Making peace with the egg: Accepting my postpartum, post-40 body

rippedpantsA few weeks ago, I had a “wardrobe malfunction” – but it was way, WAY less sexy than the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl nip slip.

No, my clothing mishap involved a pair of body-hugging capri pants that pre-dated my first pregnancy.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Yes, when flopping down into my chair at work one morning, I felt the pants’ seam strain – maybe even rip a little. But I happened to also be wearing a long, lightweight cardigan that day, so I thought, “Well, even if there’s a small tear, I’m covered. And maybe I can fix it.”

But then, later in the day, after going to get a carryout meal for a friend recovering from back surgery, I heard (and felt) a more decisive rip occur up my backside as I climbed into my Fiesta.

Oops. (Thank God for that cardigan, because I still had the meal to drop off, and I also wanted to chat a bit with my housebound friend. Which I did.)

Upon arriving home, I lifted the cardigan and looked over my shoulder at my dresser mirror, assessing the damage: my underwear was visible in a straight line down my backside.

So I took off the pants, wadded them up, and threw them in the trash.

And that was it.

No tears, no gnashing of teeth, no dark night of the soul, no impulsive pronouncements of dieting. Just acceptance that I no longer have exactly the same body I did before I had children, and before I turned 40.

And that just makes sense, doesn’t it? I don’t get angry and self-loathing about my feet being a size bigger since my first pregnancy (a common consequence). Why would I beat myself up about a slight, residual convexity in the space between my waist and my chest? (I think of this as “making peace with the egg.”) Or the lumpy varicose veins that marbled my own mother’s legs after age 40? Or the hourglass shape that looks considerably less pronounced? I don’t love these things, of course. I don’t stand around admiring my body in mirrors. But really, should I be doing that, anyway?

I’m satisfied, for now, that I’m healthy and relatively fit. Though I can’t put as much time and effort into exercise as I did before the arrival of my daughters, I still try to run a 3 mile course about three times a week; I usually lift weights at home one night a week; I try like hell to get to my favorite yoga class on Wednesday mornings; and I walk the kids home from the preschool (a few blocks) every day.

Plus, though I find myself eating more leftover chicken tenders than I might like, we try to keep our meals reasonably healthy, with a big bowl of fruit on the dinner table nearly every night.

So I’m certainly not obese, and I’m not chiding myself for not looking like Heidi Klum. Instead, I think, with gratitude, about what my body does, and allows me to do.

For the last few years, we’ve gone to a family camp (Michigania) near Petoskey for a week-long vacation, and once, a yoga teacher there had us hug our legs tightly to our chest and said, “Give your body a big hug, and while you do that, say ‘thank you.’ We ask and demand so much of our bodies, and we constantly find fault with them. But think about everything they allow us to do.”

Simple as it sounds, this was an epiphany for me. And I’ve kept it in mind ever since.

So occasionally, when I’m discouraged by my reflection, or a wildly unflattering photo, I do the following.

I give thanks to my body for carrying me through a 10K race recently, though I hadn’t been able to run much more than 4 miles at a time beforehand as training; I give thanks to my body for essentially saying, each time Joe and I decided we were ready to have a child, “Game on”; I give thanks to my body for building, housing, and nurturing, to full term, two little girls I adore; I give thanks to my body for not requiring more than basic maintenance, health-wise; I give thanks to my body for functioning and getting me through certain days on shockingly little sleep; I give thanks to my body for the various pleasures it affords me; and I give thanks to my body for allowing me to nimbly chase my 5 and 2 year old daughters around playground equipment, despite being 42.

I’ve witnessed the alternative, of course. My mother contracted polio at age 13, and though she couldn’t run or jump ever again, she pushed against her physical limitations so that she could at least walk again; and she battled the cancer in her body, on and off, for 14 years before she died.

So I know it’s far easier to embrace your body when it’s healthy and cooperative.

But while it is, let’s not focus on the things we don’t like.

Of course, I say this all with the knowledge that I may, one day, decide to radically change my diet and sign up for fitness boot camps, with the goal of losing a handful of pounds.

For now, though, I have two young kids, which means that walking to the nearby ice cream place, and enjoying that with them (without ever saying or even thinking self-loathing things like, “This will go straight to my thighs!”), is something I want to do – as is sometimes having a stiff post-bedtime drink after a rough night of parenting.

People can say food and alcohol shouldn’t be the rewards we offer ourselves, but guess what? They’re fast, they’re convenient, and I don’t use either to excess. So for now, they’re an occasional balm, or, in the case of treats like ice cream or cookies, they’re an example of getting to re-taste, on a sensory level, childhood’s simple pleasures – which parents, for all their work and sacrifice and anxiety, deserve.

So these days, I allow myself these occasional treats without any guilt, and I try my best to embrace, rather than fight, who I’ve become, and who I’m still becoming.

Which means, in part, that after the wardrobe malfunction incident, I went clothes shopping for the first time in several years and bought things that were flattering to my current shape. I feel good in these clothes; and frankly, I feel great about the fact that I was able to wear a pair of “pre-babies” capri pants as long as I was.

Sometimes, it’s just about turning the “tragedy” of splitting your pants on its head.

And on this past Mother’s Day, Lily found an old tube of mascara in my bathroom drawer and asked me what it was. I tried my best to explain it, and before she could ask me to put it on myself or her, I said, “That’s really old, because I don’t wear make-up. I’ve always thought that I’m beautiful enough just the way I am.”

“You are, Mommy,” Lily said.

I told her she was, too. And something about the exchange made me feel like I’m doing something right.

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