This Is My Body, Sacred and Scarred

We were at the lake this summer when I saw her, the woman with my body wearing a bikini, her thighs round and her stomach rounder, both decorated with long lines chasing each other up her skin, identical to my own stretch marks which go on into infinity. I stopped and I admit I stared, although I hoped she didn’t notice because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say or make her understand that I meant it, which was, “Good for you, mama” and, “I wonder if you know how beautiful you are?” And then she was off, into the water, playing with her kids, splashing in the sunshine, living her life with her scars on the outside like the playing and the living were more important than the flaws. I loved her in that moment for being brave and being herself and teaching me to love myself a little better.

To be clear, you won’t catch me in a bikini. Ever. Not because I think bikinis are bad or that only women with certain body types are entitled to wear them. If you want to wear a bikini, friend, I will go all Mama Bear on anyone who says you can’t, shouldn’t or to DON’T. But me? Nope. Not interested. I’m happy to leave my bikini days behind me, along with skinny jeans, leggings and feathered hair.

Which is why this is a strange transition I’m about to make. A strange thing I’m about to do. A strange turn of events to follow my (stretch-marked) gut and push publish on this picture of my belly, bare for all to see.

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How in the world do you make a decision to bare your scars to the world? To wear the bikini at the lake… or to stand virtually naked in front of a mirror in the quiet of your own home and tentatively take off your shirt and step out of your jeans and lift the camera and watch the light and suck in your gut and puff it back out and choose to push the button that will capture this image? The one of the belly you love for growing babies? The one of the belly you hate for the scars that drip like candle wax? The one of the belly that made one friend gasp in shock and another say how beautiful? The one of the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t? The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?

How in the world do you make a decision to share that belly like it’s lovely? Like it’s worthy of not just words but a picture, too?

For me, it was this e-mail from my friend Sarah. This e-mail that made me laugh and smile and cry and run my nails along my scars and nod and say, “I know. Oh, I know.” Because Sarah wrote:

My husband grabbed my now dried up boobs last night and I started crying.

He was laughing and then I started crying.

And then he stopped laughing.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Remember that time he found me in the fetal position crying my eyes out about the fact that I could not stop the train wreck of motherhood that was hurtling toward me?

It was just like that. Except this time I was crying about the aftermath of the wreck and how I was no longer, nor ever going to be again, the woman with the perky boobs and nice rear he married. The full effects of having a child have left their ugly, stretchy, purple, saggy marks all over me.

My glory years are officially over. Or at least that’s what I was feeling like in the moment.

And, yes. My glory years are officially over, too, Sarah. Or rather, my glory years have been transferred from my broken body to something deeper and less physical and far more profound than a mere body. Not that that matters during the crying moments. It doesn’t. Because broken bodies must be mourned.

But someday – eventually – just like motherhood gets stronger, the body matters less. Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life. And I don’t just mean to our biological babies. Oh, no, I sure don’t. Because this body of mine was broken with my first baby even though another mama grew her. My body was broken by late nights and early mornings that melted into each other. And by the burn in my back from holding her and holding her and holding her. And by the grind and the gore and the grace and the glory of motherhood which walk, always, hand in hand.

When I see myself in the mirror now, I think, almost always, “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Which isn’t sacrilegious. Or self-deprecating. Or disdainful. Or sad. Not now. Not anymore. No. Because the broken body points always toward life. Always toward triumph. Always toward resurrection. It just took me a while to find the sacred in the scars.

……….

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P.S. I laughed out loud at my panties the other day. In an epic move of comedic solidarity, they thought it would be awesome to mimic my stretch marks by getting stretch marks of their own.

—>

Good one, Panties.

……….

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
102 comments
  1. […] this is my body sacred and scarred (both via) […]

  2. When I was 37 years old I gave birth to my first son. When I say he was my whole life I am not exaggerating. I was very thin when I got pregnant, and only gained 27 pounds. Lost most of it pretty quickly and was back in my jeans in a couple of weeks. And I’d gripe a bit every now and then about the 5 or 10 more pounds I wanted to lose. He died suddenly of bacterial meningitis (before there was a vaccine), two weeks before his first birthday. I almost died too, again no exaggeration. I think I lost down to 114 pounds on my 5’10’ frame. I remember standing naked in front of a mirror crying and crying and wishing for stretch marks and some weight to prove that I was a mother too. It’s been 15 years ( well, in two days) since his death, and the scars you can’t see still hurt way more than any you can.

    I’m fortunate that 10 months after Will’s death I brought home a personal savior in the form of my adopted son! He has been nothing but a joy in my life.I don’t think I could have returned to the world of happy without him!

  3. Wow, what amazing words. I went through 2 pregnancies many years ago and have the road maps to prove it. Now my sweet girl is expecting our first grandchild and one of her biggest concerns is what pregnancy will do to her tiny body. I am saving this for her and hopefully your words and bravery can encourage her. Thank you.

  4. This is a powerful and beautiful work. I cried twice at, “The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?”

  5. You are brave and beautiful. And for the first time in a very long time, when I looked in the mirror today, and thought uncharitable things about my own body, I stopped myself and thought “you’ know, you’ve spent a few years pouring everything into a child, so this poor body took 15th place behind a bunch of important things, cut her some slack!”

  6. My son asked what they were and I told him that’s I used to be a mermaid and I had to give up my scales and tail to be with daddy he accepted this because he knows I love the water.

