Tuesday, August 5, 2014

If You Show A Pregnant Woman Your Stretch Marks . . .

This is an apology. Sorry, Paula­, no pregnant woman should have had to see that.

The story starts like this: After the twins were born it’s fair to say that my belly became something like a fifth appendage. Need to store a small items? I can hold your pen, a few coins, and a Polly Pocket under the fold of my "pendulous apron." In less frightening visual terms, it’s also known as a "mother’s apron." That sounds quaint. An apron rimmed in rickrack perhaps, not one shot through with silvery stretch marks.

Mine is not so terrible that it can’t be flattened down and tucked into a sturdy pair of Spanx. In fact, when I was in the throes of my post-twin workout craze, my tight abdomen paired with tight jeans tricked onlookers into exclaiming, "I can’t believe you had twins!"

Fooled you.

One friend, Paula, pregnant with her first child, couldn’t get over how flat my belly was. We were at a girls’ night out with half a dozen other friends. With an optimism I should have guessed had something to do with her own hopes for an unmarred post-baby body, she enthused about my tight abs. This made me feel, naturally, pumped about my body image. It also made me want to show her my parlor trick with denim. I felt I needed to prove my membership in the club of women who emerge on the other side of pregnancy with stretch marks, scars, a weak bladder, and the facial hair of a circus bearded lady. No poseur, I.

I pulled out the flap of belly that was tucked behind my waistband.


She went pale. Somewhere in her psyche a toned, pre-baby version of herself cried out "DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE!?" Her fear over one day having to tote around a third, squishy boob stretched from hip to hip in the vicinity of her stomach was palpable. (I say vicinity because it’s awfully hard to pin that flap to a permanent location, it’s just so migratory.)  I had scared the crap out of her.

"Don’t worry!" I backpedaled. "I had twins, this won’t happen to you!" If I could have swaddled her and rocked her on my lap, I would have, with a bottle full of whiskey to calm her nerves.

Eventually the color return to her cheeks, we all chatted across the table, distracting each other from my revelation. But I think it’s fair to assume that, sometimes, when she closes her eyes before bed, she’s startled out of sleepiness by the great white reality of my apron.

Month later, Paula had a healthy baby girl. She was spared the mother’s apron as evidenced by the post-baby tattoo she got on her still firm tummy. But I’m sure she has some physical change to lament. We all do.

I've yet to meet a mother who relishes the loss of breast tissue and skin tone. But there is something chummy about being able to share the pregnancy battle wounds. "My episiotomy almost went all the way to my back door," a woman admits to a friend. "That's why the fiber supplements." "Yeah, I have a varicose vein that goes from ankle to butt cheek," her friend reveals. "That's why the beach cover ups."

Maybe you havee stretch marks that run up your back? Does one breast hang lower than its mate? A million things can change with your body after pregnancy and it’s not always easy to shrug it off and love what’s left.

These days I sometimes fixate on the problem areas ("problem" as if my saddle bags are the type to gets arrested for being drunk and disorderly). There are many ways in which I would like to improve my looks. None of them include hot yoga or expensive creams. I require nothing less than a surgical intervention to put things back where they started.

However, I like to think that at any given moment, myselfany of us, all of usare turning someone’s head. Say, the guy in the car next to you at a red light who winks, not because he knows a thing about your training bra sized-breasts or your pancake belly, but because he likes your smile. Maybe there’s someone behind you at the grocery checkout who likes your rear view and envies it for herself. Your shoulders, neck, arms, legs, curves and contours, twinkling eyes, and bubbly wit are drawing appreciative looks at any given moment.

The best way I can make up for my gaffe, my moment as the boogeyman to my pregnant friend, is to say that there are still lots of things I like about my body. And even moreespecially since becoming a motherthat I like about the woman I've become. Let’s all of us veteran moms, whose bodies have been in the trenches, do the would-be mothers of today a favor. Smile, twinkle, and be witty.  We should always assume that a pregnant woman is watching us live comfortably, happily in our bodies, flanked by our families, and thinking, "I hope I look exactly like her post-baby. Smile and all."