Looking in the dressing room mirror, I wanted to cry. But doing so seemed silly and childish, which made me want to cry even more. I was the same size, the same weight, and yet somehow my clothes didn’t fit me. The truth was, regardless of what the scale said, I wasn’t the same. I no longer knew my own body. It had changed, and now I felt foreign to myself. Standing there looking at myself I realized that I was going through a second puberty of sorts, and I didn’t like it.
I felt like I did when I was 13 and started to get breasts and hips. My budding breasts were neither childlike nor womanly. Too small for a bra and too big to not wear one. It was awkward. My hips began to widen far more than I ever thought possible. The girls section became too little kid for me and the junior’s section, filled with miniskirts and tube tops, felt too grown up and sexy for my still developing body. I was stuck in between girls and women.
By college, even though I was no longer trapped in the purgatory of puberty, I still had parts of my body I didn’t like. There were things I wished I could change. The heavy bone structure that made me one hell of a gymnast did not translate well into the fashion world. I wished I was less short and less thick, and I envied long and lean women. Despite my less than perfect physique, I was still fit, attractive and healthy. I had grown to accept my body and was no longer self-conscious about how I looked. So I was taken by great surprise that day in front of the dressing room mirror when I looked at myself and felt utterly deflated. I may have been in my mid-30s, but I felt like I was in my mid-teens.
Earlier in the day when I stood in my bedroom staring at the button of my pants, I was confused. It didn’t make any sense. I tried to pull the two sides together in a futile attempt to close them. But it didn’t happen. The inch-wide space between the two sides of the zipper remained. I tried another pair. It was the same thing. I pulled my pants off and went back to the scale in my bathroom. Looking at the number I tried to figure out how I could be back at my pre-baby weight and yet my pre-baby jeans did not fit. Same body, same weight, but different size. Annoyed, I called my husband and told him all my old jeans had shrunk.
My husband was undeniably amused and told me that it was highly unlikely that all my clothes simultaneously and spontaneously shrunk at the same time. Chuckling, he agreed to meet me after work so he could help with the kids while I shopped for new clothes. It was this decision that caused my pubescent-like freak out. Standing there in the dressing room, I was wearing jeans the exact same size as the ones at home, except these jeans fit. “How is this even possible!?” I argued with the sales girl. She smiled and quietly said that the size wasn’t the issue. It was the shape. My shape had changed. My body was different.
Back in the dressing room, I stood looking in the mirror and cried. The sales girl was undeniably right. My boobs were smaller from years of breastfeeding. My hips were wider from carrying and birthing babies. Looking down at my sandals, I knew even my feet had grown half a size. I no longer had the body of a young woman, but not yet the body of a middle-aged one. My bras were too big, and my pants were too small. For the second time in my life, my body felt foreign to me. I felt awkward and unattractive. I suddenly understood the whole mom jeans phenomenon. I honestly had no idea how to dress my new figure. The cute clothes of my past were no longer appropriate and not something I could wear in the sandbox. The comfortable utilitarian clothes that fit made me look old and frumpy. Just like when I was 13, I found myself stuck between two eras. Not wanting to look too sexy, but still wanting to be young and attractive. I was not sure if it was possible to be both at the same time.
My husband opened the dressing room door, and I felt instant annoyance at the big goofy grin on his face. I gave him my very best, “this isn’t funny” look, but it only seemed to heighten his amusement. “Babe,” he said, “you really didn’t think you could grow two human beings without any physical changes, did you?” I shook my head no. But I was still surprised. Every mom I knew talked about loosing the baby weight and getting back to normal. So I assumed losing weight would see my physique return to normal. No one warned me my body would be so dramatically changed that my old normal would cease to exist.
As I paid for my new jeans, I wondered if my husband found my new body as foreign as I did. I wondered how long this awkward phase would last. I hoped I could come to peace with the changes I was experiencing and once again feel comfortable in my own skin. “Mommy, up!” came the voice of my little boy pulling at my shirt. I bent down, picked him up and set him on my hip as I signed the credit card slip. It was as if he knew I needed it, because he nuzzled his face in my neck and wrapped his little arms around me in a tight hug. I melted and hugged him back.
My little boy fit perfectly on my hip. I was suddenly grateful they it was as wide as it was because it acted like a shelf that took some of his weight off my arm. I wondered how I could carry him so much without the aid of my new hips. I thought about how my new smaller breasts had kept two children alive and provided years of nourishment and antibodies. My softer, rounder stomach may never be my favorite part of my body, aesthetically, but it allowed me to grow two people. It was then that I finally heard my husband’s words. I grew two human beings.
I could not argue that while my body was not the same, it was incredible. Women are amazing. I had no appreciation for what my body was capable of. But, buying jeans that day, I realized my body was remarkable. I may never feel comfortable sporting my flabby mom stomach in a bikini again, but it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with my stomach. It means that there was something wrong with my perception. I had a long way to go before I reached full acceptance of my body again, but that day I took the first step. My tummy may not be conventionally beautiful, but it brought two amazing littles lives into this world. I could think of nothing more beautiful than that.
“I can’t believe I had to buy new jeans,” I said to my husband as we left the store. “Thanks for being so understanding.” He smiled at me and took our little boy off my hip and opened the door. “What’s not to understand?” he asked. “You grew two people. Some new jeans seems like a pretty small price to pay for me to be a dad.” I felt a strong and immediate urge to hold my husband’s hand, but I couldn’t. He was busy carrying our two little boys.
“Mommy grows people,” my older son informed his little brother as we we walked down the street. “She grows them in her stomach!” My little boy turned and looked at me in disbelief. “It’s true,” my husband said laughing. “Isn’t that so cool?” my oldest asked. My husband nodded his head in agreement. “It’s more than cool,” he said to our boys. “It’s amazing.”