motherhood, pregnancy, Suffering

Won’t *something* wreck our bodies eventually?

June 26, 2014

This piece originally appeared on Mama Needs Coffee in June, 2014 but you know what, after this morning’s weigh in prenatal appointment, I found myself in need of a little pep talk. (And I didn’t even look at the scale, by the way. Which is probably the best decision I’ve made in a while.)

Ah, springtime…when a young (or old) mom’s fancy turns to thoughts of swim suits. Or at least mine does. I’m a lifelong swimmer. 9 competitive seasons under my belt and countless stints on the lifeguard stand. I’m actually less traumatized in the fitting room by swimwear than by any pair of jeans I’ve tried in the last 4 years. I guess it’s like a second skin for me, in a very real sense. And nobody’s skin is perfect, you know?

But I know for lots of people, especially mom-shaped people, swimsuit shopping is theeeeee worst. On par with dentistry and public speaking and unmedicated birthing and all manner of horrors (not judging any dentists, conference speakers or natural birthers here. Just identifying usual suspects of terror.)

I’m sure everyone has read at least one piece in their newsfeed (see what I did there?) extolling the virtue of just putting on the damn suit and jumping in the water, and that’s all true and good. Some writers reasoned it is for our children’s sakes that we ought to suit up and get to splashing. Others insist that our bodies are made for more than just lookin’ good (and don’t I know it?) and that doing it for the kids indicates that there is some kind of aesthetic nose-holding going on and that we really need to be more comfortable with whatever shape we’re in, and not endlessly consumed by some sisyphian quest to alter it.

I can see both sides.

And then some of us – some of us just want to be left alone – both by the mirror and by the assessing eyes of the general public. Sure, it’d be nice to look toned and tanned in a two piece, and sure, it’d be great to have sand as the primary irritant of water play and not the daunting and near-impossible task of returning one’s suit bottoms to one’s waist, once wet.

But this talk of spandex got me thinking. And now that I’m making an effort to walk a ton each day, I have some time for thinking lately, even when I’m pushing and hauling child tonnage around the neighborhood. So I was wearing Evie, pushing the boys and sweating my literal you-know-what off and smiling at the thought of that metaphor becoming sweet reality and it suddenly, startlingly occurred to me that no matter how great of shape the miles I’m logging gets me into, the inevitable ravages of time and work and (hopefully) future pregnancies and nursing are still going to destroy things, aesthetically speaking.

This has occurred to me before on some level. Earlier this year when I was still wearing workout clothes day and night and chugging aqua from my hospital-issued jug, my little sister helpfully (and fraternally, if a sister can speak in such a manner) pointed out that I wasn’t getting any younger (and, presumably, any hotter) so I may as well get dressed and put on makeup, no matter how rough I felt, because there truly is no time aside from the present that we have to actually live in our bodies.

Now maybe you don’t wear makeup. That’s fine! I don’t wear a ton, but I find that on the days I go further than my SPF tinted moisturizer and forge ahead with some blush/bronzer, mascara and a little eyebrow penciling, I feel markedly better. Even with the same amount of sleep/coffee. There’s something very life-giving for me about getting dressed, albeit in very simple, casual clothes, and swiping on a bit of mascara. It helps me take my job more seriously as a mother, and it helps me present a more joyful persona to the general public.

All that is good, and it’s helpful for me to be aware of the tone I set for our day with my level of self care. I also think it’s a bit of a witness to not present to the outside world the shrewing, frantic mess I am on the inside, lest they feel confirmed in their suspicions that having children is a hell of a lot of work which daily sucks the marrow from your very bones.

But you know what else sucks the marrow from your bones? (I mean, aside from being bone-marrow donor, which would be an excellent practical application of life-giving love.)

Life. The ravages of time. Pulling all nighters for work (or for partying). Traveling the globe. Digging ditches. Landing contracts. Getting on and off of highway exits. Gravity. Gluten.

Whatever it is you’re spending your time (and it’s your body’s time, too, by the way, because you are your body) doing, it’s undoing you.

Piece by piece, wrinkle by wrinkle, cell by cell. It’s all breaking down, even as we’re busy building up a life for ourselves. And the only thing any of us are going to have to show for it, in the end, is a laundry list of accomplishments or failures. And I think relationships will be at the top of the laundry list.

It’s comforting to me, not in a sadistic way but in a serene and pragmatic way, to think that no matter what, 50 years from now, if I’m still chilling in my mortal form, I’ll look pretty much like the old lady in the Denny’s booth next to mine. Okay, maybe I’ll have a tad more sun damage, but at 81 years old, I don’t think anyone will be counting my sunspots and wrinkling their already wrinkled nose over it.

