by Caroline Saunders

How Motherhood Changes Your Body

They say that having a baby changes your body. Maybe it’s stretch marks or wider hips or extra squish around the middle or those sudden fiery flashes that feel like flames are trapped underneath your skin. Those are awesome. And then random, weirder stuff, like the fact that I’m convinced my eyesight has worsened. The oven clock was once numbers, but now it’s a blue blur.

And something else about my eyes—they have been tearing up much more easily. I assumed it was hormones. Or overexposure to Sarah McLachlan commercials.

But my heart aches much more often, too. Like growing pains. As if it’s had to stretch a bit, like the Grinch’s heart at the end of the movie.

My gait is a little less steady, my mind a little foggier. My knees are a little quicker to shake because it’s a heavy thing we’re doing. Motherhood, I mean.

It’s a vulnerable thing, too. It’s pushing around the most precious thing you have in a cart at Wal-Mart and trying not to flinch when a stranger pinches her cheeks.

Or standing at the checkout and bracing yourself for the glare of the words on the magazine covers. Sometimes they are darts, shot with precision, making it clear that my goal is to get my body back. That I should do whatever I can to be the way I was before.

But even though I can’t see the oven clock, I can see this: The magazines are trying to get me to care about the wrong thing. To distract me from what I am. To make me pine for what I was.

I don’t want to be what I was before.

Before I was a mother, my voice was full of sarcasm. But now I see my baby girl’s face everywhere—she reminds me to be tender. She’ll push the limits someday, but now she’s seven months old, and it hurts me to think of someone belittling her. She reminds me that we are all somebody’s baby, in desperate need of gentleness, a soft answer. God is using her to breathe new life into His command to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted” Ephesians 4:32.

Before, my tears were not so quick to spill down my cheeks. A precious friend vulnerably tells me what it was like to watch as her baby’s heart stopped beating, to learn that caskets come in newborn sizes. Before I might have felt compelled to offer words of advice or comfort, but now I know there is none to be given. Not now. Now we listen. We grieve. I used to wonder why God would tell us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), but now I know. Because this loss is unimaginable, smothering, and it needs not be trivialized with words. It needs to be felt. Now there are only tears.

Before I was a mother, my knees were not accustomed to smashing into the floor in fervent prayer. But we had a night when my mother fears came to life, and as I rode in the ambulance with Baby Girl and endured a never-ending night, God reminded me of the fragility and immense value of the human experience. Now a siren or a story will hit me in the gut, and I pray with all I have. Because she matters. Because you matter.

Before, my heart was not as easily pricked. When I hear your story about how hard it’s been to get pregnant, how disconnected you feel from your husband, how sad you are that your baby is growing up, how helpless you feel when your little one is sick, how the “what ifs” assault you in the middle of the night, my heart knows how to hurt with you. I now know the searing pain involved with loving someone so small so deeply.

Before I was a mother, my frame stood tall, refusing to lean on another in weakness. But now I know that’s how we’ll survive this thing. Because over and over again, I have been wrapped up in the comforting arms of the mothers around me. When the baby wouldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t think straight. When I didn’t know how to help her sleep. When the never-ending night ended, but the fear stayed. When I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, yet desperately want to be good at this.

How beautiful is the body of a mother! The tenderest of hearts, the gentlest voice, the broadest shoulders, capable of carrying the burdens of another (Galatians 6:2).

Is there any doubt that you are lovely? After all, Eve was the jewel of creation, God’s final flourish, the last thing he made before he looked around and said, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Adam named her “Mother of the Living,” and it was the grandest compliment she could receive. Mom genes have never been more flattering.

Hey, Mama. Don’t believe the neon words. You are very lovely. We need you very much.

Caroline Saunders

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