And I've been wanting to reflect on a lot of things lately. So it surprises me that today's reflections are on body image of all things, since these thoughts seemed to come a bit out of the blue. I've been organizing and putting away baby clothes and maternity clothes over the past few days, and even though it's nice to see my old clothes in my closet, the reality is that I won't be wearing most of them any time soon.
It's funny, because my 17-years-ago-self would be really focused on sizes and numbers right now. But let me take a minute here: 17 years ago. Every time I think about this, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude that the peak of my anorexia is now half a lifetime away from me. My past self never even fathomed all of the fullness that life beyond recovery held, and my present self is moved beyond words by the ways in which God pulled me from the muck and mire and set me on solid ground.
So anyway, it's hard to name what I'm feeling right now. I experienced a lot of freedom and healing in my pregnancy with Noah and the subsequent postpartum recovery I went through. I was in physical pain every day, and I felt like my body had come this far only to betray me. It took a lot of time and money and work and tears to move beyond that. But aside from the pain and physical recovery, there was also the ever-present bodily recovery in the sense of recognizing who I saw in the mirror. Just like the weight gain curve in pregnancy, I learned that my body had its own weight loss curve postpartum, and that I really couldn't comfortably and safely impact the progression that happened.
I gained 30 pounds in 38.5 weeks of pregnancy with Noah, lost 15 pounds (7lbs 8.7oz of that was a bouncing baby boy) within a few days of delivery, and pretty much hung out there for 7-8 months. I lost maybe 5 pounds around that point, another 5 pounds after 14-15 months when Noah started sleeping through the night, and another 2-3 pounds when we weaned at 26 months. For much of the first year with Noah, I was run into the ground. I've talked about this plenty of times before, with the house under construction, the colic, the pain, the postpartum anxiety, the sheer sleeplessness, the anemia, the fatigue. I was trying to work out and take care of myself, but I was not quite sure what that really meant and it took quite a while to find a new normal.
Before getting pregnant with Rosie, I was still technically hanging onto the last 3-5 pounds, but as I told a friend, I really had neither the time, nor money, nor f*cks to give at that point. I was happy and comfortable and active. I was a little softer than before (literally and figuratively), but I fit into most of my old clothes and I was mostly just so grateful for a body that allowed me to carry and birth a firework of a baby, to breastfeed him as long as I wanted to, and to carry him around and play with him and take long walks and snuggle at naps.
I gained 30 pounds in 38.3 weeks with Rosie, and again lost 15 pounds right away (7lbs 15.3oz of sweet baby included). But post-Rosie, getting "back into shape" hasn't really been a focus, in a good way. I was meticulous about physical therapy in pregnancy and postpartum since my first and foremost goal was to avoid another painful recovery if at all possible. I stayed on top of acupuncture and herbs. I focused on lots of nourishing and healing foods. And I'm grateful that purely focusing on replenishing and restoring has brought me this far. Physical recovery has been so different this time. I've been so grateful for that, I didn't really care about anything else. But the fact of the matter is, I sit here 9 months out a solid 15 pounds heavier than were I started 18 months ago, and much more... stretched out... than I was after the first baby. So yeah, the weather is warming up and I'm not wearing layers and sweaters and vests, and I'll be honest, I'm realizing it's been a while since I really evaluated the situation in the mirror.
I'm a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding in 4 weeks and I'm honored and psyched to be a part of their big day! But I took my dress to the seamstress this weekend and had to face the fact I'm also the mom to two babies on earth and two in heaven and I'm 5 years older than all the other (childless) bridesmaids. Let's be honest. I've lived a whole lot of life in those 5 years. Life that I'm grateful for and overwhelmed by and wouldn't trade for the world, but life nonetheless. And it shows.
It's hard for me to express this in a non-navel-gazing way: how I am so thankful for life right now and every single thing that brought me here, but how I also maybe wish I looked a little more familiar to myself. And that really is it. It's not about being a certain size or weight, but being at home with myself again. I've grown a little detached in the chaos of adjusting to two kids and getting through the long winter.
A friend recently shared her pregnancy news on a text chain with a few of us, and she was asking about weight gain. Everyone was sharing their stories, and I said, "I gained 30lbs on the dot for both of mine, but they were both 1-2 weeks early. With Noah I gained really rapidly in the first tri, then stalled in the second, then gained steadily in the third. With Rosie, I gained nothing in the first tri (so sick), gained really rapidly in the second, and then stalled a bit between 25-35 weeks. I panicked a bit both times because it wasn't a perfect linear progression. But your body does what it needs to do, and all you can do is eat as healthily as appetite allows, and be as active as you have the energy to be. Pregnancy and postpartum was/is redemptive for me in learning to trust how God made my body. With both kids, I lost 15 pounds right away, and the other 15 pounds seems to hang around for a good year. I'm in the middle of that now, but trusting and remembering that it goes away (fairly) easily when I start sleeping through the night again and having more energy during the day."
Really, though, other friends' answers were better for me to hear. Emily said that after having 4 babies, "I honestly feel more at home in my body even though it's a far cry from being in shape. After seeing the healthy humans I made, I see it in a much more positive light."
