Stretch Marks of the Soul

Okay, okay. We all know how it goes. We want our bodies “back” after giving birth. That’s a fair desire. Why would we want to remain a larger version of ourselves once the baby has emerged? It makes all the sense in the world to want to get back into our non-maternity wardrobes, to throw on some wedges, and feel like the pre-baby body is here, and here to stay.

If Orange is the New Black, can’t we potentially live in a world where stretch marks are the new sexy?

As of late, I’ve been beset by the “wait, what? You just had a baby?! How? You don’t look like you’ve ever been pregnant” comments and I have such mixed internal reactions. On the one hand, I notice my stride perks up somewhat when I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window—a bittersweet reminder that I am officially on the other side of pregnancy. On the other hand, I spend a lot of time thinking about women’s bodies and our capacities—pregnancy, childbirth, the transitions through these liminal spaces, the traumas we’ve been through—and I feel compelled to have something to show for mine.

Throughout my pregnancies I have been asked all the seemingly requisite horrifying questions that pour out of well-meaning strangers. “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” is among my favorite, implying that I’m so large there is no humanly way possible that I’m carrying a singleton. I feel like saying, “Are you for real, people?! How do you not know what NOT to say to pregnant ladies?”

Commenting on women’s bodies is a mainstay, and pregnancy is no exception.

I’ve technically been pregnant three times now. I have two healthy children to show for it, and one life-threatening miscarriage that rendered me numb for a time. One medicated birth, an unmedicated D&C by necessity, and an unmedicated birth by choice. And although the births were gorgeous and smooth, there is no way around the fact that birth is trauma, for both mother and baby. Trauma sticks. All kinds, be they bodily or psychological.

Experiences of trauma puncture something profound—perhaps perforating our very perceptions of invulnerability.

In fact, nearly two years later, I can still hear the grinding sound of the D&C machine, it’s gut-wrenching purpose and pulls of placenta. This, undoubtedly, is seared into my cells and cemented in the crevices of my psyche. I wonder if time will eventually evaporate this scene. I’m not so sure trauma works like that. Time helps but does it ultimately heal?

Equally as indelible are the metamorphic memories of my son’s first cries as he entered the world and the initial moments of quietly cuddling my daughter after living with so much fear throughout this pregnancy.

My shrinking postpartum body doesn’t show obvious signs of these traumas, the pleasures, its multifarious history.

So while I’m back in my little jeans and feeling a sense of relief to be, I have loads of body-based memories that beckon me to somehow “look” like I’ve been pregnant—not once, not twice, but three times. I don’t necessarily miss my sagging maternity pants or my ill-fitting shirts from those years. It’s not about the clothes. And maybe it’s not about my actual shape either. I just don’t want to feel like “you look like you were never pregnant” means that we are actively erasing the irreversibly intense journey pregnancy can be.

We need to examine why we are so determined to get rid of the proof of what our bodies just went through, what our bodies create, what our bodies destroy. It’s like we are destroying evidence at a crime scene and yet no crime has been committed. It is antithetical. And yet we are dead set on abolishing that part of ourselves.

Is it as simple as cultural ideals and media frenzies—the rush to erase maternity—or is it something deeper?

What if we just stopped drinking the Kool-Aid on this topic and had more prowess around pregnant bodies and the postpartum period and maybe even surrounding motherhood more generally? Sharing our stories of pride and heartbreak might be the very antidote to our cultural cover-up—reminding us to acknowledge that what happened, happened. We changed irrevocably, even if our pant size returns to what it once was.

I’m trying to figure out how best to honor my pregnancies—all three—and the body that housed them. They don’t necessarily need to be emboldened in my postpartum size and I guess stretch marks of the soul are the stretch marks that aren’t readily visible to anyone other than me. If we work so hard to erase the traces of our body’s history, we might also, unbeknownst to us, dampen down the evidence of our humanness.

On another plain lives the fullness of my belly while pregnant, the juiciness of my joy, and the complexities of loss.

My speedily shrinking postpartum jean size doesn’t reveal the other stuff.

Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a Los Angeles based psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. She is the creator of the viral #IHadAMiscarriage hashtag campaign that she kicked off with her first New York Times piece in 2014 and launched a line of pregnancy loss cards in October 2015 in honor of Pregnancy/Baby Loss Awareness Month: Find her online: and follow her on Twitter: @DrZucker.

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