Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Honouring the Marks

The very first time I saw a stretch mark I was 13 and it was on one of my best friends.  She was 13 when she got pregnant, 14 when she had her son, and got some very large stretch marks during her pregnancy.  Her whole belly looked like she had been mauled by a tiger, her stretch marks were wide and long, each one probably 1/2"x6" and covering the whole front of her belly.  They looked like they hurt but she said they didn't.  After she had her son they were still there; I  guess I'd thought they'd go away or heal so I was surprised when she told me they'd never go away - fade, yes but never go away.  That sure seemed like a bum deal to me.

After that, the next time I saw a stretch mark was on a boyfriend I had who was 6'-7" by the time he was in tenth grade.  He had stretch marks all over his legs and back but they went horizontally, of course.  They were very thin, like 1/8" thick at the widest part, and he had many more of them than my friend had had.  They were silvery and shiny and I remember marveling at them on his tall, strong body.  These were marks that showed how his body had grown.  He was embarrassed by them and I remember thinking it was silly to be embarrassed about a mark of how strong and tall you are.  He said they just reminded him of how much it had hurt to grow so fast.  A flashing memory of when I'd had growing pains occasionally as a child ran through my mind and I felt very bad for how much it must have hurt to grow 12" in less than a year.

The next time I saw stretch marks was on a friend after she had her baby.  She also had very big, thick ones (which I now know are uncommon) and she said they hurt to touch during and after her pregnancy.  She got even more with her next pregnancy and I remember thinking that was cruel of nature to do to her.

The next time I saw stretch marks was during my first trimester of pregnancy.  They radiated out from my nipples around my breasts like cheery sunbursts, mocking me as I stared at them in the mirror with disdain.  I had been using the stupid Bio Oil, I had been eating well and staying hydrated - why was I ALREADY getting stretch marks?!?!  Did this mean I was going to get them on my belly, too?  I mean, I could handle them on my breasts because I could still hide those with a bathing suit but I certainly didn't want my perfect stomach marred with stretch marks!  My mother doesn't have any stretch marks from carrying me in her belly so I just sort of assumed without even considering that I wouldn't get any, either.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up with my Bio Oil routine (though I don't believe this does anything to prevent stretch marks, it sure is soothing to itchy, stretching skin).  Before and after showering I'd inspect myself all over for stretch marks and often grilled The Carpenter to check my bottom and back for them, too (as if knowing I had them would do anything, anyway).  I was very disappointed one day when, sitting on the toilet, I noticed some forming on the inside of my thighs.  Still, though, I couldn't see any on my stomach or back so I was thankful for small blessings.

After having The Smiler the first few days were a haze but I distinctly remember getting out of the shower one day and getting dressed in the bedroom and suddenly catching a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror on the wall.  Much to my chagrin, the lower part of my belly was covered in little worm-like stretch marks.  Probably a hundred of them, all squiggling around and my loose, droopy, empty belly lopping over my pubic bone and I just sank to the floor and started bawling.  I was ABSOLUTELY CRUSHED to see my previously perfect stomach in that condition, especially since not one of those stretch marks was visible while I was pregnant.  The Carpenter tried to console me to no avail and I spent a long, long time hating to see those little wormy squiggles and my deflated, empty belly after that.  Truth be told, I still don't really like looking at my stomach very much, even 9.5 months after having The Smiler.  Some women spring back after having a baby and their flat tummies are back to the way they were before within 6 weeks or less.  Other women forever have a little "pooch" that they'll never be able to get rid of, no matter how many crunches and squats or how much walking and jogging they do.  Their bellies will always curve with the memory of a baby's back.

To comfort myself about my stomach I sometimes think of Ina May Gaskin saying that she finds stretch marks beautiful but then the pessimist in me often retorts, "Well, you're a woman and a midwife and probably have a few, yourself, Ina May." and I have to make a conscious effort not to go down that path of self-loathing (sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not).

This mother is beautiful.  Her belly is round from holding a baby and her breasts are full from milk.  She has no shame in her body - I'd bet if you asked her she'd never even have given it a second thought.

I had a dream a while back, though, in which I lived in a society where no one wore clothes (it obviously wasn't in Winnipeg, or even Canada, for that matter).  In this society, men were attracted to women with stretch marks or poochy bellies and those women were revered.  Full, drooping, stretch-marked breasts were held in the highest esteem and women with the roundest, most stretch-marked bellies were lusted after the most.

When I awoke, I realised this makes perfect sense from an evolutionary, survival and reproductive perspective.  Of course men would find women with full, stretch-marked breasts and bellies most attractive!  This would be clear proof these women are fertile and fit, able to carry and nourish a healthy baby and feed it well once born.  This would be a sign these women have carried and nourished babies already and are therefore desirable to impregnate again.

Now, when I look at my body after having carried a baby I think of this and I remind myself that having a child has been the most changing and amazing experience of my life so why wouldn't I want that to show in my body?  I still struggle with self-image and esteem issues but I try to always remember that I eat a pretty healthy diet and that this body grew a baby - a healthy, happy, well nourished baby - and these stretch marks were earned, I worked hard for this poochy belly and these droopy boobs.  They are mine and to not have them would mean to not have my child.

So today I am honouring the marks of being a child-bearing woman.  I encourage you (as a woman or a man) to do the same.

No shame in their child bearing bodies.


  1. Very well said. I've had stretch marks for most of my life, but I think the ones that have bothered me the most are the ones on my breasts - not that too many people see those anyway, right? I very much like your dream. At least I can know I am well and truly worshipped in an alternate reality!!! ;)

  2. Yes, Amy, in my dream world, all the men would be after us healthy childbearing women! Especially you, since you have the added bonus of a roomy pelvis, unlike my narrow, boyish one, LOL! ;) It would do us well to remember that it is only THIS society, THIS era that worships women who have the bodies of 12 year old boys and party balloon boobs awkwardly stuck to them.

  3. I have stretch marks too, even though my body did bounce back quickly. my lower back, my thighs under my bum, and on either side of my belly button. i had NONE on my belly while i was pregnant, but afterward was when they became visible! it's ok though. the stretch marks came with some nice fat deposits that make me look more like a woman. i *was* (am?) one of those "12 year old boy" women, and let me tell you it's not always easy to look like that either. there is a narrow concept of what is beautiful in this society, and it's a certain type of skinny. being just plain skinny isn't good enough apparently. girls hate you for being skinny, boys hate you for looking like them. high school was definitely NOT the best time of my life :P

  4. I hear ya' Jillian. I was poker thin in high school and didn't get big boobs until I was in my early 20s so I know how narrow that definition of beauty is (and how impossible it is to fit it without doing some kind of modification to your body). And, ya, it's sort of a piss off when your post partum 'gift' is some stretch marks on your belly that weren't there through the pregnancy LOL. Oh, and by the way, if you're looking for any extra fat deposits I have some I can send your way :P

  5. I have had stretch marks along my hips and breasts since I was a teenager and have never had perky breasts. I used to hate the way my breasts looked but since giving birth to and feeding my daughter (she is one today and I still BF) I have come to love my boobs! I have stretch marks on my inner thighs of all places from being pregnant and these I have only just started to accept.

    Thank you for this blog, I found it a great read and reminded me that we are gorgeous, sexy women and we should all support each other and compliment each other. Not judge, jeer and be disgusted. xxoo


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