I had skated by with nary a stretch mark with my first baby. So, I was shocked when six months into my second “tour of duty” stretch marks took roost on the sides of my belly. To my utter horror, those stretch marks were soon followed by the rest of the “forever gang” – hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and later, the dreaded belly overhang. Postpartum, my half-confident body image sagged even more when I couldn’t make a Heidi Klum-type comeback.
Even in my fittest years, my belly had never been taut. Still, I longed for that underappreciated abdomen in a way I would have never imagined before. I regularly fantasized about breast lifts and tummy tucks. My best friend commiserated, swearing by Spanx, and my husband tried to convince me that I was sexy.
One night, after giving my girls a bath, they scampered into the bedroom towel-dried and frisky. My preschooler made a mad dash for a dresser drawer, and before I could protest, whipped on sparkly flip-flops and a headband. Thus accessorized, she strutted around the room, bare naked, staring at her sparkly sandals. She kicked her flashy feet up in the air and stuck out her Buddha belly as far as it would go. The baby noticed her sister’s fun and started toddling after her, clothed only in a diaper and knee socks, pudgy thighs rubbing together, and waving a “Thomas the Train” toothbrush in the air. I couldn’t help but delight in the unorthodox parade.
The sweetness of their innocence filled my heart and I was envious of their ability to enjoy themselves without shame, unaware of anything other than their own happiness. They reveled in their bodies’ ability to dance, run, kick and grab. I felt a rush of desire to peel off my own clothes and celebrate with them as if I’d finally been released from the bonds of cotton.
Later, lying in bed next to my gently snoring husband, I replayed the earlier scene. I thought about how my girls just appreciated what they had, not comparing, not wishing for anything else. I opened my eyes and stared up at the ceiling. The ceiling of a beautiful home I shared with a wonderful husband. A home in which we were raising happy, healthy children. If there had to be an exchange of tight skin for all this, I realized that the deal was mightily weighted in my favor. I rolled over and snuggled into my husband, spooning him and running a hand along his side. I giggled inside like a college co-ed knowing that had he been awake, I would have happily displayed my newfound gratitude.