As I lathered another layer of Mama Mio Tummy Rub Oil on my ever-growing pregnant stomach, I paused and looked at myself in the mirror. It’s not something I do often these days, as it usually brings an onslaught of angry feelings and burning hot tears. Of overwhelm.
It didn’t always use to be this way.
Sure — I’ve never had a perfectly healthy view of my body and self, but for the most part a glance in the mirror while changing or hopping in the shower received a small smile. I looked pretty good — all my exercising, and eating healthy food (and not-so healthy food in moderation) showed a healthy, strong, and lean reflection. Toned legs, flat and muscular stomach, and arms that were starting to show signs of strength.
At age 29, I felt I’d finally reached an appreciation for my body systems. I thought about words of encouragement I could give my future daughters, and felt a warmth from other inspirational women. If I could be gentle with my self and body — maybe I could teach them to do the same by modeling healthy behavior.
When I hit my 25th week of pregnancy I suddenly was not so confident — about myself, nor how to model a true message about female body image with the baby girl growing in me.
The warm quotes, and positive body projects seemed so far away from where I had suddenly found myself. While staring at my naked body in the mirror their good-intentioned messages felt somehow very hollow.
On this particular day, I gently made myself look — at my body. At this thing looking back at me that didn’t feel like me at all — but rather some strange thing I’d been put into and wanted to crawl out of — and back into the skin I had finally come to peace with. A body I could sleep on my back in, wear regular bras, and zip up my boots with ease. But look I did, and hot blurry tears of frustration, confusion and a deep sadness began pouring.
I saw breasts that no longer resembled breasts — they were large, even more lopsided, heavy, resting on my large belly with bright red stretch marks taking up the entire lower half.
I saw a stomach that I couldn’t bend over to trim my own toenails, and a dark line running from my pubic area to above my belly button.
On my side I saw loose extra skin that felt so uncomfortable when I turned and looked like it would never possibly be able to contract again.
I saw a butt no longer as toned and legs that were large with stretch marks.
With a smaller mirror, I saw a vagina that resembled nothing of my own — but one that was unsmooth and purple.
And deeper under, there it was — a little grape-like node — my first ever hemorrhoid.
And you know what? It didn’t feel very funny. And it didn’t feel OK. It felt like everything was wrong.
I grasped at phrases of positivity about pregnancy, about being a woman, about self and about body. But none of them helped. An overwhelming wave of shame swept through me — and panic. If I could fall apart so easily after working 29 years to be OK with my shape, how would I ever give this growing girl inside me a healthy and true support for her to have a good mindset about her body, self, and emotions, if I couldn’t do that for myself?
In that moment, I needed to wallow. I needed to cry. I needed to let all of that built up emotion out and remember I was still me.
Oddly, the first thing that came to my mind was my name. I had chosen to keep my maiden name when I got married. It was something I fought tooth and nail for. Something I didn’t budge on. Something that isn’t odd anymore, but definitely not traditional. Some people wanted an explanation, or felt I was too much of a “feminist.” Others cheered me on.
But there it was in my mind — that quiet, gentle whisper of my last name. My full name. That call back to me. That although I looked nothing like me, and felt nothing like me in a season in life when I felt I needed so much strength — to stretch, be relaxed, be focused, be flexible, be mentally sound — there was a tiny bit of me. My name.
There’s so much in a name.
I ran through the meaning of my name — it rolled in like salt water waves over my soul.
Casie: Vigilant war, shining upon man, alert, watchful, Trojan princess blessed with prophecy
Leigh: Clearing, meadow of the bulls, fair-haired courageous one, delicate, weary, healer
Lukes: Light giving, light, luminous white
The sobbing subsided, and I laughed with snot tears to myself. I saw another familiar piece of me — blotched red cheeks, bright red lips, and eyes that were a clear, glassy green. My ugly cry face was the same — and I actually appreciated it more in that moment than I ever have.
I sighed deeply, a little peace filling my cried-out vessel, and words to my unborn daughter began to tumble in my mind:
This loving yourself in all your forms — soul, mind, body, personality, all of who you are — is essential, but it doesn’t always come easy. It's a constant evolution throughout your life span. It’s not something you can force, and it’s not a one-time thing. It’s a process. In each stage in life, you may have the most violent, dark thoughts of yourself. You may compare yourself. You may hide from the mirror. And then one day, you start to accept those things and see yourself for who you truly are. And you come to a good place with all of that. You become comfortable in your own skin and shape. You may float along for quite some time, in a good, healthy place. Support other women in their insecurities and struggles to love themselves. Just by being there. And one day, a new season — a new stretch — and you pick that process up again for yourself — to being comfortable in your own skin again. And that’s ok. There’s no shame in that. That’s normal. Don’t berate yourself for falling backwards or not having it handled or not being perfect or not “getting it”. There isn't a one-time arrival. There’s nothing wrong with you. In those dark moments, have a cry. Stay there for a little while, but not so long it’s destructive. Let the gentle truth whisper to you, until you are comfortable in this new season of your own skin again. I know you may not feel strong, but I know you are, and can handle this well — because you are you.
Who are you, little girl in me? Finley Charlotte Mauler. You are a free, fair-haired warrior that batters her opponent. That opponent not being yourself or others. That opponent being the dark in this world. The unkind. The lies. The injustice. And with your name you bring a piece of mine — of light.