By some grand miracle I managed to escape my first pregnancy without a single stretch mark on my belly; with my second pregnancy, not so much.
My second baby—a girl—weighed a whopping 10 pounds 7 ounces. With each passing day of the last trimester, she grew bigger and bigger. Not surprisingly, so did the web of stretch marks across my belly. It started out as just a couple around my belly button. Then a few more grew beyond those. And a few more grew even beyond those. And before I knew it, a full-blown spider web crawled the entire landscape of my belly. I was tempted to lather on my chemical free makeup just to hide it from myself.
It looked just like Charlotte’s Web, except messier and less cute.
I stared at those stretch marks in disgust every day. I thought, “I absolutely have to get this baby out of me.” And then, “What will people say?”
Trying my hardest to talk myself off the ledge, I told myself I quit wearing a bikini long ago. No one would see my belly besides my husband, myself and maybe an occasional doctor or two. And yet, I continued to dwell on those growing stretch marks.
Even if no one else in the entire world sees your body, you still see it. Your body doesn’t quite look the same as it used to 5, 10 or even 15 years ago, and you know it. You see those stretch marks antagonizing you in the mirror, staring you down like a dog waiting for the last scrap off the dinner table. It’s not easy looking at a body you barely recognize. Sometimes you feel a sense of loss. Or discouragement. Or sadness.
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There is something that mothers don’t talk about enough though–the stretch marks beyond the stretch marks you see in the mirror.
The invisible ones. The ones no one can see except for you. Not even your spouse or doctor.
The stretch marks you can’t see.
After I first had my daughter, I stood in the bathroom of the hospital looking at the belly that once carried a little (okay…enormous) baby girl. I thought long and hard about the stretch marks that remained. I desperately wanted to discover some sort of deeper meaning in them. I wanted to discover a love and attachment to them. I wanted to discover beauty in the imperfection.
But I didn’t discover any of that.
Quite frankly, when I looked in the mirror all I saw were actual stretch marks.
Plain and simple.
As I stood there facing the mirror, I closed my eyes. Then I saw what I’d been missing.
It was in that moment—stark naked, 24 hours post-partum, alone in a hospital bathroom—that I realized the Charlotte’s Web across my abdomen was not the only way my body stretched and left a mark. I stretched on the inside in ways that no one else could see.
My heart stretched and filled with more love than I believed was possible.
My patience stretched as I learned how to manage the needs of newborn and an energetic toddler simultaneously.
My sense of humor stretched as I discovered laughter in the midst of diaper blow outs and spilled grape juice on the white carpet.
My forgiveness stretched as I learned to move past the birth plan I wanted and accept the birth story I received.
My perseverance stretched as I labored for 24 hours determined to get my baby girl out of me.
My gratitude stretched as my baby girl sat stuck in my pelvis and a miracle of modern medicine—a C-section—brought her safely into the world.
You have them too.
Inside your heart lies another web of stretch marks. Deep stretches that grow bigger and bigger with each boo-boo fix, bedtime kiss, and joyful giggle. Grown from pure motherly instinct, they are beautiful.
Perception stretches allowing you to see the world through a little person’s eyes rather than only your own.
Resiliency stretches turning you into one tough, strong, and robust mama capable of endless productivity despite only 2 hours of sleep.
Compassion stretches as you seek to understand your child’s struggle with making friends, fitting in, and feeling a sense of belonging.
Motivation stretches waking you up every morning to do it all over again despite the burning desire to sleep in until 9 am.
Emotional intelligence stretches enabling you to understand the difference between exactly 2,187 types of cries your child exhibits.
Endurance stretches to get you through those tough parenting days when no one sleeps and everyone cries.
Anticipation stretches to avoid toddler tantrums, spilled milk, and broken bones before they even happen.
Love stretches beyond capacity to depths you never thought existed.
I opened my eyes.
After standing there with my eyes closed for a good five minutes–naked and all–I finally saw the bigger picture. I saw myself for who I really am: A mother with her heart, mind, body and soul stretched beyond her wildest expectations. I made peace that day in the hospital bathroom.
I vowed to embrace the stretch marks on my belly.
And then I vowed to remember the ones on my heart.
Little reminders of love and life. Little reminders of every breath, every blink, every sleepy yawn. Little reminders of every kick and hiccup. Little reminders of the sweet bond between a momma and her baby. And a little reminder of the dreams every momma has about who their baby is and who he or she will become.
Motherhood leaves you with countless stretch marks. Far too many to name at one time. You are stretched, pulled, flexed, and bent in ways you never expected. But you are not broken. You are not scarred.
You are beautiful.