These days I am rocking a mom bod. Sometimes it bothers me, but I don’t freak out about it and start madly dieting and exercising. Having a perfect body is not my main priority, any more. But it wasn’t always like this.
It seems ridiculous that even as early as the age of eight, I was never satisfied with how my stomach looked in clothes or in a bathing suit. I remember comparing mine to those of all the girls around me, convinced mine was never quite flat enough, that I wasn’t attractive, and would never find someone who loved me.
Once I got to college, the focus on my weight reached a point of semi-obsession. I jogged in addition to walking a couple of miles between classes and home each day. I deprived myself of food and relentlessly reviewed the quantity and content of everything I’d eaten in a day. Endlessly checking the fit of my clothes in the mirror with a hatefully critical eye. Did these pants look tighter on my ass than they did a week ago?
I could never figure out the secret to other girls remaining thin, but I found myself unable to compete. Being skinny meant being worthy of love. Still, I’ve always enjoyed food and had trouble denying it the way I assumed other girls could. I wanted french fries. I wanted to eat bagel bites in my dorm room and stuff my face with the pasta of the day at the cafeteria.
Then, a couple of things happened that changed everything about how I saw and treated my body.
First, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. An incurable, uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous disease. It causes inflammation of the colon during periods of “flaring,” which can cause bouts of bloody diarrhea and damage to the large intestine. It’s the kind of disease that’s embarrassing.
When these symptoms started, my worst fear was cancer. I worried this would keep me from living my life, marrying my soon-to-be-husband and fulfilling a life’s purpose I had yet to discover. I wanted to have kids! I wanted to have a career I actually liked! After the diagnosis, I was relieved I would still be able to live a somewhat normal life, but devastated I had a disease that would never go away, and would keep me from eating exactly as I wanted to.
Ulcerative colitis(UC) gave me a new appreciation for health and feeling good on a daily basis, because most days, I was no longer at ease in my body. I stopped weight-obsessing and thinking about what foods I could eat to stay thin, and started thinking about what foods I could eat that would keep my colon happy.
In addition to diet, stress is a factor in aggravating UC. It can be a vicious cycle, so finding an anti-stress regimen was incredibly important. I got my butt in the acupuncture chair, on the meditation cushion and on the therapy couch regularly. I rested a lot and took a permanent break from the high-stress lawyer lifestyle that had partially broken me down. This was my path to healing. I fulfilled one of my dreams by getting a job as a gardening assistant and spent my days happily outdoors. The year following my recovery was a good one.
Only a year after learning I had this autoimmune disease, I became pregnant. Six weeks or so into the pregnancy, I learned that my husband and I were expecting twins. I lay on a table at the doctor’s office, mouth hanging open, as I processed the news. My husband started making jokes about checking to make sure a third wasn’t hiding somewhere, while I tried to smack him from a reclining position with an ultrasound wand…um…inserted.
Around that same time, I experienced a UC flare. Responsible for two little lives, I felt like a failure when I noticed the dreaded blood in my stool. Couldn’t I just stay healthy for them? I was angry and so afraid. I lost weight. Already I’d had hideous 24/7 “morning” sickness, and now I was having diarrhea, and I was totally freaked out that the babies would not get the nourishment they needed. I had to go on medication and worried about the potential effects on the babies.
Terrified and miserable, I made an appointment with a nutritionist. She gave me a diet which I religiously followed in efforts to get my weight up and provide precious calories to the babies. Soon, I was very grateful to be packing on pounds. My belly grew to enormous proportions over the next months. I didn’t care. The babies were born healthy at 37 weeks, and this gave me a kind of gratitude I had never before experienced.
These days, my belly is stretched permanently, it seems, skin sagging, stretch marks crisscrossing it like a map of where my children grew. Below that the skin hangs down, wattle-like, over the line where they cut me open to remove two tiny human beings.
My whole body is bigger, my breasts giving in to gravity after their hard work. Extra pounds are strapped on everywhere because I have little time to exercise, and to procure, prepare and consume healthy meals. I have joint pain and other weird symptoms I never experienced before pregnancy.
Despite all of this, my concept of my body and how it looks is probably healthier than it ever has been. A lot of that is because I’ve seen it heroically (yes, heroically!) carry two babies to term despite the odds. It’s also because I’ve seen my body cope as well as it can with an autoimmune disease.
This body I have, in spite of its flaws, is capable of miraculous feats, worthy of my love.
Katie Curlee Hamblen lives in Nashville with her husband, two babies and two dogs. She is a recovering lawyer who is still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up.