Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My mother's apron: It's not what you think it is.


This is an apology. Sorry, Paula­, no pregnant woman should have had to see that.

The story starts like this: After the twins were born it’s fair to say that my belly area became something like a fifth appendage. Need to store a few small items but nary a pocket in sight? I can hold your pen, a few coins, and a Polly Pocket under the fold of my “pendulous apron.” In less frightening visual terms, it’s also known as a “mother’s apron.” That sounds quaint. An apron rimmed in rickrack perhaps, not one shot through with silvery stretch marks.

Mine, while useful for squirreling away small snacks, is not so terrible that it can’t be flattened down and tucked into a sturdy pair of Spanx. In fact, when I was in the throes of my post-twin workout craze, my tight abdomen paired with tight jeans tricked onlookers into exclaiming, “I can’t believe you had twins!”

Fooled you.

One friend, Paula, pregnant with her first child, couldn’t get over how fabulously flat my belly was. We were at a girls’ night out with half of a dozen other friends when she began complimenting me. With an optimism I should have guessed had something to do with her own hopes for a fit post-baby body, she enthused about my tight abs. This made me feel, obviously, pretty pumped about my body image. But it also conjured in me a need to show her it was a parlor trick with denim. I wanted to prove my membership in the club of women who have come out on the other side of pregnancy with stretch marks, scars, a weak bladder, and the facial hair of a circus bearded lady. No poseur, I.

Wanting to show her my club membership card, for no conceivable reason, I pulled out the flap of belly that was tucked behind my waistband.

Less handy in the kitchen than I might like. Useless apron.

She went pale. Somewhere in her psyche a toned, hot young thang cried out “DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE!?!?!?” Her fear over one day having to tote around a third, squishy boob stretched from hip to hip in the vicinity of her still taut abdomen (I say vicinity because it’s awfully hard to pin that flap down to a permanent location, it’s just so migratory) was palpable. In short, I had scared the crap out of her.

“Don’t worry!” I backpedaled, trying to undo the damage. “I had twins, this won’t happen to you!” If I could have swaddled her and rocked her on my lap, I would have, with a bottle full of whiskey to calm her nerves.

Slowly the stress abated as we all chatted across the table, distracting each other from my revelation. But I think it’s fair to assume that, sometimes, when she closes her eyes before bed, she’s startled out of sleepiness by the great white reality of my apron.

Ultimately, Paula had a healthy baby girl. She was spared the mother’s apron as evidenced by the post-baby belly tattoo she got on her still firm tummy. But I’m sure she has some physical change to lament. We all do.

I've yet to meet a previously pregnant person who relishes the loss of breast tissue and skin tone. But there is something chummy about being able to share the battle wounds of pregnancy. “My episiotomy almost went all the way to my back door,” a woman might admit in hushed tones over bran muffins at book club. “Yeah, I have a varicose vein that goes from ankle to butt cheek,” her friend could say.

Or maybe there are stretch marks that run up your back? Does one breast hang lower than its mate? A million things can change with your body after pregnancy and it’s not always easy to shrug it off and love what’s left.

These days I sometimes fixate on the problem areas (“problem” as if my saddle bags are the type to interrupt class by standing up on a desk and flipping the bird at the teacher). There are many ways in which I would like to improve the look of my body. None of them include Pilates or expensive creams. I've passed that stage and require nothing less than a surgical intervention to put things back where they started.

However, I like to think that at any given moment, myself---any of us, all of us---are turning someone’s head. Say, the guy in the car next to you at a red light who winks, not because he knows a thing about your training bra sized-breasts or your pancake belly, but because he likes your smile. Maybe there’s someone behind you at the grocery checkout who likes your rear view and envies it for herself. Your shoulders, neck, arms, legs, curves and contours, twinkling eyes, and bubbly wit are drawing appreciative looks at any given moment.

My neck and shoulders remain rather svelte despite getting no attention from me whatsoever. Take that, pregnancy!

The best way I can make up for my gaffe, my moment as the boogeyman to my pregnant friend, is to say that there are still lots of things I like about my body. And even more---especially since becoming a mother---that I like about the woman I've become. Let’s all of us veteran moms, whose bodies have been in the trenches, do the would-be mothers of today a favor. Let’s smile, twinkle, and be witty.  We should always assume that a pregnant woman is watching us live comfortably, happily in our bodies, flanked by our families, and thinking, “I hope I look exactly like her post-baby. Smile and all.”

***

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