I threw away the bikinis after Eleanor. I waited a few months, hopeful that the skin on my belly would snap back into place. It didn’t look that bad, just a little too stretch-marked for public viewing.
My pregnancy with Genevieve took the greatest toll. Like leather on a decades-old couch, my skin became scaled and slouchy. Elephantine is the word I want to use, though the dictionary tells me that this isn’t the proper use. The skin in the center of my stomach gathered in a pucker that merely hinted at its former role as a belly button. My body looked like an outward manifestation of my deflated spirit.
At my six-week checkup, my doctor looked startled by my belly. She pressed into my abdomen, feeling for a hernia. “Usually the skin goes back better than that,” she said. Those were the last words I needed to hear at that particular moment, and the comment gave me one more reason to find a new doctor.
Many of my mom friends still wore bikinis to the pool, their bellies curvier than before but their skin beautifully smooth. I thought that my slack tummy must be a problem of genetics. But there on my computer was the now-yellowed photo of my parents at the beach, each of them holding a child, my tiny mom wearing a blue bikini.
I searched for a solution online. Parenting magazines were eager to help. I needed to drink more water and do more cardiovascular exercise. I ran a half-marathon. I should rub this balm onto my stomach. Done. Core exercises would tighten things up. I sweated through the embarrassing abdominal exercise video daily while 2-year-old Eleanor mimicked my undulations. None of these things put my skin back in its proper place.
I turned to essays of affirmation. I agreed with their conclusions about our society’s unrealistic expectations for women, our overvaluing of superficial traits. But inevitably, the essays would end by imploring me to look at my beautiful baby whenever I felt low. I didn’t have a baby to adore. My body had utterly failed me.
Of course, having a third baby has not improved things. To provide a bit of visual reference, here is a photo taken two days before I had Henry. In this photo, I am very annoyed with my husband, my baby, and the world.
I think we can agree that it would have been inhumane for my doctors to leave me in that condition any longer. Also, if you are a reader who has not yet had children, I will just save you the trouble of all of those exercises and balms and tell you this: If your belly looks like this during pregnancy, it will not return to normal afterward.
At my checkup after having Henry, I asked my doctor about more invasive measures, though that didn’t seem like the solution either. How could I teach my kids about the insignificance of appearances after having plastic surgery? Also, tummy tucks are serious business. Ouch. Three C-sections is enough for me. My doctor did talk about lasers to help smooth the skin. She advised me to wait a year before doing anything. The skin’s natural elasticity would improve things some, she said.
I know by now that my tummy looks about as good as it’s going to look. It has settled into a series of crescents, kind of like smiles. I do think my doctor is right about waiting though. I’m hoping more for an elasticity of spirit. In a year, I think I will be able to look at my family and my friends and my work and realize that my happy-sad tummy isn’t worth worrying about.
Also, for those who think blogging is just navel-gazing, here is your proof.