When I was eight months pregnant with my fourth child, my older kids noticed the stretch marks blaring their presence on my burgeoning belly. My three-year-old and five-year-old were curious: what are those purple lines? So I told them the story: each of them started out inside my tummy, where my body made a home for them and nourished them with everything they needed. As they grew, so did I, and the marks tell the story of how my body stretched to fit them. My kids looked down with longing at their own smooth tummies, wondering why they didn't have such a story written into their skin.
Having a baby stretches you in more ways than one. Your body is changed, in some ways irrevocably. You gain weight. You develop scars. You change shape. To some it seems like a waste: why give up your twenty-year-old figure before you must?
Why? To bring new life into the world; to form and nurture it; to love and cherish it. If it is a waste, then it is exactly the kind of waste for which we were created: one which loves and serves others.
My best friend once told me that playing sports helped her see that her body had a purpose. It wasn't just for show. Training her body and using it to achieve goals helped her see it as a valued part of her whole being. Experiencing our bodies' usefulness also drives us to feel healthy pride and compassion rather than self-contempt when we fall short of what is hailed as perfection. It's a far cry from what the magazines and media tell us: that our bodies are showpieces, made for men to ogle and women to envy, and they will gain us what we want relationally and socially if we exploit them in just the right way.
I feel less self-conscious about the "flaws" because I know they are there for a noble reason
Pregnancy and motherhood offer us another radically different view of the meaning and purpose of our bodies. Physical training is indeed of great value, and human beings are of infinite value. How much more significant, then, is it to create new life with our bodies than even the worthy goal of training them in athletic or artistic feats?
There's a quotation reproduced on many a refrigerator magnet about how we are meant to skid into the grave used up and worn out, rather than safe, pretty, and well-preserved. It has a kernel of truth! There's no prize for looking smooth and svelte as a corpse, and if we live to a certain age it's impossible anyway. Much better to have used ourselves up for the cause of pouring love and light into the world, through whatever means are open to us, than of preserving our dress size.
After having four children, I see my body differently. I feel less, not more, self-conscious about the "flaws" because I know they are there for a noble reason. It's a trophy, if you will, a testament to my body's work of love. The allure of "perfection" has grown dimmer and shabbier. The calling of self-sacrificial love outshines it.