So no matter what choices I make now, my body is going to look pretty much the same. I mean, maybe I will score some additional longevity if I eat well and stay active, but no amount of starvation dieting or pinning miracle smoothies or popping birth control pills to keep my waistline trim and my bank account plump is going to make me any better looking, in the end.

So while I feel very acutely that I am quite literally spending myself for the sake of my children, I struggle to identify another, worthier cause in which to invest.

I don’t think there is one.

Our culture is obsessed with becoming – and remaining – thin. With appearing more beautiful. With capturing and domesticating youth, both in appearance and in behavior. But it’s all fleeting. And truly, there is nothing sadder than a 60-year-old man or woman dressing down by 3 or 4 decades, desperately striving to appear relevant. Desirable. Loved.

But what about the 60-year-old who is desired, deeply, by her husband? By his children? By her friends and co-workers?

What about the person who has invested deeply, not in himself (though there’s nothing wrong with self investment, rightly-ordered) but in the relationships which are the very essence of life? How good will that feel, to be fading into antiquity as we all do, but to be very much unforgettable to the children you’ve raised, the spouse you’ve loved faithfully, the friends you’ve nurtured, the lives you’ve spent your own on?

There is no original thought here, just the arresting realization that it’s all passing away, and that no matter how much I might want to look like another body, I’m in this one, and I’m the only one who can choose how I’ll use it, how I’ll spend myself.

Our culture tells us that to spend a life in service to another is a waste. To give up one’s very body in bearing and nurturing life is obscene, is antithetical to real happiness.

I beg to differ. I look down at my soft, motherly midsection and I know that while it’s hard to give up the body I once had, we’re all asked, each of us, to surrender the goods eventually.

The only real question is, will you give it away, or will it be taken from you by force?

I choose life. I choose to give it away. It’s a small cross, and it’s marred by stretch marks and double digits in the denim department, but I won’t be any more beautiful in 50 years for refusing it.

In fact, in embracing the cross of life, I might just find myself face to face with beauty beyond measure.

week of motherhood

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22 Comments

  • Reply Keelin Cromar June 26, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I like to call mine tiger stripes, not original but affirming and it reminds me of the strength that having children has given me. Great post. Love the bog.

  • Reply Laura Pearl June 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    This is just the most awesome post. Those last few thoughts after the picture are just perfectly put, and so inspiring.

    (And you look darn good, by the way.)

  • Reply Laura @ A Drop in the Ocean June 26, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Aw, I love this! If it’s gonna happen anyway, you might as well give away your fleeting muscle tone to living life fully with a beautiful family. Definitely keeping this for future reference 🙂

  • Reply Heidi June 27, 2014 at 12:51 am

    I really love this.

  • Reply thesewallsblog.com June 27, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Oh, this is so wonderful, Jenny. So, so good. Thank you for it.

  • Reply Amelia Bentrup June 27, 2014 at 2:06 am

    This is a really profound realization….I definitely should be spending more energy on serving others and a lot less worrying what I look like.

  • Reply Kris June 27, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    What a lovely way of looking at this issue. Definitely makes me re-evaluate some things.

  • Reply October Rose June 27, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    “The only real question is, will you give it away, or will it be taken from you by force?”

    I have examples of both in my life. I knew which women I wanted to age like, and yet for some reason I didn’t think of this in terms of being at peace with my body as it is *now*. So thank you.

  • Reply Melissa June 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    I wore jeans, a t shirt with no writing on it, cute sandals and earrings to target today. Thanks for encouraging me to celebrate my current self. It was worth it

  • Reply Micaela Darr June 27, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Jenny, you put it in a way that reached me where all those other “get out there and do it for the kids/yourself” posts did not. Life is passing even as our bodies are sagging. So best be using them the way that will help us get to heaven: serving others and co-creating other immortal souls.

    P.S. Good job for walking 5 miles a day!

  • Reply The Sweet Wonder June 28, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    This is wonderful! Definitely some food for thought as my body is changing with my first pregnancy. I too feel a little better when I take the time to put on some extra makeup or throw together a cute outfit, but I need to remember not to make it be *about* that in the end. Because in the end it won’t matter!

  • Reply LPatter June 28, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    This has been a truth that has been speaking to me lately too. It’s so centering and gives an honesty and peace when I embrace it. It’s like, looking at life the way it is, really, and with me in the center of it. (Literally: as in, hitting middle age – despite the world saying that 30s are the new 20s etc etc. I’m turning 34. I’m no spring chicken – I’ll be in this middle phase for a good long while and I don’t feel old – but mortality is real! Kids and life are taking their toll, and my wrinkles are not going anywhere except deeper into my epidermis.)

