My husband slipped a t-shirt on over his head as I also changed into clothes for the day. This particular t-shirt of his, though, he’s had since high school, almost two decades, and it still fits him just fine. I looked at my own clothes and thought of the difference–– mine were new since giving birth a month or so prior. It struck me how different the male and female bodies are or, at least in my case, how differently they change.
I have absolutely no clothes from when I was a teenager and only two or three pieces of clothes I had in college. In fact, since getting married eight plus years ago, my wardrobe has changed several times as my body has changed several times. My body was one way when I got married, which was slightly bigger than when I left college which was softer and bigger than when I graduated high schooI. And then I became pregnant with our first child; of course my body changed then! I gave birth to our daughter and could wear pre-pregnancy clothes again, although those clothes fit me differently than they had before that transformation and I still needed to invest in new ones. Then I became pregnant with our second child and my body changed again and more rapidly.
After the birth of our son, my body didn’t even shed all of the pregnancy weight like it had the first time around. There was some stubborn weight that decided it wanted to cling tightly to me no matter what I tried, so I let it. I was healthy otherwise, so a few extra pounds didn’t bother me. I could run and play with my kids and go up and down the stairs a million times a day without getting winded. My body was doing what it was designed to do and I was at peace with it.
After being in that “plateau” for five years, becoming pregnant again was almost a treat. It was fun to watch how my body changed as it accommodated the new life within me. I relished each moment, knowing that, more likely than not, this would be my last time to experience these changes. My pregnant body lent me more confidence than usual as the realization that my body was undertaking an amazing work allowed me to see past the swelling belly and pants that no longer fit and ankles that are there…somewhere. I loved my pregnant body, even if it did come with its own set of challenges.
And then it was over.
I gave birth to my baby a week early and my body was no longer doing that incredible work. Then I lost all of the pregnancy weight within two weeks (helped in large part to hemorrhaging after giving birth). All my pre-pregnancy clothes, this time, fit just as they had before. And I mourned this loss. My body would never do that again.
I went to a local moms group I’m part of at one month postpartum. It was so good to be around women I love and who love me and whose bodies have all gone through these miraculous and mundane changes, just like me. One woman commented on how great I looked and that she couldn’t believe that I was in skinny jeans already! She meant well and I took it as she intended, but inside I was crying. You don’t know how important my pregnant body was to me! I wanted to shout. Or I’m sad that I’ll never experience this again. How do you adequately tell someone that you love the body you have while also mourning the one you’ll never have again, even if that’s against societal norms? I should be glad I lost the weight so quickly! I should be ecstatic that my body is back to “normal”! I know so many others who really struggle with these things and I try not to take advantage of what I’ve been given. But saying goodbye to part of my body and part of my life is difficult. I try to be gentle with myself, allow myself to grieve without guilt for this part of me that’s gone. I’m gentle with others when they’re clearly trying to be uplifting while also being vulnerable with them. That’s the great thing about bodies, they allow us to encounter each other and connect with each other in a multitude of ways. Bodies are simply miraculous!
And that’s what healed my heart and my vision. My body is miraculous no matter how it looks. With my body, I encounter other bodies, other people. With my body I caress my infant and embrace my children and husband. With my body, I walk and breathe and eat and clean and work and rest. With my body, I feel emotions, think of stories and articles, make mundane shopping lists. Yes, I still deal with a body that fails. Between chronic back pain and chronic illness, I simply can’t do all that I used to do. But through each season of my life, my body has adapted and I’ve adapted, to do the most miraculous thing of all: live.
I will never again fit into my high school soccer uniform. I’ll never fit into the gray corduroy pants I bought in college again. The plaid maternity tunic I bought for family pictures this fall is folded in a corner awaiting a buyer in a local buy/sell group. Each of these versions of my body were wonderful and good and brought me through the times I needed them to bring me through. My body has always been and will always be good and I will love it no matter what. Peace. I love every body I come in contact with because each body is doing the remarkable work of keeping that person alive, and that’s a miracle.
Bodies are good because God made them and He gave us bodies as part of making us in His Image and Likeness. I love my body even more because of this truth and I love God even more for the gift that is my body. It is okay for us to mourn the body we used to have or to strive for the body we want and to live in pursuit of that. The body is a good thing! And we should feel more than good about the ones we’ve been given. But that body is carrying you around this world, no matter its faults or flaws, and that makes it incredible. Loving your neighbor as yourself starts with loving yourself. So be gentle with you and rejoice in you and then rejoice in the bodies and persons of those around you because you are incredible, too.
Theresa Zoe Williams is a freelance writer with bylines at EpicPew, FemCatholic, and CatholicSingles, among others. She has contributed to the books The Catholic Hipster Handbook: The Next Leveland Epic Saints: Wild, Wonderful, and Weird Stories of God’s Heroes. She blogs at Patheos at Contemplatio Culture and her personal blog Principessa Meets World and can be found mostly on Twitter @TheresaZoe.