A few nights ago, I was helping my 8-year-old son shower. As he cleaned his body parts, he asked, “Why do I have to have such a deep innie [belly button]?” He always has trouble cleaning in there. I told him I didn’t know why, and remarked, “Mine used to be like that, too, until I had babies.”
Gavin peered at my own belly button, which has gotten remarkably larger and shallower since two kids made my belly their home 8 years and 3 years ago, respectively.
Gavin looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry, Mama.”
Automatically, I replied, “It’s not a bad thing.”
And it isn’t. I remember when I was a little girl, and I traced the stretch marks on my own mother’s torso.* I asked her how she got those stripes, and she said, “They’re your fault. These are yours, and these are your sister’s.” I remember thinking they were pretty gosh-darned cool, that your body leaves you visible reminders that babies were carried there, and that once upon a time, we were physically one person. But my mom’s facial expression told me she didn’t believe that it was cool.
I secretly held on to the idea that it was cool, though. My mom and I don’t agree on a lot of things. This was one of the first things I remember disagreeing about with her.
When I was pregnant with Gavin, I could see the stretch marks starting to form. Everyone advised me to apply cocoa butter, which I did. But I knew that they wouldn’t make my stretch marks disappear; it was another thing I found cool. My mom and I had matching stretch marks! I did keep applying cocoa butter though. I found the stretching to be itchy, plus it smelled like chocolate. Win-win.
When I was pregnant with Audrey, I became fascinated with the fact that I got an entirely new set of stretch marks! On the surface, I was like, “Hey, that’s not fair.” Most mothers don’t even get stretch marks at all, but I got two separate sets, souvenirs from my 9-month journey as a pregnant woman with each child.
Gavin’s stretch marks are all along my panty line. They sweep across from one hip to the other because he sat low my entire pregnancy. I looked ready to give birth starting in my second trimester; he sat that low. According to old wives’ tales, my round belly and “gained weight all over” look should have netted me a girl baby. But I knew even before I was pregnant that we’d be having a sweet baby boy. A baby boy who enjoyed kickboxing with his mother’s cervix. I used to tell people I didn’t even know what a cervix was until I was repeatedly kicked there by my firstborn.
The second time I was pregnant was a little different. Audrey’s stretch marks form a little circle around my stretched-out belly button. She hardly moved at all until the last 6 weeks or so, and then it was like 24-hour gymnastics in my womb. She literally changed positions 2-3 times a week between weeks 36-39, until she finally turned head down and told me she was ready to come out. I carried her all in the front, as if I was carrying a watermelon under my maternity dresses, but with the long way pointing out.
I don’t care what people think anymore: I believe my stretch marks are beautiful and I’ll shout it from the rooftops. I’m going to start thinking of them as my children’s first works of art. They left reminders of their burgeoning personalities while we were still one person. What’s not beautiful about that?
If you have stretch marks, I encourage you to stop thinking of them as scars or battle wounds. Carrying children doesn’t ruin your body; it makes it better. My body carried and sustained life! And then after that, it made milk and nourished babies even longer. Recognize the beauty of what the stretch marks represent.
*Disclaimer: I apologize to my mom, whose body I described in detail without her permission. I hope she forgives me. My mom is the most beautiful woman on earth. Well, she was until my daughter was born.