When I was 34 weeks pregnant with my daughter I looked down at my huge round belly. “Ah, not a stretch mark in sight,” I thought. Just the perfectly unblemished pregnancy belly I had hoped for. All of my oil, lotion, and collagen powder-filled smoothies had worked.
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I was at the tail end of my pregnancy, so when a stray stretch mark appeared around 35 weeks I was upset for a few minutes but then let it go. It was a tiny mark and I only had a few weeks to go, surely that would be all.
Shockingly to me, it was at this point that my stretch marks started to slowly creep up my stomach, seemingly more and more each day. There was nothing I could do about it except anxiously count down until this baby would vacate my body and stop stretching out my precious skin.
By the time she did arrive, I felt like my stomach had been ruined. I hated these red angry stretch marks and also didn’t appreciate them in combination with the commonly-experienced postpartum loose skin. I hoped they would fade, while knowing in the back of my mind these new marks were likely here to stay for the long term.
It’s been about two years since that first tiny mark appeared on my belly and while I can’t say I love my stretch marks or certain aspects of my postpartum body, I can say that I have been working on coming to terms with it.
In the first few months postpartum, I was constantly comparing myself to other women following a similar timeline to me. Yet they were somehow sporting bikinis with their magically-taut and unmarked skin. Why wasn’t that me? Not only did it feel worlds apart from my own experience, but I also knew that no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t necessarily bring my old look back.
In the past, I’ve naively believed that if you try hard enough you can change your body into whatever you want. In my younger years in college that might have meant an unhealthy approach to diet. In my somewhat wiser years post-college, it meant a healthy and balanced lifestyle with nutritionally rich meals and intense workouts.
Even by following strict diets and workout regimens, I’ve learned that you only have a certain level of power to change your body. You can only do so much. But also, you shouldn’t need to change your body into some made-up ideal. There isn’t one universal healthy or beautiful body.
Even knowing this I felt discouraged realizing that I could go to the gym all day and live off vegetables and it wasn’t going to tighten up my skin or make the marks disappear. And entering into motherhood, I had little desire to go hard at the gym or spend my energy and focus on dieting.
I knew there was not necessarily a fix for this issue, or at least not one I’d feel comfortable pursuing. So I had to work on my mindset.
Though I celebrate and admire other women who show of their stretch marks and loose skin in two-pieces at the beach or in confident photos posted to their Instagram, it didn’t mean I should expect myself to suddenly feel the same way. I might not be totally comfortable in this new body, and that’s OK. It’s been through a lot over the last couple of years and it takes time to adjust, both how I feel and how I see myself.
Though I celebrate and admire other women who show of their stretch marks and loose skin in two-pieces at the beach or in confident photos posted to their Instagram, it didn’t mean I should expect myself to suddenly feel the same way.
I started to feel OK with not necessarily loving every part of my body, but I still can be proud of it. I can still be proud that this body brought life into the world. I also started to understand that my body is still strong, even if it looks different than it used to.
And finally, I got real with myself. Sure, maybe I don’t love the way my stomach looks. But how often am I showing off my stomach anyway? I was feeling self-conscious about others seeing it, but in reality I’m one of the very few people who see it, and arguably I’m the only one judging it.
As women, we may be worried about what other people think about how we look, how much we weigh, what we’re wearing, and so on. But really, we’re often the ones judging ourselves the harshest. And during the postpartum period, this can be particularly tough, whether we’re comparing ourselves to other women or simply to ourselves before pregnancy.
In the two years of having stretch marks, I can honestly say I still don’t necessarily love them, but they are a small part of me. These marks haven’t taken away anything from me enjoying my life. So while I’m still working on being content with this different body, I am happy with my role as mom and life with my sweet daughter, and that’s so much more important than a few red marks.
Read More: A Love Letter to My New Postpartum Body