I've always been a girls' girl, more at home in the company of women. But over the years, as one by one my female friends became mothers while I battled with fertility demons, I felt like I stopped fitting in. I sat on the sidelines of more conversations than I can say; one particular recurring theme being "How having children has messed up my body".
The conversation goes something like this, "my stomach has never been the same since pregnancy - I used to have abs!" followed by comments on boobs, stretch marks and scars. I find myself sitting in silence. It's not that I can't relate to bodily changes - but mine have been caused by miscarriages, surgeries, injecting increasingly heavy doses of hormones, and comfort eating when all of it failed. I too have forgotten what my stomach muscles looked like in my kickboxing days, but no one wants to hear the story of losing one's abs to lost pregnancies and IVF. It makes people uncomfortable and kills the camaraderie, so I kept quiet.
In my outsider state, I envied the women whose bodily changes were rewarded so richly with children. At times I felt resentful... I paid the price but didn't get the reward, and yet I lost the right to voice my complaints also. I felt bitterly that my physical changes were markers of trauma and loss, and that I would gladly take the changes that resulted in a live baby.
And then... I got pregnant. Years later. Out of the blue. After working out the chances of me giving birth to a living child was less than 1/2 per cent. And I swore that every physical change of pregnancy would be valued as part of this gift. I even prayed for nausea and mood swings so I could feel confidence that I was actually pregnant.
I felt both terrified and grateful (and so tired!) for the duration of the pregnancy - never taking any particular outcome for granted. I noted my physical changes with a detached fascination, but the last thing I wanted to do was begrudge any of it. I was happy to sacrifice the body I knew on the altar of the fertility gods. It seemed like the smallest thing in the world.
Somehow though, in the last weeks of my pregnancy when pre-eclampsia and the accompanying football-shaped feet set in, I found myself forgetting my pact and wondering if my feet would fit into my shoes again, or if I'd have to start shopping at those special comfort shoe stores. I forgot that physical changes are calls for self compassion, not vanity or self judgment. I forgot that my pillowy feet were markers of my great fortune. I forgot that only months before I'd resented this very trait of oblivion to all those women who fight battles with their bodies without this precious reward.
And this forgetfulness may have continued if it werent for a photo on social media. A friend had posted a collage of memories of an old classmate I'd lost touch with since school, and it hit me that the classmate had died. Flipping over to her social media page where she chronicled her illness, I saw one of her last photos - swollen feet with defiantly and courageously painted toenails.
It was a punch to the heart. My memory lapse was gone. I remembered the old me who sat in self imposed exile as the mothers talked of the bodies they once had. I looked at this photo of swollen feet, the last photo before death. And I looked at mine, the small price paid for new life. My tears were of remorse and gratitude for the swollen feet I was dealt, and so much compassion for those so bravely born by my classmate.
We all carry our bodies with the tattoos and memories and histories of our lives worn on them. Sometimes secretly and with shame; sometimes bared to the world; sometimes even held with pride and courage. And if I can only do one thing to honour my old classmate and her pedicured, swollen feet it will be this - wear the history of my body with courage and compassion, and encourage other women to do the same.
I'd love to hear from you - how have you learned to hold your body with more compassion? And if this is something you struggle with, you are warmly invited to the free Body Love Challenge. Every body deserves to be loved.