I put her in position, undo my bra and readjust her after her excitement of finally having access to milk. She starts to nurse. She calms down. She takes big gulps and then finds her rhythm. Her breaths get longer and slower, her sucks become more melodious, her hands start their trace of my body. She bangs on my breast, she slides her hand down my chest, she makes her way across my post baby pooch, and ever so gently, those chubby, soft, warm, hands slide across my belly back and forth, back and forth. I chuckle a bit because if anyone else grabbed my stomach I would freak out about them finding my muffin top hang over my pants. With her other hand, she finds my love handles and grabs on as she moves the first hand back up to my breast. We do this four or five times before her hands slow. I tickle her under her chin to keep her sucking. When it's finally time to switch sides, we do this all again, only she starts by grabbing my love handles.
My boys always knocked the milk down with their hands, but they never spent the time to caress my body like she does, they were all about business, she's different. Until today, I never realized why they were called "love handles" but I know now, or at least I'd like to believe, that it's because your young child can feel connected to you while they are getting the most intimate and peaceful touch anyone can ask for. Somehow, I think she's pointing out, while she clings to my body, my flaws so I can learn to feel comfortable in my skin, while I understand that I need this extra fat to give the the best gift to my child. And, she's letting me know that she loves me for me and not for what my body looks like. It's like she knows that one day she too will be nursing a child and feeling vulnerable as she sits there with her stretch marks exposed, her breast out, missing out on whatever is happening downstairs or with her other children. But in that moment, she'll know that what she's doing is the most important. It's like she knows that my body has been through some incredible changes over the last six years and she is the last one to make her mark so she wants me to soak up every second.
Tonight as I nursed her, I started to cry. She's already weened herself to one or two quick sessions a day, mostly for comfort but there's a little milk left. Pretty soon, this little girl will be one and a half and she will continue to ween herself as she makes her mark on this world. And I'll be left only of the memory of nursing and rocking her to sleep. I sat there for a while after she finished. My body was exposed. She was curled up on my other breast, her hand rested gently on my belly and clenched on my side. She was so beautiful. I looked at my belly. It's not perfect even though I can fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I still have a belly, that I anticipate will take hours of exercise I am not able to get. I still have my curves, I will likely hang on to those for as long as I am nursing and have extra hormones. I still have stretch marks, they aren't as bright, but as long as I'm nursing, they will be a reminder of what I've accomplished after three babies. But little by little, those things will fade and the marks of a baby (or three) will disappear from my body.
There's a love hate relationship with a woman and her body after a baby. We are amazed at what it is capable of, and at least I am in awe that I am able to grow and nourish a human being all by myself. But then, there are the challenges of it not looking like we want it to- not being able to wear the clothing we like, and battling hormones that cause zits, hot flashes and remind us we are no longer in our pre-baby life. It lasts for months, years even. But here I am with my daughter, almost a year and a half later and I am conflicted. I am proud of the work I do at the gym. I feel healthy, I look "skinny," and feel strong. Those were my goals. I want the baby fat to go away, I'd love to be able to put on a bikini and rock my belly button ring like my younger days, but at the same time, I know I'm past that. For me, now anyway, I have to use my body to teach two sons and a daughter to respect their own bodies and to love all bodies.
I have a daughter that I have to teach to love her body no matter what it looks like, no matter what the other girls have or how they look. I have to teach my sons that what they see in ads, commercials and on TV are what some people look like, but not all people. They all still see me naked. Our open door policy at our house works well for us, and in a few years I realize that will change as they want their own privacy and I become embarrassing to them, but as long as three kids need me at the exact moment I'm about to shower or use the toilet, they will see my body for what it is. They've asked about my stretch marks. They've pointed out my big belly, or that "It looks like you still have a baby in there", they talk about how they are "skinny minis" and I'm not, they've even suggested that I wear more than a bra and pants around the house and when I suggest that I'd love to put on a shirt but I need them to stop fighting so I can finish getting dressed, they just stare at me like it's my problem. But I think this kind of conversation is important. I think we should talk to our sons and daughters alike, that bodies are different and should all be celebrated. The message in our house is that we need healthy bodies. And for each one of us it means something different.
As a human, and as a woman who has had three babies and has had her body stretch and shift in so many ways, it's hard to say, "my body is what it is, there are some health changes I could make in my life, but I'm comfortable in the skin I'm in". I'm at that point. My Resolution this year was to not lose weight. I don't actually own a scale and I'm not even sure that the gym I attend even has one, at least not one I've noticed. I care that I'm able to run and play, and go on any adventure my kids come up with. I need to be healthy with and for them. If that means, I have love handles and stretch marks for the next 10 years, it means I've earned them. It means I've created three beautiful children who make each and every day a crazy adventure. And it's taken me, until this moment to realize that. My husband finds me sexy, and he found me sexy when I gained 80 pounds with our oldest, 35 with our second and 25 with our last. He's going to love me for me. I only want friends that love me for me. And my kids are going to love me for me, and, and anything extra I have on my body that reminds me of becoming their mother, honestly is the best badge I can wear.
Before I put her in her bed, I lean in, give her a kiss and just breath in that baby smell. Having boys changed me. It made me comfortable with chaos. They made me realize we weren't raising grass and that we didn't need a spotless house, and they taught me that sometimes you just need to wrestle and laugh. My daughter is following in their footsteps in all of those lessons, but she's also teaching me about being a woman, how to support other women, and how to be a confident woman myself. I have had a lot of confidence in myself for several years, but being a confident person and being a confident woman are totally different things and she's giving me the tools to do that.
As I pull down my shirt, fix my nursing bra and carefully lift her to transport her to her crib, she stirs, and grabs on to my love handles extra tight and gives me just one more reminder that I need her as much as she needs me.