I have only seen stretch marks in real life, on another person, twice. That is mind blowing, considering how common they are (anecdotally speaking, I couldn’t find any hard statistics to cite). [Reflecting on the responses I’ve received to the post, after a week of it being up, has blown me away. I’ve heard from many people that they look just like I do – which totally shocks me! And further makes me glad that I posted this.] I have, however, seen them countless times on tabloid covers, and cheesy ads selling snake oil. It’s a little disconcerting to realize you look like the ‘before’ pictures and after giving birth to my son, I immediately donated all my bathing suits. The unwritten rule that one must hide, conceal, or fix stretch marks was so ingrained it literally did not occur to me that I could still wear a bikini. How disturbing, right?
All throughout both my pregnancies I heard comments about my body (as many women do). Now, whenever I show someone my stomach, the reaction is usually an apology. Guess what? I’m not sorry. I’m not ashamed. I’m sharing my body at what many would consider “its worst” because 1. I think it’s pretty amazing to have created two human beings, 2. because I think sharing un-Photoshopped, diverse images of what mothers’ bodies look like is important, and 3. it’s connected to how sewing has affected my life.
Despite my jokes about taking ‘selfies’ in the clothes I’ve sewn, blogging has given me self-confidence in a way I didn’t anticipate. Taking my tripod & camera out into public places and posing is daunting. Doing it over and over has made me feel more fearless, less self-conscious, and bolder. Being able to sew empowers me – I’m not keen on the crop tops and flowy rompers in stores (I’m also trying to avoid fast fashion), but that’s not a problem. I can sew exactly what I want, to fit me how I want, in spite of what’s in style or for sale. I can sew one size for my bust and another for my sleeves without any issues, instead of sweating and leaking milk while trying on a million different things in a fitting room with the worst lighting ever.
To be fair, I did not sew those jeggings or my nursing bra. But that’s me! In all of my asymmetrical, bumpy, scarred self. I have an umbilical hernia and diastasis recti, which means my stomach muscles aren’t playing nicely and refuse to come back together, in addition to the obvious extra skin and stretch marks. In spite of these irregularities, I am so proud that my body carried, birthed, and nourished two human beings.
Me before my son, with what I thought was a very obvious bloated belly (ha ha ha), and towards the end of pregnancy #1 and then pregnancy #2. I gained about 25 pounds with #1 and 30 with #2, and still have 15 of them hanging around at the time the pictures in this post were taken. I’d like to think they’ll magically disappear thanks to breastfeeding, mostly because I don’t want to buy or sew new jeans.
It became clear quite quickly that I wasn’t carrying like an average woman. Top row is pregnancy #1 and bottom row is pregnancy #2. My first was quite painful – my skin was white hot and stretched thin. My son was crazy active in utero (and still is, at 2.5 years of age). My second was uncomfortable in the way I imagine most pregnancies are, but not painful since my skin was already all stretched out. My daughter was pretty laidback, thankfully, and only popped her limbs out in awkward ways once in a while.
This is what my body looked like after few months, before I got pregnant again. You can see clearly the deep gap between my stomach muscles. Now that I’m done being pregnant, I’ll have the umbilical hernia surgically repaired and am exploring physical therapy options for the muscle separation.
After my first I got in the habit of just ‘sucking it in’ because my lower back was sore if I didn’t. It’s harder this time, with more damage and more skin. I broke my back in college, with lots of soft tissue damage, a chronic problem that is exacerbated by the lack of core muscles. That face on the top right sums up how I feel about that!
You can see the tiny extended stretch marks at the very top that are a brighter purple instead of faded silver – the only marks my daughter added to my collection.
The creative in me finds this skin beautiful. The star and triangle patterns remind me of a quilt or the sashiko stitched stars from this post.
I find the topography of my stomach a little fascinating, pre-babies it did not make nearly as interesting of shapes and textures. My son likes to pet it; he has no idea this isn’t what women are “supposed to look like”.
I’ll be sharing some of the clothes I’m sewing for myself and my new shape over the next few months – first up were a few Grainline Hemlocks. It feels a little hypocritical to spend this time showing you my postpartum body and then sew patterns specifically hoping to drape over all of my lumps and bumps, but it is what it is. I’m always happy to show someone what being “all belly” looks like after the baby is gone, but I don’t enjoy being asked if I’m pregnant again on a routine basis.
I’d love to hear how body image intersects with sewing or crafting for you! Or maybe everyone will have clicked away, after those pregnancy pictures (they still make me cringe!).
Some other great reads:
- This piece on body image & sewing by Jenny of Cashmerette for Seamwork Magazine
- The Velveteen Mother on Scary Mommy
- The @Takebackpostpartum Instagram Account
- The 4th Trimester Bodies Instagram Account
- Lots of images and stores shared at The Shape of a Mother
- This post on erasing negative thoughts and self-talk (with actual, actionable tips)