On Bodies and Babies

I am 22 when I have the word grace tattooed on my rib cage. That word holds so much meaning to me, to my understanding of God, to my ever-deepening faith. “If I’m going to carry a word with me for the rest of my life,” I tell my family, “it’s going to be this one.” Plus, I think secretly, it’s my favorite girl’s name and someday, when I have a Grace of my own, I can point it out and say to her, “See? Long before you were born, I knew your name. Before you ever were, I wanted you.”

***

20140520-170456-61496626.jpgI am 25 and mere weeks from giving birth. I admire my belly in the mirror one day and gather the skin in my hands only to realize, to my horror, that the stretch marks have been there all along, camouflaged in the paleness of my torso. They radiate out in all directions from my belly button, like rays of sunshine. I’d liked feel-good pins on Pinterest that redefine stretch marks, but still hoped never to see them on me.

***

Jack is four months when I find an essay by Mary Wiens that describes her stretch marks as the lines of a story. She invites her young son to come see and touch these lines that tell the stories of her three sons. Aren’t they beautiful, she asks him, and he agrees. I read that part aloud to Jon and I cry.

***

I’m 26, pregnant again, and struggling. I don’t feel ready to do this again. When the baby is a girl, we name her Grace. Now it’s just ironic, given my tattoo and what I thought my life would be like when I got it. I don’t think I chose this baby, but I did, when I chose her name four years ago.

***

The stripes come out much earlier the second time around, and in greater number. I am resigned, with a certain degree of helplessness: This is what happens when you have babies back-to-back. Still, I have a sinking feeling when red stripes appear on my side. White stripes are bad enough, but red? Laying in bed that night, Jon reaches over to my belly and traces them with his fingers. “These are the lines of a story,” he whispers, and he is right. I feel peace. 

***

I’m 8 months pregnant and awake in the middle of the night, chasing the internet down a rabbit trail, when I stumble on an Instagram account of women in their underwear. Gorgeous women, of all shapes and sizes and colors, hugging children close, nursing babies proudly, showing their stripes–just like mine. The 4th Trimester Bodies Project, it’s called, and it’s a celebration of mothers who are beautiful because of their stripes and scars and skin. I follow them on Instagram and Facebook and am captivated by each woman’s story. It helps me prepare for my upcoming birth as the transformative experience I know it will be.

***

I read online that the project is coming to Minneapolis. I ask Jon what he thinks. He uses the word brave and I think I can be, too. I worry what others will think. “I work for a church,” I say.  “So?” Jon says. “This is the body God gave you, and you can do this to His glory.” Of course I can. To His glory. Jon continues: “There is a difference between what society says is beautiful and what God says is beautiful. Your body,” he says, “is beautiful because of your babies.” It feels like he is proclaiming this truth over me and I let it sink into my bones. This body is beautiful because of my babies.

***

This July, a week before turning 27, I will participate in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project photoshoot, where I will celebrate this body, my two babies, and the God who gave them all to me. God made my body to have babies, and I love my body for it.

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