When I was in high school I was obsessed with my abs. Like most girls growing up in the era of Britney Spears, I worked hard to get a rock-solid stomach. I even got my bellybutton pierced so I could show off my six-pack while I strutted my stuff in a string bikini.

 

But despite my poolside manner, I wasn’t a confident person. Strangely enough, confidence didn’t come along until I got my first set of stretch marks.

 

 

My First Stretch Marks

I started noticing them when I was pregnant with my first child, almost seven years ago now. I was eight months along and my breasts were getting bigger. AA bra-size-me was thrilled at the size increase, until I noticed the red lines at the bottom of my breasts one day.

 

What was wrong with me? What were these things? They couldn’t be stretch marks, right? You can’t get those on your boobs, can you?

 

Yes, you can, said a quick Google search. Disappointed, I tried to forget about them and told myself at least they weren’t on my legs. Or, God forbid, my stomach.

 

But as the weeks flew by, my stomach grew. It exploded. By the time I reached 38 weeks, my stomach had stretched beyond its limits, and deep red marks clawed at my midsection and told me my body would never be the same.

 

My Body Was Different

After my daughter was born, I didn’t even consider the state of my body for several months. Between getting the hang of it all and sneaking in sleep whenever I could, I kind of gave myself a break for a while.

 

But when summer came around and I got out my old bikini, I realized my body was totally different now. My stomach was saggy and there were lines across my bellybutton that weren’t there before. My thighs had little stretch marks that I hadn’t even noticed. And if you looked closely enough (which, of course, I knew everyone would do), you could even see some marks on my backside, just beneath my bikini bottoms.

 

How did I get these things!? I used coconut oil. I gained a healthy amount of weight. I drank a ton of water. Where did they come from, and would they go away?

 

 

Where Do They Come From?

Pregnancy-related stretch marks are often thought to be caused by the skin stretching too much to accommodate pregnancy weight gain. According to a review in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, they also result from changes in estrogen and relaxin levels, as well as increased stress on connective tissues.

 

The exact causes remain a bit mysterious, but one fact remains: a lot of people have stretch marks. I am always reminded of this when I work with postnatal clients and I test for diastasis recti. If the client is comfortable with it, I usually ask her to show me her stomach during the test so I can accurately assess for depth, width, and any protrusion in the abdominal area. During that test, there is often a disclaimer from the client - "It didn't always look like this," or something to that effect. I understand, but I also get the impression many women think they are the only people with stretch marks.

 

I always reassure them that they're not and that I've seen them before, on myself and on others. Ninety percent of women who complete a pregnancy walk away with stretch marks. Ninety percent. And of course, pregnancy isn’t the only cause of stretch marks. Men can get them, too, as can women who haven’t had any children.

 

Will They Go Away?

That question is a hard one to answer. It’s also one of the most common worries I hear from moms, whether they have one child or ten. After having three children, most of my own stretch marks have faded, and many of them are no longer visible unless you look really closely. But I still have loose skin on my stomach around and above my bellybutton. And my bellybutton piercing isn't very sexy now.

 

One thing is for certain – my stomach now is not the stomach I had when I was strutting the pool deck in my bikini. My body is not the same body I had before I had kids, period. There are some days when I lament that fact. Those are the days I can’t complete a workout that was easy for me before my last pregnancy. Or when I’m at the beach and see all the girls walking around in bikinis  without a care in the world. There are days I wonder how I ever did that myself.

 

 

And then there are the days when I am happy my body will never be the same. The days I don’t really care how long it takes me to run a mile, because my kids are at home waiting for me and cheering me on. The days when, instead of trying to look like one of Charlie's Angels, I just enjoy hanging out with my kids at the beach (that's me above with my oldest daughter, during our first postpartum beach trip six years ago). The days I see clearly how becoming a mother has pushed me beyond my limits and helped me grow into a better version of myself.

 

My body will never be the same as it was before, but I am happier now in my skin than the teenager from ten years ago. Now I don’t want to be in shape because I have to prove anything to anyone, or more importantly, because I have to prove anything to myself. I want to be in shape so I can have the fullest life possible with my children and loved ones.

 

Motherhood has pushed me beyond my self-imposed limits, and I have the marks to show for it. I wouldn’t say I necessarily love them, but I am learning how to look at them without hating how I look in the mirror. I am learning to acknowledge them and see what they represent: a journey that has taken me out of my comfort zone and deeper into the adventure that is life.

 

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.

Photo 3 courtesy of Nicole Crawford.

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