stretch marks: streaks or stripes on the skin caused by excessive stretching, especially due to pregnancy or weight gain.
It was one of the coldest winters on record, certainly one of the windiest northern Europe had ever seen. Rain and sleet battered the cobbled streets. Ice left the pavement slick and dangerous. Venturing outside for a walk was questionable. I spent most of my semester abroad in Brussels inside, either in class, in cafes or tucked away in my room in my host family’s house. The lousy weather sapped the happy out of me. What better way to feel better than to eat?
Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolates, Belgian beer. I indulged mightily in all of it. A break between classes meant a quick trip to the most amazing waffle stall a few streets over. I sampled every brand of chocolate in town, settling on Neuhaus with its exquisite pralines as my go-to favorite. And the beer, well, let’s just say I developed a special affection for the gnome on the label of a particular pale ale. I ended up gaining 18 pounds in five months. It took me a summer doing Weight Watchers plus the first two months of my college senior year on the early-90s college girl crash diet (plain bagels, broccoli and Diet Coke) to lose it.
I first noticed them in the shower. Actually, I felt them. Ripples of puckered skin arced around my hips and traveled down my butt cheeks. Stretch marks. I was horrified. Why hadn’t my body simply bounced back to its previous glory? How would I ever wear a bikini again? Wasn’t I too young for stretch marks? Months went by and those Belgian stretch marks failed to fully fade. They left me feeling insecure and imperfect.I hated them.
Twelve years later I became a mom. I gained 36 pounds with my first pregnancy and was lucky to carry it with relative ease up until the final few weeks. Those first few months of motherhood kept me in a tailspin of fatigue, stress and acute joy. Losing weight was not top on my agenda. Life smoothed out a bit after the six-month mark. Ella was a happy baby, eating and sleeping well. I decided to focus on losing the last 15 pounds and it steadily melted away. Soon all that was left to remind of my swollen belly and middle of the night Texas Toast cravings, my daughter’s first kicks and astonishing in-utero hiccups were stretch marks. New ones.
The telltale puckering started near my waist and once again curved around my hips and over my bum. This time the lines looked more pronounced and there seemed to just be more of them. I couldn’t tell where the old ones began and the new ones started. That was a good thing. The first round of stretch marks reminded me of an uncomfortable time in my life. I was young, yearning for connection and second-guessing my choices (why Brussels when I could have studied in Paris?). I didn’t know how to make myself happy so I found comfort in chocolate – lots and lots of chocolate.
These new marks tell a different story, one of creation and strength and wonder. They weave the tale of motherhood and that of my three gorgeous, sometimes challenging, always beloved, girls. They stand for the power of women and the mind-blowing feats our remarkable bodies perform. They remind me to embrace all experiences, even the not-so-good ones, because this is life and uncertainty and sadness are as much a part of it as truth and delight.
Don’t get me wrong – I still don’t like my stretch marks, but I can appreciate them and how they tell the story of me, insecurities, superpowers and all.
I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.