I remember standing naked in front of the mirror when I was in high school, examining the reality of my recently changed body. I’d lean over and squeeze my elbows together, trying to push my A-cups close enough together to make some semblance of cleavage. I’d reach back and pull the skin on my thighs from behind, imagining what it would be like to have long, lithe legs like my friend, Mandi.
As is the case with many young women, I was never fully satisfied with my figure in my pre-baby years. I didn’t loathe it, but I certainly didn’t love it. There were things I definitely would have changed had I been given the option. A little more up top to fill out my bra, a little less junk down in my trunk—I always thought my pear-shaped body could use a redistribution of wealth.
When I got pregnant at 24, I assumed that I’d experience the same feelings I’d heard so many women express about their changing bodies. The questions hovered: Would I struggle to lose the baby pounds? I’d always had a pretty flat stomach—would I lose that forever? Would my childbearing hips get even wider? Would my breasts sag post-baby like so many women describe? Did I even have enough breasts to sag?
I knew my body would change, and I waited for the feelings of frumpiness to hit me both during pregnancy and after, but they never came. None of the changes in my figure hit me as negative. As my belly got round, all I saw was mind-blowing evidence that I could grow an actual person in there. As my breasts filled out, I felt more womanly, more fiercely feminine than I’d ever felt in my life. My childbearing hips seemed perfectly fitting as they finally fulfilled their purpose. I loved what was happening to my body, and for the first time, I felt a sense of pride in its ownership.
And yet, I also felt detached from it in a way I never had before. It wasn’t just my body anymore. It was the site of something holy, the home of a miracle, the birthplace of another human being’s beginning on this earth. It was something new, forever changed.
I realized I could never look at my physical frame as merely a material manifestation of myself again. It had become more—so much more—and I would watch it go through that same transformative process two more times. My body was a magnificent, baby-making machine. It grew and fed three entire people practically from scratch. And in that process, all space for bodily criticism got pushed out and replaced with awe and admiration.
How can I complain about the shape of the vessel that brought me my kids? How can I wish away my wide hips, the portal through which my babies came into the world? How can I look at my little A-cup breasts as anything other than badass when they nourished and nurtured my children? How can I worry about a little tummy pooch when that skin has been stretched over the invisible building of three whole human beings?
Hating anything about my body now feels sort of irreverent. It’s like hating the Sistine Chapel for peeling paint. There’s a sacred beauty in a mother’s body, a depth and a story embedded in its seeming imperfections. All bodies are works of art when you really look at them. Pregnancy and childbirth gave me the lens I needed to see that.
If every body is a work of art, what kind of masterpiece is a mother’s body? One that sacrifices so much of itself to create, harbor, and give birth to new life? One that houses and feeds and stretches and bleeds in order to make more art? It’s unfathomable that anyone should see a woman’s body as diminished in some way after having kids. That beauty may not match the entertainment industry’s standards, but who cares. There is so much more to our bodies than whether or not they look perfect in bikinis.
I know not every mom feels good about her body after babies. I’m sure some will take these words as sanctimonious or Pollyannaish or as a judgment on women who have real beefs with the way their bodies have changed. But I think it’s important to know that not all women feel like pregnancy ruined their figures. For me, pregnancy proved to me how strong, capable, and freaking awesome my body really is, and always has been. As long as it is healthy, what it looks like is of little importance.
After three babies, I’m thankful to say I truly love my body—tiny breasts, big hips, and all.