Alison's response stopped me in my tracks:
"I truly view my body differently since being pregnant and breastfeeding. Your body is literally giving life to another! That is so amazing! It definitely helps to put the gaining weight part of it into perspective. BUT it is still hard! And it's okay to feel those feelings of grief. Some seem to get right back to themselves after birth and that just wasn't me. I definitely hold onto weight while breastfeeding and my supply is very sensitive, so I couldn't make any big changes to my diet or activity level while nursing. I am done nursing [my second] and just now feel like I 'have my body back,' so to speak, after almost 4 years of being pregnant and breastfeeding.
They have been the most precious years and I obviously would not trade them for anything, but it doesn't mean that it's not hard to give that part of yourself up. But I'm learning, too, that that's motherhood! Giving of yourself over and over and over to your kids, but also finding time for self-care. And that looks different in every season. But in the early years I'm finding the 'giving up of yourself' is definitely heavy on the physical side! And I think the changes our bodies go through are kind of an outward representation of that sacrifice of our needs. But it's just a season."
I really loved her answer, and it gave voice to some of my thoughts about the giving of yourself. I feel like motherhood, for me, has really been a season of listening and learning and being patient. This is hard for me, as a verbal processor who likes to be bossy and know all the answers! But VERY slowly God is beginning to connect some of the dots for me. These body image thoughts have been rolling around for the past year and a half, ever since I got pregnant with Rosie, and they came full circle when I was listening to a podcast this morning and the conversation came around to body image in motherhood.
In the episode, Hannah Anderson says,
"Again, we have to go back to this definition of humility, as recognizing and honoring the difference between God as God, and our identity as created, limited creatures who are dependent on Him. If we have that frame, and we move to talk about our bodies, it’s amazing to realize that one of the very things that defines the difference between us and a transcendent God, is our physical bodies.
One of the catechisms that children often learn is, your God does not have a body. God is a spirit; He does not have a body. Even living within the boundaries of this physical flesh and bone is a limitation to begin with. Our bodies are our first reminder that we are not God. We fight this all the time, whether we’re skimping on sleep, or we’re skimping on food, or skimping on exercise, we’re essentially saying, “I don’t have to live within the boundaries of my physical body. I can live beyond them.” The first thing that humility teaches us about our body is that, it has been given to us to remind us of our limits. It is a walking, 24/7 reminder that we are not God.
But Christ, when he entered human flesh, He also elevated and honored it, so there is no shame in our bodies. We feel the shame because we feel the limitations, and we press against those limitations. We look at our body, we feel them decaying and we feel them breaking down, and we are, quite frankly, embarrassed by them. We are ashamed of them in ways that God is not ashamed of them. Jesus Christ was not ashamed to carry human flesh.
I find it fascinating that when He was raised from the dead, He was not ashamed to have marred flesh. He was not ashamed to carry the marks of love and sacrifice in His body. Again, this goes back to who are we listening to about our bodies? Jesus Christ is saying, “Your body is valuable and honoring and it’s been given to you to remind you of your limits, but also to make you dependent. It has been given to you to serve in sacrifice, and it’s going to carry marks.” That’s what Christ is telling us about our body. The world is telling us, “Your body is given to you to be a goddess. You are to transcend normal human limits...”
At the root, there is essential conflict of, who we are going to listen to? Are we going to listen to culture around us that tells us a broken, limited body is a shameful thing? Or are we going to listen to the voice of Christ who says, “Come to me, I’ve got the same kind of body? And mine’s as messed up as yours is.” Not what the world is saying is beautiful, but high honor and value and love the things that the world does not love. So humility frees us, again like you said, takes that burden off, when we’re seeing our bodies the way God sees them. We don’t feel the weight that the world is putting on us for our bodies.
[...]This has great potential for us to teach our children, and even our daughters, to honor what their bodies are, and will be. If you think about Christ coming back with wounds in His hands, it is these very wounds that He used to convince Thomas of His love, and to draw him to Himself. In many ways, whether we’re coming up in a swimsuit season, or whether we’re going to be outside more, and we can’t wear jeans and sweaters, all the time any more, we are going to be exposed. Yet it’s these very things that can be a connection, especially with our daughters to say, “Hey, this is where I carried you, this space.” ...Celebrating and honoring the same way Jesus said, “Come touch my hands. Come see it and believe that this was a good, valuable sacrifice. I am here and I did this for you.” We’re carrying a parallel kind of mark of sacrifice and love, and our children need to see that love embodied in us, rather than us shamefully covering and self condemning."
This really resonates with another podcast episode that I've been thinking about since I heard it last week. (Yeah I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. I need a different soundtrack in my head aside from kids crying and my own self-condemnation and frustration! It's good for me to listen and let truth wash over me without having to engage in conversation, or be heard, or interrupted.)
In this episode, Gloria Furman reminded me, "God is ONE. He is triune and he is one. There's no disunity in the eternal counsel in the Godhead. So he's ordained, designed, called, equipped, strengthens you, holds you accountable, and rewards you... He is not in conflict with himself. God has ordained THOSE kids, THIS marriage, THAT home, THIS financial situation and budget, THESE challenges, your weaknesses and your strengths, and he expects you to depend on Him for everything you need. His grace is sufficient for you. And he will give you what you need to persevere in your faith through all of that."
With that, I just heard the back door slam and Noah's running across the yard with a snack in his hand. But these are truths that I will be coming back to again and again. Nothing goes out from God and returns back empty, so I can rest assured that even these extra 15 pounds hold a purpose. They remind me that I'm not God, that I need him daily, and he has me here for a purpose.