After we have children, our body can seem transformed in ways we never expected. And in a society that prizes those who get their body "back," it can be a struggle to accept these changes. But what if we could see our new form as a marker of the way we've grown, and not just come to terms with it, but truly love it? That's exactly the journey these four writers have made.
No longer terrified of her weight, Meghan Flaherty has given up on sucking it in—and now embraces her softer side.
Once a fat kid, always a fat kid. Some heartless tweenager once dubbed me "Meghan Fattery," and now the name is like a tattoo only I can see, indelible in flesh. To be fair, it was middle school, when alpha children hit peak cruel. I was also a size 12 with a size 11 foot, and nerdy. He could have said worse.
By 30, I was taller, less socially awkward, and slimmer, due to growth spurts and a dalliance with kale. I could laugh the old nickname off, but I still felt overlarge. I flinched when lovers touched my midsection, that pale strip of softness. Sitting, standing, crossing arms, I've nearly always held my stomach in.
I got pregnant and both lusted for and feared my license to expand. The extra inches I acquired were a sweet secret between my body and the universe. Even in that awkward stage before the "pop," my body and I had purpose.
There was no stopping the outward swelling of my abdomen (technically, the upward swelling of my womb). It was epic and inevitable and, for the first time, taut. Here, at last, were my hardbodied abs, courtesy of an organ straining like the prize gourd at a fair. I did not resist. I let my tummy bag and bloat, reveling in the watermelon that let me feel so free.
After my son arrived, I went back to exercising and eating greens but couldn't bring myself to clench. Then I found myself knocked up with my second baby. This time it wasn't just my abdomen. My limbs enlarged. My bras no longer closed. I surpassed the guideline on the weight-gain chart with glee. My husband was delighted. My father even joked, "If someone asked you to haul ass, you'd have to make two trips." I took it as a compliment.
I love my new rotundity. The weight on my face and hips. The spread of thigh flesh on the couch. For the first time in my memory, despite the wear and tear, I'm relaxed. I look in the mirror and see not just a body, perfect or imperfect, but the old bones of my baby house. I see what I've done and what I've made. It's no longer me versus my body; it is me, a single entity, mother of two.
How the Dots Connect
They may look like mere freckles to you. But to Taylor Harris, they’re evidence of the marvelous, mysterious ties that bind.
My freckles appeared in my teen years, dotting my cheeks, fanning out under my eyes. They seemed proof of summers playing tennis, heat burning through my sunscreen. But to my mother, they were proof of something more: "You have your grandmother Muffet's freckles," she said. My maternal grandmother, who'd died before I was born, loved tennis too. I took freckles to be her latest gift, the genetic equivalent of slipping me candy from her purse when Mom wasn't looking.
I took high school biology, drew my share of Punnett squares. I know that the proverbial family tree is more a web of helixes, entwined spirals that reflect more order than chaos but still hold mystery. But the more I learn, the more I understand how little we know about what we pass down.
When I gave birth to my daughter, a doctor asked, "Who has hazel eyes?" My daughter's eyes, a glassy gray rimmed with bronze, were not mine. They looked like my sister-in-law's. My son was born with a knuckle-deep dimple in his left cheek. "Just like Uncle Mike," I told him. And when my youngest emerged with skin the color of sliced almonds, I just knew my mom had been born again.
My children all share my half-nasal, half-scratchy voice (think baby gnome swallows a kitten). They're introverted, like me, but one likes to beatbox with a random urgency I can only attribute to my husband's very loud DNA.
We'll have to wait and see if any of them inherit my freckles, which I've come to love for different but intertwined reasons. For one, they were part of me from Before. So much has shifted in my body through pregnancy and childbirth that it feels like grace to acknowledge I was an entire person before having kids. I adore my children, but I'm not merely the sum of them. And two, these specks on my brown cheeks remind me that even as we map our knowledge of life and science into boxes and structures, we each hold a bit of wonder in these bodies, the likes of which no one can truly predict.
Thanks For the Mammaries
Jenn Morson always resented her breasts. Then came their finest hour.
When I was a teenager, they showed up abruptly, bringing along a great deal of embarrassment and back pain. I was a child of the '90s; as classmates embraced sundresses with spaghetti straps and baby tees, I sprouted breasts that just kept growing and growing.
I tried to buy myself decent bras but found it impossible. The Victoria's Secret saleslady snapped her measuring tape. "We don't carry that large a cup size," she said, with zero sympathy. I fled to my car and cried. I was 24, 110 pounds, a 32F. I wore baggy sweaters, and wouldn't wear a swimsuit. My breasts controlled me.
After I'd had several surgical consults, exams, and mammograms, my health insurance agreed to overturn its initial denial: A breast reduction was necessary and covered. I emerged from surgery a few cup sizes lighter, with proportionate 32Cs. For a year postsurgery, I wore cute dresses, tank tops, bras not built like battle armor—even bathing suits.
Then I got pregnant.
My breasts seemed to reinflate overnight. But I surprised myself by not caring. When my daughter was born, they were even bigger than their original size, almost comically large, like a pair of cantaloupes in July. But now they served a crucial purpose.
I'm now breastfeeding my sixth infant. My bra tag reads 32FFF/G. Before kids, that designation would've incapacitated me. Now I order a supportive tankini and head to the beach with my family.
Someday, I'll be done feeding babies. My breasts will shrink, though they'll never be as fantastic as they were that postsurgical year. But I love them for doing something even better than looking cute: keeping six people alive and happy.
On Your Marks
The scars on Christine Peterson\’s body are relics from a painful past, but after a hard-won triumph, they carry new meaning.
They look like two vampire teeth had plunged into my midsection, left of my bellybutton. Small as pencil erasers, an inch apart. The scars used to remind me, as I rubbed oil into them, hoping they would fade, that I couldn't be a parent. I was infertile, my doctor said, and would need surgical intervention to conceive.
My fallopian tubes had been blocked at birth, resulting in fluid floating in the swollen balloons off my uterus, which resembled Mickey Mouse ears on a radiology screen. The scars came from surgery, a tubal ligation meant to close off those balloons to prepare for IVF.
And so came three years of fertility treatments: track marks across my backside from hormone shots; peeling, irritated skin on my stomach from estrogen patches; extra weight.
And then, after a few dozen periods I had hoped not to get, I took one pregnancy test, then another, then bought a second brand, just in case. I lined them up on my bathroom sink. Each was positive.
I forgot about the scars after my daughter was born two months early. The marks were lost in the rush of bringing her home and returning to work.
I started looking at the scars again as we decided if we wanted to face months of shots and hormones once more to have another baby. In those moments, they reminded me of everything we'd done, every fear, every patch, every pill. We decided that no, we wouldn't. We have one child. Our family is whole.
I don't rub oil on the scars anymore. Now I'm proud of them. I see them as a reminder not of my brokenness, but of my strength. They show me that even when doctors said it might not work, when they told us we were on our last chance, when we miscarried and failed and tried again, when we started discussing other options, my body stayed strong.
Those vampire bites were a sign of darkness. Now they're a mark of hope.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's March 2021 issue as "The Beauty of My Postbaby Body." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here