An article entitled, “Mom Stays in the Picture,” is touching nerves over at Huffington Post. In it, the author, mother to a five-year-old and an infant, talks about how, as a woman whose body has changed so much through motherhood — the months of pregnancy, giving birth, the sleepless nights, the exhausting days — she’s hesitant to document this time in her life with photographic evidence of herself looking less than her best. But then she thinks about how her children, years from now, will want — will need — to see pictures of their younger selves with their mama. They won’t see her unwashed hair or bags under the eyes — or, if they do, what they’ll hopefully notice more is the love, the happiness shining through even the deepest exhaustion.
My son, Jackson, turns one in just a few days (we had an early birthday celebration for him over the weekend). These last couple of weeks have been a time of reflection for me. Finally, after many months of finding my footing — and falling a lot, metaphorically speaking — I’m feeling like myself again. I think I’m starting to look like myself again, too. I’ll never look as young as I did even two years ago before I got pregnant, though. Motherhood has aged me and will continue to age me faster than, well, not being a mother. I’ve lost many hours of sleep in this last year (and in the final months of pregnancy preceding Jack’s birth). My body changed, most likely for good. I’ve lost all of the baby weight I gained, but I have a feeling I’ll never lose the “mother’s pooch” I now sport just below my belly button, a souvenir from those months I carried my baby inside my body while he grew big enough and strong enough to take on the outside world.
But if this is my mom look, I’m OK with it. I don’t love looking in the mirror and I HATE trying on new clothes — or old clothes, for that matter (there may or may not have been crying in the dressing room the last time I went shopping and tried to squeeze into dresses that I’m sure would have fit me just a couple years ago). But when I look at photos of myself with Jackson, with my husband, Drew, and with other people I care about, I see love and I see happiness shining through the exhaustion. I see a fuller face, too, and sometimes puffy eyes and bangs that need trimming. But those aren’t the things I notice the most.
The headshot I use in this site’s banner was taken just a few weeks after Jackson was born. It’s actually part of a bigger picture where I’m holding Jackson in my bedroom shortly after getting us both dressed to go out for a walk. I remember that I hadn’t meant to dress us in matching stripes, but there we were, all matchy-matchy. This was obviously still very early in my motherhood experience. I was still crying a lot as my hormones were settling into place — I’d later dip into a weeks-long depression that I’d find out was a result of my thyroid disease being out of whack after giving birth — and I was up several times a night to feed Jackson. This was also when I was trying so, so hard to breastfeed and finding it incredibly difficult and, frankly, demoralizing, not to do what my body was “supposed to do.” It was a hard time. But in this photo what I see is a moment of joy — a moment of looking ahead and feeling so incredibly excited about the future. I also see the way Jack’s looking at me. No one’s ever looked at me like that before.
When I’m objective, I see a fuller face than I’m used to (I’d only lost a few pounds of baby weight at that point) and more makeup than I typically wear (probably to cover up the exhaustion). But I don’t care. I love the photo so much, it’s found a home on the site banner where thousands of people see it every day. (Full disclosure: Through the miracle of Photoshop, I covered up my ear that was poking out, fluffed up my hair a tad, and ever-so-slightly chiseled just a bit of that fuller face). And every day, it serves as a little reminder that despite the toll it takes, physically and emotionally, motherhood is beautiful.
Loving Jackson and caring for him and making sacrifices for his happiness and well-being make me feel beautiful. Yes, even when, 12 months after giving birth and losing all the baby weight, my pre-pregnancy clothes STILL don’t fit right, and even with my mother’s pooch and tired eyes, I still feel beautiful. Ok, not all the time. Definitely not all the time. But when I see photos of myself with Jackson, I do. And I know — or, I certainly hope — that, when he looks at those photos years from now, he’ll think so too. He’ll think, “Damn, my mom used to be so young! And look how happy she was.” And I hope he’ll know where that happiness came from. I hope he’ll know — I hope that photographic evidence will help prove — how incredibly happy he made me, how deeply I loved him, and how very lucky I felt to be his mama.