motherhood and body image.

Guest Post: from a dear friend 

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ll never look the same down here again.”  These were my doctor’s words as she was trying to repair multiple tears in multiple places from the V-back that had just brought my second child, a little boy into the world.  I felt a tiny little part of me die, and my husband could tell as he squeezed my hand and said, “It’s ok.”  I had assumed there might be some repairs needed, but it hit all the harder because just four hours previously, I had been told I had “perfect textbook anatomy down here” from the nurse placing my catheter (not in some sort of weird way, just in a “hey, I’m a nurse and anatomy is cool” kind of way.)  But, to never be the same again… and this on top of my C-section scar that had brought my first child, our daughter to us.  It hit me harder than I wanted to admit, and immediately I had a sense of guilt for even caring as much about it as I did.

Struggling with body image is nothing new to me, nor is it to most American women in a culture that continually portrays air-brushed celebrities in every grocery aisle.  What I didn’t anticipate was how motherhood would bring these struggles quickly to the surface in an unexpected way.  Many mothers can relate I’m sure, to the alterations our bodies endure as a part of motherhood.  Everything from permanent scars to saggy post-nursing breasts to varicose veins.  There are the stretch marks and the dread of practically peeing your pants every time you laugh or sneeze.  Even adoptive mothers know about the bags that seem to permanently form under your eyes from sleepless nights with little ones and the wrinkles and gray hair that appear from worrying over your children and the list could go on.  As a mom, I often find myself in a battle against myself and my mirror.  If I’m honest, I sometimes daydream about what it would be like to have enough money to change my appearance, at least back to my pre-children self.  Or enough time for rest, so I could get back that energetic glow.  This struggle over the issue of body image is so real and always present and maybe many of you find yourselves there. 

When I’m stewing over body image or I’m sharing my struggle with a friend, I’ve found that there are a few things we might say to ourselves or others may say to us to try and ease our struggle.   "Well, if I'm not going to get a boob job, then I just need to be content!!  This is the body God gave me, so just be content with it, and stop being so vain."   Or there’s the phrase “Who’s looking anyway!” that my doctor tried to comfort me with.  Or someone may point out your beautiful children that are a result of all that’s changed about your body, so “isn’t it all worth it?”  While these sentiments each have their own piece of the truth in them, I don’t think they are lastingly helpful,  because none of them acknowledge the very real sense of loss that you have as a woman whose body is not what is once was.

And it truly is a loss! It is sad to have a once young and unblemished body change and grow used and weary. When I look in the mirror, I feel that loss in a number of ways, and it does make me sad.  BUT…the sadness I feel is a reminder to me that my body is under the curse of death.  When Adam and Eve were created back in the garden, God saw what He had made and it was good.  But when sin entered into the picture, all of life from then until now has the curse of sin and death and so all of us since Adam experience this loss in big and small ways.  I mean, when I think about it, THAT'S JUST SAD, there's no other way to put it. 

But that's why the gospel is such good, good news.  Our hope isn't in our decaying bodies.  That's not where our true identity lies.  If all our youthful good looks and health were stripped away tomorrow, that wouldn't be the last word about us.  When our hope is in Christ and his redeeming work on our behalf, instead of in our bodies and maintaining a certain body image, we can rejoice.  And God, by his merciful Holy Spirit, enables us to rejoice in Him and take heart in Him.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 applies so aptly, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

My prayer for myself and other moms who might struggle as we look in the mirror is that God would turn the realization of our loss and sadness to a rejoicing in Christ, as we, by His grace, place our hope in something that can never scar, fade, grow dull or weary.