
Why am I SO. FAT? Why am I such a miserable, saggy excuse for a female? And good god, where will I ever find someone who will love me in such a pitiful condition?
No where. No one will ever love me. Ever.
OK. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I was under the influence of some pretty heavy postpartum hormones at the time, so this line of thinking seemed perfectly sensible.
Forget that my husband never said anything even remotely negative about my body. Irrelevant. Because the sagging. And the thighs. And oh my god I can't even breathe in this swimsuit because it. is. so. effing. tight. And don't forget SUPERMODEL and all those damned girls with their perky-ass cheeks hanging half out of their bikini bottoms.
Looking in the full-length mirror at home, I don't see the powerful mother of four that I know I am, the woman who pushed out an 11-pound baby in her kitchen, the woman who manages a household, the woman who caught other babies being born, held the hand of the dying, cried with, laughed with, so so many.
I can only see all the ways my body isn't the body I came into my marriage with. All the ways I'm not the same as I was before I became The Mother.
Breasts heavy with milk. The empty wrinkled belly that housed all these humans I made. The bags under my too-tired eyes. Hips too wide. Thighs too fat. Nothing where it used to be.
All the ways I am failing.
I have a good cry and I put on my yoga pants (because there is no way I'm squeezing into my jeans). Proceed as usual. Taking care of kids. Seventeen loads of laundry. Dinner.
Loving my body is a conscious decision I have to make everyday. I put on my clothes and put up my hair in my mom bun and I say to myself, "Self. You won't ever look like you did Before. And that's OK." Before is a time that exists only as a memory. Before I pulled this scrunchy pale newborn from the water of the birth pool in our kitchen. Before I knew that I could love four babies like I do. Before sleepless nights and afternoon naps and colic and baby giggles and that time we had to ride in an ambulance with my 8-year-old. Before I had four kids.
So yes, I have cellulite, fat, wrinkles. I have them. But I am not them. I have fingernails. But I am not fingernails. I have hair. But I am not hair.
Eventually after The Baby arrived (OK, pretty quickly actually), I wanted to get back to The Sex, which meant I had to get naked. I decided that I would just do it. I don't really know what I thought clothes would hide, but somehow they felt like an armor that protected me from the truth that I wasn't the person I was Before. If I can't see the parts of my body I now hate, maybe they don't exist, and if they don't exist, he won't leave/cheat/loathe me.
Once I drop the armor I am reminded of why I wanted The Sex in the first place. The way he holds my belly and says how he loves its softness, its vulnerability. When he tells me how deeply he loves me and is so grateful that we are building a life together. That he is so glad I'm the mother of his babies. That the scale, the inches are insignificant. How I'm smart. Funny. Kind. Compassionate.
How I am all that I was Before and now, I am even more.