The weirdest thing happened the other day.
So there I was in my favorite clothing store, trying on a modest pile of lovely garments, when I realized I had accidently grabbed the wrong size pants, a size down from where I had comfortably settled since the birth of my twins in 2014. Too lazy to go for another pair, I decided to try them anyway and… they fit. Weird.
That night, curiosity piqued, I cautiously ventured into the back of my closet, digging into a pile of clothes I figured I would never wear again, but could not quite bring myself to get rid of because they were my wardrobe staples “back then,” part of who I was before these lovely creatures grew inside my belly and came into my life. I found a pair of jeans, familiar like an old friend, but long-forgotten. I put one leg in, then the next, pulled them up, zipped and buttoned, and… they fit. Weird. I was definitely rocking the muffin top, a soft bulge of pudge around the midsection gifted to me by my children and countless pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but nothing a loose-fitting shirt couldn’t fix. I looked in my bedroom mirror and… DAMN! “Honey, your ass looks FINE!!!”, I thought. Or something to that effect.
Excitement swelled within me. I wanted to tell my husband! Tell my friends! Tell Facebook and the WORLD! I’ve gone down a pants size! WOOT!
But a gut feeling told me, NO. Aside from the obvious–a desire to avoid pointless over-sharing on social media–something deeper stopped me.
I firmly believe in changing the language and expectations that a woman should get “back” to what she was before becoming a mother. Back to her pre-baby weight, back to her skinny jeans, back to her sex life and work life as though nothing has changed. As Beth Berry writes in a beautiful, powerful blog post on the topic, “We’re not meant to ‘bounce back’ after babies. Not physically, not emotionally, and definitely not spiritually. We’re meant to step forward into more awakened, more attuned, and more powerful versions of ourselves. Motherhood is a sacred, beautiful, honorable evolution, not the shameful shift into a lesser-than state of being that our society makes it seem.” What if, by publicly celebrating the fit of my pre-twins jeans, I somehow made any mother out there feel as though she was less than beautiful, less than perfect, just as she is? Or implied that the ultimate goal is to get “back” into our pre-baby clothes? Not an option.
Through my teens and into my twenties, I battled disordered eating: anorexia in the early years and binge eating later, accompanied by the distorted body image, shame, self-loathing, and despair that seem inevitable when your sense of worth is linked to a number on a scale, or to what you did or didn’t eat in a day. While I worked hard over the years at healing, at shaking old patterns and psychological demons, a turning point for me was my first pregnancy. Maybe, in the face of the total lack of control over what was going on in my body, I finally let go. Maybe it was because my tummy could get as round as it damn well pleased, and people would still call it “cute.” Maybe it was the wholesome support of my midwives, and their wise advice to trust that my body knew exactly what to do. Maybe I started to see my body as a friend, not a foe; a temple that would house and nourish and CREATE this child of mine for months to come. Or maybe I was just too uncomfortable and PREGNANT to care. Whatever the reason, something clicked, and I was free.
After the birth of my son, any weight I had gained during pregnancy melted off (not my experience the second time around!), but I still felt like I was living inside a body that I didn’t know, that was not my own. My boobs were big, my butt was flat, I could barely run a fraction of the distance I used to, and I was slave to the horrible sleep habits of my infant. It was not until years later, when my son was two, that I ran my first post-baby half marathon, and I finally felt strong again.
Within a year of the race, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost my right breast. A year and a half after that, I gave birth to twins. Three babies in four years, with breast cancer thrown in for good measure is a crash course in Making Peace With What Is. A solid lesson in Appreciating Your Body for its Beauty and Strength. In Being Gentle and Self-Forgiving. And for the most part, I’ve done a darn good job of it.
Which is why this blue jeans thing threw me for such a loop. I do not even feel like the same person that I was eight years ago, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, nor would I want to give up any of the growth or wisdom I have gained with time and life experience. I work hard to live in the present, to embrace the NOW, and to appreciate who I am, muffin top and all.
But looking in the mirror, taking a spin in those jeans gave me a little thrill. It made me feel for a second like the single, childless, 26-year-old woman who used to wear them. While for the most part I have evolved gracefully into my present phase of life, I realized that I am still mourning.
I mourn the woman who used to drink vodka and dance until sunrise at Spanish discotecas. I mourn the woman who kept her apartment spotless and showed up for things on time. The woman who read voraciously and who wrote brilliant analytical essays in two languages. The woman who exercised daily and wrote in a journal. I mourn the freedom to sleep in on a Sunday morning, and to shower without rushing. I mourn the woman who was not quite so jaded by how hard marriage can actually be. I mourn my two humble but symmetrical and scar-free breasts.
Evolving, moving forward, not back. How do I honor these feelings of mourning “who I was,” but also fully embrace who I am now? Especially when the NOW seems so crowded with grocery lists, poopy diapers, night wakings, legos underfoot, and the 24 hour response to other people’s needs?
Slipping into those jeans reminded me, life is not as static as I think. Those aspects of myself and my life that I mourn are not lost in the past; they are still in me somewhere, making me who I am now. And even this present phase, which seems like a new reality that will last forever, is a mere speck in what, as my dear friend once put it, will hopefully be a long life of many fulfilling and varied experiences.
Sometimes, the old pants fit. Sometimes, amidst the chaos, I find a quiet moment to read, or to care for myself, or to engage in meaningful adult conversation. And one day, I am sure, I will even sleep in on a Sunday.