  7. You’re awesome. Thank you for your bravery and speaking wonderful truth, and for reminding me that I’ve changed, but I’m even more beautiful than before because of my motherhood. These scars and stretches are badges of honor and tell a tale of love!
    Still working on believing that all of the time-some days I mourn the old perky youthful body I once had (and took for granted at the time! :/ ). I feel damaged, old.
    But I know the truth-I AM A MOTHER, a really awesome dedicated mother, and I grew and birthed angels. And now my body bears these scars and stretches to remind me of just how strong I’ve become.

  8. Loved your post. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sleep or that I have been a mess of tears and pain for a week, but I’m still sniffling after reading this. I go in today to get the staples removed from having a hysterectomy. I have 4 beautiful girls of my own and 3 more kids I share with my husband, and even a granddaughter at my young age of 40. Still, I am reeling at what feels like such a loss.

    You are beautiful, wear your badges with pride. I vote for something in a color that makes people turn their heads.

  9. I’m practically giving you a standing ovation over here! We should be hiding our bodies away just because they’ve battled life. We should be proud that they won!

  10. Such a beautiful and important post. Thank you for putting yourself out there. I will definitely be sharing this with my readers at Unexpectant.com.

  11. Love this! Thanks for posting! I always tell myself internally to ‘flip it’ – so instead of scars, I see them as ‘badges of honor’ that I was blessed with four children. 🙂

    Would be deeply appreciative if you read my blog http://keeponpath.wordpress.com/ and add to your reading list – looking forward to reading more of your posts. Have to confess I don’t know what a urinal cake is? ha ha … will have to keep reading.

  12. six children and thirteen grandchildren and I thought nothing could bring me to tears ever again, but you did!

  13. Ahhhhhhh, my heart is so very full. I needed this.

  14. Thanks so much for this. I often don’t feel my body is beautiful, even if my hubby can’t keep his hands off when we are alone. I want to love myself in every way so my children (particularly my teenage daughter) will too. This really helped me to gain a better perspective.

  15. As the mama of a micro-preemie born 3.5 months too soon, I can honestly say I’m jealous of those beautiful stretch marks. Your body did what it was designed to do and created several healthy and glorious lives. A worthy sacrifice and one that I would gladly trade my still-perky body for in a heart beat :-). Those marks mean you created life and I’m glad you’re encouraging other women to embrace them for what they represent :-).

  16. It’s taken me 46 of my 46 years to appreciate this body. It’s given me my sweet daughters and has been through a lot. I’m just now appreciating if even though I’m not where I want to be weight wise. I’m so thankful to be vertical and breathing on my own. Thank you reminding me how very very lucky I am that God gave me this mix of skin and bones! And you are the real deal sister. Thanks for the smile today.

  17. Thank you! that is all…..

  18. Love this! My husband and daughter love grabbing, kneading, and resting on my stretched out stomach. They genuinely love it and have taught me to (almost) love it too. Although, it’d also be cool if I didn’t still looook pregnant. 😉

  19. I applaud your bravery!!! While I have told many a momma about my stretch marks I’ve NEVER been brave enough to show them to anyone!!! My sister and I have always joked that we should go into high school/middle school health classes and show the girls what the real deal is when you go through pregnancy and childbirth!! LOL. I just had my third child and my belly looks just like yours…I’ve had some friends/acquaintances suggest the tummy tuck route, but quite frankly I would rather go on a fantastic vacation with my husband than ever spend that kind of money on plastic surgery!!! I’m pretty content with it all at this point and really loved reading this. Great post!

  20. I’ve never met you, but I think I love you. And I think I love you a little more just because your underwear comes up to the exact spot right before your belly button to keep the skin that just wants to hang underneath in control.

    I’m 4’10, which didn’t give me much room for a baby…on top of it I had pre-e which made me swell up in places I didn’t know could swell, consequently leaving stretch marks in places I didn’t think I could have stretch marks.

    I love them for what they represent, right down to the big scar from my c-section. But this bravery you just shared, my dear, is the most absolutely wonderful thing you could have ever done for other moms out there.

    Thank you.

  21. I love you. That is all.

  22. This is a must-read for mothers everywhere. I’ve been pondering how to get women to love their bodies as they are – I am not 100% there but more than I was even a year ago, and it breaks my heart to hear my friends put themselves down because our bodies aren’t 17-years-old anymore. Thank you!

  23. Hi, Beth,
    I also just happened onto your blog because a dear friend posted it on FB along with a comment she wrote. I am 60, mother of two, happily married for 38 years, and grandmother of FIVE! Your beautiful post gave me an entirely new way to think about my body, and for that, I am most grateful. Thank you. I especially loved when you describe your ambivalence about “the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t?” — As a survivor of abuse as a child, I grew up with a body image that left much to be desired. How wonderful that we have husbands who love us for who we are, scars, stretch marks, bellies, and all! Thank you so much for your post.

  24. As a Mummy just embarking on third time round, and lucky enough to be free from stretchmarks so far, I think this might have been just what the doctor ordered! I’m almost hoping I get some this time round! Seriously, even without any tell tale stripes I’ve been constantly pregnant, breastfeeding or both for six years, my breasts are (to quote someone funnier) “like raspberries in the ends of pop socks” but the damage and breakage comes in other ways, late nights, early mornings, upside down days, we’ve all earned our badges of honour, we should wear them proudly and be proud of them in fellow parents.

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