Becoming a mother is a life-changing experience. It’s also a body-changing experience. After 9 pregnancies, more than 8 years of breastfeeding or pumping, and 16 consecutive years of having a baby in the family, I can honestly say this “Old Gray Mare” ain’t what she used to be. Here are my top 10 permanent changes that motherhood has wrought upon my body, in no particular order.
1. My “Flabs” – I can’t really call my midsection “abs”. That implies something fit, firm, and non-jigggly. My sixpack is more like a 2-liter bottle. All my other body parts respond favorably to healthy nutrition and consistent exercise, but not my flabs. They prefer to spill over the top of my jeans, hang down like an overstretched sweater when I’m in plank, and cause my children and strangers to inquire if I’m having another baby.
2. My Heart – My heart has left my body. It’s now out walking around in several pieces in a big, scary, dangerous world–a world where I cannot offer a guarantee of protection, or insulation from poor decisions, or complete shielding from all evil. This is enough to break my mind with thoughts of “what if”. I already lean more toward anxiety than peace just because I’m me. The responsibility of motherhood tempts me to see a mountain in every molehill. Having more children does not lessen this. It intensifies it.
3. My Bladder – I have to cross my legs when I sneeze so I don’t wet my pants. And forget about doing jumping jacks. Or coughing. Or laughing. I have to pretend it’s not funny even if it really is so I can keep myself dry. On my list of Questions-for-God-When-I-Get-to-Heaven is “Why did you put the uterus on top of the bladder?” It just seems cruel. I’m sure He has a good reason. I can’t think of one, but I’m sure it’s good.
4. My Brain – I used to be a pretty intelligent person. I sometimes think that with every baby I pushed from my body a little more of my brain went with it. When I make a silly mistake, can’t remember something basic, or say something dumb, I always tell my children that it’s because I have given most of my intelligence to them and I have precious little left.
Specifically, I have forgotten how to recall an alarming number of nouns. My teen has dubbed me “Onomatopoeia Mom” due to my habit of substituting sounds for nouns. I can’t remember “vacuum”, but I can imitate the sound it makes and the motion I use to operate it.
Strangely, as I become increasingly noun-impaired over the years, I have noticed a corresponding increase in my reflexes. Sometimes I open a cabinet and catch whatever falls out before I am even consciously aware that something is coming at me. My theory is that when I became a mother the part of my brain that used to store nouns was taken over by the part of my brain that controls reflexes. This is for the safety of my children. I think my brain is pretty smart (or it was back then anyhow) and it decided that reflexes-that-would-make-Spiderman-jealous are more useful than remembering-what-name-has-been-given-to-a-particular-object when it comes to rescuing small people who seem determined to put themselves in danger.
5. My Arms – My left bicep is slightly larger and stronger than my right from many years of carrying a baby or toddler on my left hip so that my right hand is free for use. I’ve also learned how to perform many useful tasks with only one hand (with occasional assistance from my mouth). Oh—and I can open and close all sorts of doors and drawers with one foot while standing on the other. Aren’t I talented?
6. My Back—Carrying children has also shifted my back out of alignment. Doctors have told me how bad it is for my back when I carry a child on one hip, but no doctor has ever told me how I’m supposed to do life with kids and never put them there. Some slings and carriers are really good, but I don’t always have time to get baby and me into a contraption before I respond to what life is throwing at me. And anyhow, my theory is that one of the reasons our hips grow larger during pregnancy is so we’ll have a good spot to stick the baby while we get stuff done.
7. My Sleep – Becoming a mother means forever giving up the luxury of selfishness. Chief among the many sacrifices involved is the opportunity, and later even the ability, to sleep peacefully and deeply. Any sleep disruption during pregnancy is just to get you warmed up for what is to come. It intensifies with many consecutive sleepless nights with a hungry and/or fussy baby. This leaves you with the worst case of brain-fog you’ve ever seen causing you to do brilliant things like put the milk in the pantry and the Cheerios in the fridge. The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is only applicable for the first child. After that, you have at least one other small and needy human to care for.
Then there is the first night your baby actually sleeps for 5-6 consecutive hours and your first thought upon waking is, “I feel like I could take on the world!” Which is immediately followed by intense dread and panic that something must be horribly wrong if you were allowed a good night’s sleep. You have now totally redefined what constitutes a “good night’s sleep.”
As the baby grows to be a child, you realize that the transformation from being difficult to wake up to not being able to stay asleep is complete. Now it takes only whisper from your child to wake you up.
Or bad dream.
Or the distinct sound of imminent barfing.
Nothing gets me out of bed faster than that. A quick reaction time could mean the difference between a simple flush and several loads of stinky laundry.
8. My Eyes – I cannot help but see every person as someone’s child. Every person I meet or whose story I hear was somebody’s baby not too long ago. I even think this way when it comes to really evil people like Hitler and terrorists. I always wonder what his mother thinks of him now.
9. My Chest – Okay, I really debated about listing this one. But it would be a major oversight to neglect this topic. We must address the twin elephants in the room. Breastfeeding is very natural, but that does not mean that new mommies and babies naturally know what they’re doing. While you’re figuring everything out, you get to experience all sorts of fun things like engorgement, leaking at awkward times, painful sores from improper latch on, hickeys when Baby gets off course, and more.
As Baby gets older, he gets more skilled at extracting the yummy goodness and your body gets smarter about estimating how much milk the child can actually consume in a feeding. You’d think it would be smooth sailing now, but no. Now Baby is older, smarter and fascinated by everything around. Unfortunately, when Baby decides to suddenly check out what’s behind her, she usually forgets to let go of the food source first. This can really make you shout “ouch!” and think that maybe you really are Elasta-Gir.
And if you think babies are rough on our breasts, just wait until you try out the pump. When my second baby was born with a cleft palate, I pumped around the clock for months until my pump started to squeak and wheeze with every use. One day my toddler, who was bothered by the irritating sound, covered his little ears with his hands and said, “Turn it off, Mommy!” Oh Child, if you only knew how easy you’ve got it.
It was all totally worth it though to experience the miracle of my body nourishing another human being. And it’s a ton easier to sleep while the baby eats if you don’t have to hold a bottle (See #7).
10. My Stretch Marks – Of course, these add interesting designs to the overall distorted appearance of my midsection. But I’m not just talking about those stretch marks. I also have stretch marks on my mind, my emotions, my heart, my nerves, and across my very soul. Every fiber of my being, every ounce of my will, every self-centered desire or thought has been stretched to encircle these humans God has created through me.
The thought that continually amazes me is that God has intentionally chosen to include us in His special miracle of creating and nurturing a brand new human being who possesses an eternal soul. He could’ve made people anyway He wanted. He is God after all.
In fact, there are examples in the Bible of different methods God has used to make people. God used only one woman to make the human body that Jesus walked around in for 30 plus years (Luke 1:34-35). He used only one man to make the first woman, Eve (Gen 2:21-22). And He used nothing but dirt to make the first man, Adam (Gen 2:7).
God isn’t required to let us be a part of the miracle of creating baby humans, but He has ordained it to be our glorious privilege. May we never take that truth for granted—even when it stretches us and causes us to pee unintentionally.
Can you relate?