This picture was taken the morning after my daughter was born.
A few hours before it was taken, when it was still dark outside and the nurses took Gia to test her hearing and my husband tried to close his eyes for a few minutes, I snuck quietly and carefully into the bathroom to attempt my first shower.
It was incredibly painful and scary, but slightly less humiliating than when the nurses take you to the bathroom to pee for the first time after delivery. It felt like my internal organs were going to spill out onto the floor and the pain was so intense I winced through the fastest slow shower of my entire life. Standing up was agony, but so was sitting down, so I decided it was time to make myself look presentable.
As I stood in front of the tiny bathroom mirror putting on mascara in the fluorescent light with the soft drone of the tv on in the background, I wished on a deep, deep level that I could be one of those women who didn’t care what they looked like. But I did. So I stood there in pain and blow-dried my hair.
Immediately after Gia was born I remember Will saying “Oh my God – your stomach is completely flat already!” I looked down and thought “Oh my God! I’m going to be one of the lucky ones that leaves the hospital looking like they did before they ever saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test!”
Right before we left the hospital, I had Will take the above picture of me with our new baby girl. I was excited to share it with friends and family – the “we are finally going home!” picture.
As I opened the pictures that were just snapped, her voice startled me.
“Woah!”She said in surprise. “Look at your belly! You still look pregnant! Isn’t that supposed to be gone after the baby is out?” I looked at the photo she was looking at and realized she was right. But she wasn’t done. “You look so tired! You can’t even tell that you went to all the trouble of taking a shower and getting ready.” I looked at the photo, ashamed. She finished her blow with her final comment: “I definitely would not post that to Facebook if I were you!”
So I didn’t. She was right. I looked terrible. What she was really saying was, I wouldn’t post that to Facebook if I were you, because then everybody will know you aren’t perfect.
Everybody will know you are NOT one of the “lucky ones who leave the hospital looking like they did before they every saw two pink lines”. Everybody will know you are not naturally beautiful. Everyone will know that the all-natural delivery you just went through was terrible – nothing like all the blogs and forums promised you it would be like if you chose to go epidural free. Everyone will know you are scared. Everyone will know you are exhausted. Everyone will know that your old self died the second your daughter took her first breath and she is never coming back.
I could not post that photo, because then everybody would know. In fact, I couldn’t have friends over to visit for over a week, because then they would know too. They would know my house wasn’t clean and I wasn’t beautiful anymore, and I wasn’t skinny yet, and that I was scared of being a mom and that I was scared of this new life.
A week later Will and I went on our first date after Gia’s birth. We went to dinner at our favorite local sushi restaurant and, as usual, I wanted to commemorate the occasion with a photo. Here is a small summary of what I was feeling the second this photo was snapped: I was about ready to cry. Cry because I was terrified to leave my daughter for the first time. Cry because I was so beyond sleep deprived that I didn’t even know what to call this level of exhaustion. Cry because I was so overwhelmed with my “new life”. Cry because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown thinking about Will going back to work in just a few days. Cry because nothing I put on my body fit quite right. Cry because I was still uncomfortable, still in pain, getting used to breastfeeding, and trying to let the rest of my body heal. Cry because I was so thankful to be about to leave for an entire sit-down meal. Cry because I missed really talking to Will. Cry because I really just didn’t know what else to do.
But instead I smiled and posed and took this picture. I think I needed it for proof to the world that I was thriving. I was going to post it with the caption of “Mommy and Daddy’s first date night after baby!” And people would tell me how wonderful we all looked and how great it was for us to get out of the house. Virtual friends would think I really had it all together.
Then I looked at the picture and it was like someone stuck a pin in my perfect, post-partum balloon. I saw right through my own act. And there she was again, that voice that criticized me the day after birth. “Ok, you CANNOT post that. How do you STILL have a belly?? And your face looks fatter than it did even when you were pregnant! You should have moved Gia a little more to the center to cover yourself up.”
She said it again and I listened. I nodded sadly with tears filling my eyes. I couldn’t post this picture because it proved I was a failure. It proved I wasn’t perfect.
This is what I want to say to that woman, the one who criticized me. The voice that was, in fact, my own.
Oh, Ashley. You don’t know this now, but you will stumble across these pictures again in fifteen months and your heart will about break in half. You will look at these pictures and hear that same voice. And you will want to reach into the screen and give yourself a long, hard hug. Because you will learn, through a lot of reading and sharing and talking and researching and meeting other women and reading the experiences of other women – you will learn that life is so much better when you stop trying to be the picture of perfection. When you stop trying to prove to yourself and the outside world that you have it all together. When you stop trying to push the idea that everything comes easily and naturally and effortlessly and beautifully and perfectly.
You will look back on these pictures and be okay that you don’t look perfect. You will look at them and feel a great tenderness for those moments that are over and feel far away. You will love these pictures because they have a story with them. You will love that you didn’t have a perfect experience because it makes you more compassionate and softer and more gentle towards others.
These pictures will remind you how frustrating it is to grasp at perfection and to come up short every time. They will remind you that, in fact, NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE 24 HOURS AFTER BIRTH. And also, in fact, PEOPLE HAVE LIVES AND PROBLEMS AND STRUGGLES OF THEIR OWN AND PROBABLY SPEND LESS THAN 1/10TH OF A SECOND GLANCING AT THIS PICTURE IN THEIR NEWSFEED.
Essentially, Ashley – there are bigger things in life than taking the perfect post baby picture. You don’t know it yet, but you will.
You don’t know it yet, but your life is about to change. And its going to be amazing, and its going to be hard. And it will be nowhere near perfect. But you will love it. At times you will be so overcome with happiness and contentment and joy and pride that it makes you cry all over again. Other times you will be tired and unsure and overwhelmed. But mostly the first thing, the happy thing. You will love yourself more than you ever have before. You will raise the most perfect little girl ever and every day you will fall more and more madly in love with this creature who turned your life upside down and made you re-think absolutely everything.
You are so, so lucky that your life isn’t the picture perfect you hoped it would be. It’s so, so much better.