WARNING: these images are of a cast of my body and fairly graphic.
I have struggled with body image for ages. But this pregnancy it has gone into overdrive. I am so awed by what womens’ bodies are capable of and how they are designed to stretch and accommodate and sustain a whole life (and don’t get me started on how incredible it is that we create an entire organ during pregnancy! holla at your placenta!!) but I have a very hard time transferring that excitement to my own body packing on the padding.
Pregnancy does something to me. I become simultaneously SO proud of my body, what it is doing, how well it is working, how incredible the design is and, in the same moment, I am filled with total loathing. So much weight, So much stretched out, So empty of milk and sagging while still growing… it can feel grotesque to be such a huge bulked up version of myself.
A dear friend and artist wrote me and extended the offer to cast my belly, so, full of my sweet Harbor baby, I couldn’t say no. It felt like I would be saying no to Harbor. Saying I was ashamed. And I am working so hard to not be.
She arrived on a sunny Saturday morning and we got to it.
One of the main reasons I wanted to do a cast was just to see how it felt! I am a really tactile person and I knew I would like the feeling of it. But otherwise I was kind of at a loss… would I really want to hang a life-size version of my body on my wall? No. Likely not. So what would this be other than just a fun experience? Well, that came to us pretty quickly after we peeled off the cast.
I was at a loss. That space that my belly holds is just.so.big. I was astounded. I have been known to say “how can a whole baby fit in there!” but seeing my belly off of myself it was pretty clear that my body was made to fit a baby in it. That round dome looked cozy and perfect to hold a whole baby, and just the right size.
I let the cast dry for a couple of days (and Nolie’s too!) and just looked at it a lot. It intimidated me. I felt awed by its size and how much I knew was happening inside of that belly but I also felt repelled. How could I be so big? How could my breasts look like that? How could I let myself get to this…
There is a funny thing about body image stuff. The less aware I am of my body the more I am “ok” with it. If I can ignore it, just live in it and not spend any time thinking about it, looking at it or wondering about it, the “easier” life is. I can eat anything, not exercise and just not care. But my body deteriorates within that, and my self image suffers too; internally the words don’t shut off- just because I have quit the mirror. But I Feel better in some weird way because I am really disconnected from myself, my movement, my feelings and how I feel in my skin.
Having my cast laying there, on the washing machine, was this daily image of me- but not me- that I was facing. And slowly it grew more and more beautiful to me. Odd and beautiful, overfull and still just right.
I decided to decorate it, cover it in affirmations and hang it near the birth tub in our room. To take the time to pray and think about what words I knew I needed to write on my body to make it an encouragement to myself and a piece of art and not loathing. I knew that I needed to sit with this piece and really look at it and realize all that it is and has done. That this belly looks so swollen because my entire baby is being sustained by it. That my breasts look like they do because not only are they preparing to be the total source of nutrition for my littlest girl but they are still the source of a lot of comfort, and being used daily, by my big girl too. They have grown and shrunk, filled and emptied and are about to do it all over again.
Both my belly and breasts are beautiful. Both deserve words of affirmation and care written all over them in paint and in my mind, regardless of how they look. The words I poured onto this cast are the words I need to swim in daily.
I spent a good chunk of time after this just crying. Took a hot shower and talked to Harbor about how incredibly designed women are. That WE can do this. That she knows what to do and that (as hard as I fight it) my body knows what to do too. That we are designed with each other in mind. That she and her sister were both made perfectly to fit out of me and no matter how they emerge their births are a beautiful first page of our lives together.
I chose the words Breathe, Strong, Brave, Enough and Fearfully and Wonderfully Made- those adorn this piece of art. This art that is my body and has and is housing my children. I cried over the words. It was extremely cathartic for me to remember that those words don’t need to come from someone else, I don’t need to be “enough” or right for anyone because I am designed as enough. I am made right. And I am enough for my girls and my God.
I highly suggest doing this beautiful ritual if you are pregnant and even if you aren’t. Taking time alone to sit with it and think about what that shape means for you and to you. Speak, write or pray some words over it that fill you with too much emotion to contain.
Thank you so much Janette, I don’t have words.
If you are in the Seattle area and looking to do a cast (for any reason) or need a doula, please check out my sweet friend and her beautiful work.