To be absolutely honest, I was dumbstruck when I found out that Annabella was going to be a girl. I believed right from the beginning of my pregnancy that I was going to have a boy. In fact, I would have put money on it. So when the doctor said the ‘G’ word, I was in shock. After the shock, the fear set in. How was I going to raise a girl? I was a 29-year-old woman who grew up without a mom. I didn’t know the first thing about french braids, fashion, accessorizing, and….tutus?
Growing up I was never told that I was beautiful. I think my Nana used to do the royal wave when I walked into the room, and she’d sing, “Here she comes, Miss America…” but I’m fairly certain that was just because even then, I had a penchant for the dramatic.
No, I was called the black sheep, the troublemaker, the daughter who was just like her mother. I was never pretty or cute or lovely. I wasn’t graceful or stunning – those compliments were always saved for my sister, or my girlfriends. I always felt like I was too much of or too less than. I was never somewhere in between.
So I retreated inside of me. I picked up a pen, some headphones, some substance to push the feelings down, and turned myself into those things that couldn’t be defined in certain terms. I believed that I could never be what they wanted me to be. Instead, I became funny and witty. The best friend. The pal. The girl who’d be “so pretty if only she lost a little bit of weight.”
I spent 30 years believing that I wasn’t worthy.
Then I had her, a daughter of my own. I look at her and all I see is perfection. I can’t imagine the idea of not telling her that she is exactly how I see her – bright and beautiful and shining and magic. I loathe the thought of her growing up thinking that if she just did this, or just ate that, or did more of [insert self-esteem wrenching comment here], then she would be better off. “Better off.” Better off being a carbon copy? A copy of a copy of someone else? Someone who has been copied so many times that the lines start to blur and distort? No! Absolutely not. But how could I help her harness that individuality, that pride, that self-esteem that I never had?
Shortly after Annabella turned 5, a few months after her brother had been born, I was lying down next to her after just getting the baby to nap. I noticed that my shirt was still lifted from the newborn nursing session and I saw my daughter looking at my lumpy, wrinkled, striped skin. “Mommy? What are those?” she asked.
I said, “What are what?”
She said, “These.” And she traced my stretch marks with her fingers. I immediately gasped, sucked in my stomach and covered it up with my shirt. In a matter of seconds, the last 34 years flashed through my mind.
Adolescence. Awkwardness. Puberty. Birth control. Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Depression. Cutting. Anxiety. Losing 30 pounds. Gaining 40. Losing 25. Gaining 35. Sobriety. Recovery. Losing 15. Gaining 10. Pregnancy. Gaining 20. Losing. Pregnancy. Gaining. Losing.
My skin, stretched. Stomach, breasts, arms, thighs.
Over & over & over again.
Self-loathing. Food addiction replacing drugs replacing alcohol replacing feelings. Purging. Healthy. Unhealthy. Ping-ponging. Always back & forth.
Body. Body. Body.
Hate. Hate. Hate.
(Hide it. Pretend. Fake it for her. She doesn’t have to know. She doesn’t ever have to hate.)
“You know how you and baby brother grew in my tummy? My body worked really hard to make sure that you both grew nice and big and healthy. So when you were growing, my tummy grew, too. And it streeeeeeeetched like bubble gum. These lines are kind of like my body’s memory of you and Griffin.”
She looked at me and said, “Will I have those lines when I grow up?”
I just smiled and replied, “I don’t know baby, but you’ll be amazing no matter what.”
“You’re beautiful, mommy. When I grow up I hope I have lines like yours,” she said, as she curled up next to me and continued watching her cartoon.
I pulled her close and the tears began to well. No, my sweet daughter, YOU are beautiful and smart and brave and capable and talented and good.
No. Matter. What.