I was expecting some permanent physical changes after pregnancy, labour and birth. I’d read enough to know that I wouldn’t immediately ‘bounce back’ and that, in some places, I would likely always look a little bit different. Despite what the beauty myth might have us believe, I never truly thought I could do something as life altering as birth a baby and not have that written on my skin.
The changes came.
My hips are wider.
My feet are bigger (although, thankfully, not by much as they were not small to begin with).
My belly button, although it became an innie again, is wrinkled and looks a bit stretched.
My hair is thicker, an unexpected bonus. It never fell out after E. was born like all the books told me it would. It’s still straight, still fine, still the same brown. There just happens to be more of it now. Even my hairdresser has noticed.
There’s been one more unexpected change, but this one hasn’t been as welcome.
My skin is a mess.
I have more acne on my face than I did when I was a teenager.
No one prepared me for this. No pregnancy manual discussed it. No friend with children volunteered it. Not once, amid all the discussion of sagging, leaking breasts, and night sweats and torn nether regions did anyone ever add as an afterthought, “And by the way, after you wean your baby, your skin might decide it’s going to be a teenager again.”
I’ve tried all manner of things to improve it. I tried face washes designed for acne-prone skin and washes for sensitive skin. I tried only putting coconut oil on it, experimenting with the theory that adult skin breaks out because it is too dry, and stripping the skin of its oil would just cause more acne. I tried not putting anything on it at all except water.
Nothing seemed to make much of a difference. Now my skin has good weeks and bad weeks, but it is never clear, like it always used to be. My skin tone is never even, like it always used to be.
Last month, when my face had been getting progressively worse for over a year, I threw up my hands in defeat and, at the age of thirty-four, started to wear foundation so I could go out into the street without believing that everyone who passed me was recoiling in horror from my skin.
The day I realized I didn’t want to leave the house without makeup, I cried.
I’ve never worn makeup, you see.
I had to get my youngest sister to teach me how to wear it.
All my adult life, I’ve faced the world in the skin I was born with. I would use eye shadow and mascara occasionally, for special occasions, but never anything more than that. And yes, that meant that most days I had dark circles under my eyes, and as I got older there were a few fine lines popping up here and there, but those imperfections were a part of who I was.
I hadn’t realized how much not wearing makeup was a part of my identity until I felt I had to take it away.
This probably sounds self-indulgent. In the grand scheme of things, I know that this change is a minor one. When it comes to changes after pregnancy, I’ve escaped many of the other possibilities.
My belly has no stretch marks.
I don’t pee when I laugh.
I ended up with only one, tiny tear. It may have precluded my starting a new career as a porn star, as my midwife told me with a laugh, but I haven’t had cause to think about it since the stitches dissolved. I have friends whose births were violent, whose babies ripped them to pieces as they came into the world. Their recovery was slower, more painful than mine.
I’m embarrassed, sometimes, by how much this one change has upset me. It’s derailed my self-confidence, poisoned my self-image, led me to shy away from mirrors.
It’s left me wondering whether it was just another form of vanity to go out into the world in my naked skin, to announce (let’s admit it, a bit smugly) whenever the subject came up that “I don’t wear makeup.”
I thought I was refusing to buy into the female beauty project, that I believed I was beautiful, inside and out, without any enhancements. The truth is, I’ve now realized, I believed I was beautiful only until I believed I wasn’t anymore, and then I made a hard dash for the products I’ve always scorned.
My appearance, it turns out, matters a lot more to me than I thought it did.
There have been a lot of self-realizations since becoming a mother.
This has been one of the harder ones to accept.
I was prepared for change. In some ways, I was looking forward to it. My son came only after a thirty-five month battle with infertility that left me riddled with scars, nearly all of them invisible. When I became a mother I was ready, eager even, to have something mark my body as having finally succeeded at what it was supposed to be able to do “naturally”.
I just wish it hadn’t been on my face.
Featured Image credit: Tim Hoggarth on Flickr