    I like the balance here – again (like your parenting piece I liked recently) – the both/and (it’s always about the both/and for me, so tempted to black and white thinking for so many years!!) – that caring for ourselves and putting effort in is *worth it* and *important* but because of the mortality and the dignity combined. (This paragraph: “Now maybe you don’t wear makeup. That’s fine! I don’t wear a ton, but I find that on the days I go further than my spf tinted moisturizer, blush/bronzer and eyebrow filling, I feel markedly better. Even with the same amount of sleep/coffee. There’s something very life-giving for me about getting dressed, albeit in very simple, preppy clothes, and swiping on a bit of mascara. It helps me take my job more seriously as a mother, and it helps me present a more joyful persona to the general public.” Yes.)

    We just had an awesome and sobering experience with my dad – he began a crazy experience with heart disease 30 years ago at the age of 34 – yup ,same age as me – had a heart attack and emergency bypass surgery, brought on by a combo of heredity and lifestyle (beer, smoker, diet – though not morbidly obese or terribly extreme in the eyes of the world, certainly “unhealthy”). Thus began a gradual total shift in lifestyle, as a young dad of 4 and 2 year old daughters, quitting the substances, a few years later having a spiritual conversion, doing the 1980s heart-healthy diets, and by 1990 he was svelte, cholesterol 176 and ready for his 2nd bypass – disease had been set in motion. Turns out he could help but not compeletely stop it. Well, last Thursday, with a 3rd bypass and some stents under his belt over the last decades, and no issues in the last 13 years, he had been experiencing some chest pain on exertion and they went in to check it out. Turns out those decades of discipline, caring for an already-compromised system, and offering up the inconveniences of his circumstances paid off. An already-bypassed-and-stented artery had closed – but – surprise! – no heart attack! His patched up heart had GROWN enough NEW collateral vessels to flow right around it and though the blood flow was limited, he easily survived and was in no risk of a subsequent attack because of it. He had been exercising diligently for years and years, which helps the heart grow these vessels, and had been eating well and taking the right meds and going for regular check-ups, etc. At 64 he was in better health, in many ways (not to mention personally/spiritually) than at 34. So mortal, so fragile, yet so alive, and caring for the mortal body he has been given. It was a powerful lesson on that both/and – and the regenerative power of life despite frailty. Nicely timed on the vigil of the Sacred Heart. God is so good – life is good. We live in a world compromised on the physical and spiritual levels – but the long-version of the serenity prayer keeps me mindful that this is no reason to protest or draw back – instead, seeing it, embracing it, and loving it is the only way to peace… : Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever and ever in the next.

    Amen.

    (Thanks Jenny!)

  • Reply Amy W June 29, 2014 at 11:38 am

    That’s a nice way to put it:) thank you.

  • Reply Sally SLP June 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I so appreciate this column! I have been beating myself up for gaining so much weight through the course of the last 12 years (and 5 babies) while at the same time appreciating the beauty of the “church grandmas” I know (you know–the older ladies who dote on the children, give the mom hugs and tell us we are doing wonderful!!! Our church is by and large an over 60 group!). Your writing finally gelled these two opposing thoughts–thank you. Although I will continue to work (and pray) to lose these unneeded pounds to keep my body working reasonably for the next 40 or 50 years, I feel much further along the road of loving myself as I am because of you.

  • Reply Rachel Boschini June 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    I really loved this. It’s nice to be reminded of such things when we are hit over the head every moment by our culture with the exact opposite message. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Lori June 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

    It’s like when Christ said to His disciples “this is my body, given up for you…” Just as marriage reflects the Trinity so also does motherhood reflect that life-giving act of Christ. We give up our bodies according to His plan. It really is something beautiful to reflect on.

  • Reply Mitchell Brown June 30, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, I really needed this.
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  • Reply Calves July 2, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Beautiful reflections, Jenny! Thank you <3

  • Reply Rosa Patterson July 19, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Love it. Let go of your body. But still respect it as a temple of God.

  • Reply Martha August 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you! I really needed to hear this today. Number 8 is 6 weeks old, and I’m so tired of the (self-imposed) stress of the gain weight/lose weight pregnancy cycle. Babies are so wonderful, and we need to realize what amazing things our bodies are doing, and that we’re above all the Glamour magazine standards.

    And give ourselves a break! 🙂

  • Reply Ellen Johnson May 6, 2015 at 4:19 am

    I loved this post last year and I still love it today, Jenny. My best friend died of cancer less than a month after her 26th birthday, and I watched that horrible disease ravage her young body. I have to remind myself of that when I get angsty about postpartum hair loss (and currently the awkward regrowth phase) that I didn’t lose it from chemo. The varicose veins, c-section scar and general flab and wear on this body have all been joyfully earned; it’s a real blessing to lose your body in this way.

  • Reply On mothering, body image, and acceptance with joy – Mama Needs Coffee December 20, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    […] like I’ve reflected before about wrecked bodies and changed hearts, it is inevitable in the fullest sense of the […]

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