Motherhood is so rewarding. Motherhood is such a gift. These phrases are so frequently interjected into conversation, but what do they really mean? When I have moved past the point caffeine can help to the place I can no longer come up with the word for the machine you type fancy blog posts on (lap keyboard machine thingy, maybe?), it doesn’t necessarily feel like a gift. And, after a long day of toddler tantrums, cleaning unidentifiable crusty goo off the floor, and being told to “go away, mommy,” more than a couple of times, it doesn’t necessarily feel rewarding.
But, even in the messiest and most exhausting days, I think that we would all agree that it is somehow both of those things. And, sometimes those gifts are something we never really expected. For me, somewhere past the cute chubby fingers and baby smells, nestled between those sweet hugs and belly laughs, I was granted the gift of freedom and healing from an overly-controlling body image.
To fully explain, I need to back up to everyone’s favorite time in life: middle school (cue sarcasm). Middle school is usually remembered as that awkward time period spent navigating puberty, hormones, and trying to fit in. More personally, it was also the beginning of my decade long roller coaster of a relationship with disordered eating. And, in late college, with the help of extremely supportive family and friends (and LOTS of prayer), I made the choice to leave that ride. Recovery was such a hard (and sometimes downright humiliating) process spread out over a number of years. And as with any battle, there was a messy trail left in its wake. I was left with lots of guilt, a low self-esteem, a somewhat scarred body image, and a deep, deep fear of ever having a daughter.
Around 14 months, my daughter started mimicking everything I did. Seriously, it was like having a miniature mirror into my soul. One morning, as she sat and mimicked me putting on makeup in the mirror, I realized that everything I did, both verbally and non-verbally, was in part shaping her self-image. It was then I decided I couldn’t see myself as fat anymore.
And, please believe me when I say I put in a valiant effort. And, while I was very careful about what I said and did around my daughter, there was always in the back of my mind this overwhelming longing for my pre-baby body. You know, the one I spent so many years hating?
Then there was the pregnancy with our second child. In spite of keeping well hydrated and the spreading layers of cream over my skin, the stretch marks came. Not just any stretch marks, either. They were the dreaded crater stretch marks. And, as my post-partum weight began to shed, they just became worse. There were tears–more than I would like to admit, in fact. But, after I mourned the loss of idea of “getting my pre-baby body back,” I realized that I don’t actually hate this new body. In fact, these perceived flaws cemented in my brain what I’ve known for a while: Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfect bodies do not exist!
As I began truly processing this, a brain-change started to occur. Instead of focusing on perfecting this body, I started focusing on what exactly this body can do for me. And, I began to appreciate this body. In fact, I might even be bold enough to say I love it. While health is still an important aspect of my life, I can finally say that my body image no longer controls me. That, my friends, is a long-awaited answer to prayer, and in it is an incredible freedom.
A freedom to dance like a princess with my daughter instead of doing an extra set of sit-ups. A freedom to actually enjoy indulging in that occasional treat. A freedom to think less about what I look like in a bathing suit and more about enjoying my time in it. A freedom to enjoy conversation over lunch or dinner rather than taking a mental inventory of every calorie consumed. A freedom to choose exercises based on how they make me feel, not how many calories they burn.
What unexpected gifts or rewards have you encountered on your journey of motherhood?
***Please, please hear me when I say that I do not believe motherhood is the cure for an eating disorder. Rather, this is just my story about how my “mom body” is helping me realize that my own personal war with eating disorders has been over for a while, and I can finally let go, relax, and breathe. If you have questions about eating disorders, NEDA is a great place to start.