I crested my mid-forties this year. I also became single again. And I had to step into motherhood in ways I had not done before. So, in the wake of the tremendous upheaval I experienced, I decided that I would document this moment in time with a photo shoot. Of course, right? Who doesn't do that? Well, I guess that's just the narcissist in me.
My photoshoot with Joanna Monger Photography was one part boudoir and one part business. But all personal. I wanted to not only peel off a few layers of clothing for something nice to look at later, but I also wanted to strip off old, crusty insecurities and secrets.
But first I have to say this: social media is a fraud. We all know it. We put our best faces forward and show the highlights of our lives to create some envy in our friends. Everyone can use a photoshop app or an Instagram filter to wash away wrinkles, highlight their skin and hair and maybe shave off that little bit of pudge that is bulging out.
It’s hard to be real in a world where everyone is getting good at being fake. Present company included.
But this year – in my 46th year – I found myself ready to be more vulnerable, privately and publicly.
And in one way was to finally admit this: I hated the way pregnancy ruined my body and made me feel. So I changed it and didn’t want anyone to know.
You have no idea how long it's taken me to say that.
The origins of my deceit begin during my first pregnancy with my son in 2001. Everything was normal until the last trimester. I started eating more sugary comfort-foods and was close to developing gestational diabetes. If that wasn’t bad enough, my body weight topped at 175 pounds when I was checked into the hospital to give birth. Now, to put this in proper perspective, it’s important to know that I lived my life in the 5'-6", 110-115 pound range, so this was a big deal. (No pun intended.)
After giving birth, I had to fight back from 150 pounds plus for a year before I dropped it off with a shift in my diet and got myself to just under 130 pounds. Pictures of me during this time are painful and unrecognizable.
By the time I was pregnant with my daughter some three years later, I was never back to my original 115-pound size, but I was at a healthy 120 pounds. I managed my eating habits better while pregnant the second time around. More water and fewer Cocoa Puffs. I was also working at my new recycled-content countertop company I had started. This work was less sitting and a lot of moving around, which also helped tremendously. I was on my feet dashing around my shop up until the day my water broke.
And, like her brother, my daughter was larger than normal and born almost two weeks early in 2005. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the second go-around would leave my body with permanent damage regardless of my best efforts to be healthier. My small frame just wasn’t built for big babies.
The abdominal muscles had separated, and despite sit-ups after sit-ups after sit-ups, the gap between never closed up and remained at almost an inch apart. This condition is called diastasis recti. The injury left my core weak and the nice flat tummy I’d enjoyed pretty much my whole life, misshapen and slightly pot-bellied.
The skin on my stomach also never went back to its original form. It had been stretched out beyond its capacity to repair, leaving me with the wrinkled, crepey “pooch” that many mothers know.
The final stroke was that thanks to genetics after I had completed breastfeeding my daughter, my breasts shrank and were significantly smaller than they had been before. My boobs had always been modest in size – about 32B. But post-pregnancy, they seemed non-existent. I used “cutlets” – silicone breast-shaped pads you can put in your bras - to plump my chest up all the time and make my body look proportionate.
Now, I know that many women can experience all of these changes to their bodies and wear them all proudly – as a badge of honor and the costs of choosing to be moms. But to me, a wounded woman with conflicted feelings about motherhood at this time, I couldn’t see the “upside.” These changes were all just another way that I was being asked to give up myself for someone else, which wasn’t my freedom any longer, it now meant my physical beauty. And I resented all of it.
When life started going sideways for me across the board in 2008 – which coincided with the onset of the recession and a sharp decline in housing and construction-related work, my fragile self-esteem began to tumble as well. And so, like a junkie, I started reaching for the old ways of boosting my confidence, which was the ego-stroking that comes from being admired for my looks.
In April of 2009, four months after I had completed a merger to save my company from dissolution, I went under the knife. I told my employees it was medically necessary to fix my abdomen and I would be out for two weeks recovering. But that wasn’t entirely true. The abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck surgery, would involve adding something akin to shoe-laces to my abdomen and tighten it all back up but I would also have all of the excess skin cut away and removed. And since I was going to be under anyways, I elected to have my breasts done at the same time. I wasn’t interested in looking like a stripper, so I had them enlarged to an ample but fairly natural size of 34C. The guys at work figured it out eventually (duh - they're guys) but we all applied the "Don't ask, Don't Tell" approach.
Physically, I recovered like a champ. Emotionally, I felt shame and embarrassment that I had done it. I felt like I could never admit to anyone that I had altered my body so that I could look better – that I was unwilling to wear my “tiger stripes” with pride like other moms. I worried people would judge me for being vain. But I also finally felt good again when I looked in the mirror at myself. I had liberated my body from the damage motherhood had caused it.
After several months of healing, however, I still had a visible scar on my lower abdomen. Plus, at both hips, where the incision ended, there was a little wrinkling of old stretched skin stitched together. I felt that I had to hide all of this or people would know what I’d done. But really, I wanted all signs that said "She is a mother" removed from my body.
Already inked in several areas, I decided that I would get a large tattoo to cover it up. So I visited a studio in Seattle called Artcore and met with a fantastic artist named Joby Dorr. The upside is that the tattoo itself would be so attractive and provocative that no one would ever know or wonder what its purpose was. And it worked for almost ten years.
So, if I have successfully hidden most of this from everyone, why would I expose myself now? And in such a public fashion?
The biggest reason is that I don’t want other women to feel bad if they try to compare themselves with me, which is the dark attraction of social media. While, yes, genetics has some role in my physical appearance, in the end – I did not hit the jackpot. And for certain, having been athletic my whole life, I do exercise regularly, more than most people. But I am not just “blessed” with one of those bodies to envy.
I bought it. I modified it. I faked it.
Like experience, some of it I earned. And some of it I paid for.
But I would not be able to tell you any of this if I hadn’t also uncovered where I was actually damaged. It wasn’t skin or fatty tissue. It was inside of me that needed healing all these years – I needed to know why motherhood pained me so much. And I'm beginning to understand that now, which has been just as liberating as anything.
Now, the million dollar question: Would I have done this work all over again?
That honest truth is yes, I probably would have. I live in a world of art and design – I simply love aesthetics. But I wouldn’t have been so ashamed of myself and tried to hide it or keep it as discreet. I would have owned it, confidently, as I’m doing today.
So, with that said, I want to say that it bears to note when we see people around us that vanity and low self-esteem are usually bedfellows and to regard everyone gently. And one of many keys that unlock doors to our eternal happiness is to get to a place in our spirit and mind that allows us to do things because we truly want to give ourselves unconditional love. Not for the fleeting adoration of others.
I will still do things to amplify myself - tattoos, beauty treatments, etc. because it is okay to change yourself - when it's for you and you don't have that anxious compulsion to do it. You do it because you choose to. Not because you feel you have to.
Presently I am dealing with a legal "fight" with my ex boyfriend and business partner. It has caused some obvious financial strain for me, especially as a single, self-employed mom. My work podcasting & blogging and sharing my experiences and stories are not a revenue-generating activity at this time. I hope someday it will be. So, I ask - if you have received value or even entertainment from watching my videos or reading my posts, I ask you consider contributing, even a small amount, to my GoFundMe campaign that I set-up to help offset my legal bills. Thank you.