The boys are asleep, ages two and four, tucked in their bunk beds with their bunny and bear. It’s the after-hours, filled with dark chocolate and folding laundry. The hours in which mothers remember they are human.
I lean into the bathroom mirror, flecked with toothpaste from the boys’ toothbrushes, find the girl there beneath the tired bags and the smile lines, the girl who was told she would never have children because of the way she’d wrecked her body at thirteen.
I wash my hands slowly, hands which look like my homeschooling Mum’s, who baked bread and homemade granola and taught us across the kitchen table tirelessly. She has brain cancer now and my hands shake a little.
The towel is soft and smells like lavender, and I massage lotion across my skin, remember how dry it used to be when I first got married, how no amount of lotion made it soft. Me being unable to get undressed on my wedding night for all of the flaws I saw in my body, all the angles and the flat sides and the curves. My husband in the bed, waiting, and me holding my champagne glass by the door.
And even as the dress finally dropped to the floor I had resolved to stop eating again because I wanted to be proud of my body.
But no amount of not eating made me feel beautiful, it only made me hungry.
I step upstairs, past the creaky plank, pour myself some tea and grab a cookie. I’m eating now. I’ve learned how to listen to my body. What it’s craving, and this started after the miscarriage. After we lost our little girl, and then I got pregnant again with Aiden. And my body began to speak to me: it began to tell me when it wanted yogurt, when it wanted fruits, when it wanted spaghetti at midnight. And I started to listen.
I started to listen to its creaks and groans, its sighs and songs. I listened to the soundless slide of my bones, to the wooing of my muscles, to my heart pumping oxygen and I began to say Thank You.
And some nights I would lie in the bathtub and watch the swell of my stomach full of a child, dancing, and it was like God himself was hovering over the waters.
Even now, as I eat my cookie in the silence of the living room, I place my hand subconsciously over my womb, the place laced with stretch marks, life’s embroidery. Because it’s sacred, that space which holds creation.
I’ve got more loose ends now. More folds, more flat spaces and curves, and I’m not afraid anymore. To walk into a room. To undress.
My babies saved my body in the wrecking. They filled every cranny, sucked it dry and now every day, with hugs and kisses, they stamp it with approval.
The tea is gone. Cookie crumbs in my lap, and my husband enters the room. Finds me in the chair, leans down over my unwashed head, kisses my cheek.
“You’re beautiful,” he says.
I smile up at him.
Emily Wierenga is wife to a math-teacher husband; mother and foster mother to four boys; an artist, columnist and the author of Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder,Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life After Pregnancy and A Promise in Pieces. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.