The first time was when Jon came home randomly in the middle of the afternoon. The boys were all napping and I was just finishing a light workout – my first since having Brandon. I was feeling amazing. Strong. Sexy even. And Jon was looking dapper as usual in his work clothes. So I propositioned him. He was surprised, happily surprised. It was okay, the typical first-time-since-baby-we’re-practically-strangers-is-this-going-to-feel-ok sex. I was a bit nervous. We went slow. But we did it. I was eight weeks postpartum.
But this story isn’t about the first time. It’s about the second time. The almost-second time.
For some reason the evening was easy. Sam wandered into his room after supper and fell asleep on his own. Will ate then ran off to the toy room and was entertaining himself. The baby was gurgling peacefully. We poured a couple glasses of wine and caught up on our days. Uninterrupted. When does that happen?
We tag teamed the remaining two boys and got them into bed early too. Again, when does that happen? We kissed Will goodnight and on the walk back down the hallway Jon grabbed my hand and pulled me to him. He kissed me. One of those kisses.
It might have been the wine, it might have been the circus-free evening…. Either way, romance on a random Tuesday night is not typical in our crazy household. When you’ve been married for five years and have three young children (one being a newborn), romance on a Tuesday night is very risqué! I got swept up in the moment for a few minutes…
Then I pulled away.
Jon asked what was wrong. After all, it was early. We’d had a great evening.
I looked around. It was 7PM. The house was bright with the setting sun. Our bedroom window faced west, making our bedroom one of the brightest in the house at that hour. I couldn’t.
“Sorry… Maybe later, when it’s dark.”
He looked confused. I knew I would have to explain or he might think it was him.
It definitely wasn’t him. The truth was, it was all me.
“You’ll be exhausted later,” he said. “You always are.”
He was right. I knew as well as he this was a rare and amazing opportunity. The stars had to align perfectly for Jon and I to have this time together, not just on a Tuesday night but ANY night lately…
But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t bear the thought of my two-month postpartum body being exposed to him in the glaring sunlight. In all honesty I couldn’t bear the though of it being exposed to my own eyes. I avoided full-length mirrors like the plague. Sometimes I’d look at myself after getting out of the shower. I would just stand there naked looking at the angry red stretch marks, the hanging stomach, the unexciting, droopy milk-producers that once resembled breasts. The parts that I was once so proud of were starting to feel like my greatest shame. I usually dressed in a hurry after that.
For every baby that I’ve had, my body has changed. I don’t know if every woman experiences this but its what it’s been like for me. And after this third pregnancy, when I look in the mirror I just don’t recognize what’s staring back at me. And I don’t know if I ever will.
“I want to… I just don’t want you to see me.”
The weight of what I said began to register on his face. He looked very sad. And very sorry.
“I hope you know I think you’re the most beautiful and sexy woman in the world.”
I believed him. I did. He tells me that almost every single day. But this was not a case of a woman feeling unattractive to her husband. This was a case of a woman feeling unattractive to herself.
“I’m having a really hard time,” I confessed. “I feel like my body is just… A mess. I don’t even recognize it. I look in the mirror and think ‘this can’t be mine.’ I feel like a freak. It’s grotesque.”
“Your body is amazing,” he told me.
I started to cry.
I wished I could believe him. I wished he could understand what it’s like to have your body change into something that society finds used-up and repulsive. Saggy skin. Stretch marks. Wrinkles, bumps, veins, cellulite. I wish I could put into words that feeling you get when you realize your youth has slipped away from you and your body is more what you remember of your mothers than your own. I felt old. I felt used up. I felt unworthy.
But I didn’t tell him that. Because sometimes I worry if I keep pointing out all my flaws he might wake up one day and see them too.
He hugged me. And that was all.
In the wee hours of the morning I was up nursing the baby. I thought about our first time, wondering why it was so easy then and so hard a few days later? It was obvious. That first time I had felt amazing. I was moving my body and feeling strong. I was appreciating my body for what it could do, not judging it for what it looked like in the mirror.
In that moment I thought to myself, “but look at what you’re doing now.”
I looked down at my beautiful, chunky two-month old son, his eyes wide, watching me in adoration as I fed him the most nourishing substance on the planet. I thought about the sacrifices I had made to grow our family, from the changes in my body to the sleep I went without to care for our children around the clock. I imagined my own mother doing the same, and her mother before her and how beautiful and special that sacrifice is, to birth and raise a new generation. Why society doesn’t see the changes that accompany a new Mom’s body as beautiful is difficult to grasp when you think of all we go through.
I thought to myself, “my body is amazing.”
That was a turning point for me, in my journey of appreciating my body and trusting my ability as a woman to feed and nurture my child. That is strength. That is empowerment. That is being a woman.
When I tucked the baby back in his bassinette I slipped in beside Jon in bed. The sun had started to come up, but I didn’t care. I was feeling amazing. Strong. Sexy even. And I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next. ;)