|Original sketch by Gillian Chapman|
Last night as I got out of the tub and ready for bed I studied myself in the mirror, thinking about our conversation. Our bodies really are an amazing thing. Most of the time I only look at mine from a critical point of view, constantly monitoring the incremental signs of aging, wear and tear, and the results of exercise, or lately, my lack of exercise. Living with a 16-year old mini version of myself is a constant reminder of how much my body has changed over the years. My daughter is in her prime as I'm slipping into middle age. Our bodies change as we age. Like it or not, they're physical manifestations of our life experiences and choices.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my body dramatically. Any woman who has nursed a baby knows what I'm talking about! Sure, I could have restored some parts to their former glory with plastic surgery, but I love my body. I'm comfortable in my own skin, even if it is saggy in some spots now. I literally sacrificed my body for my daughter, and I'd do it again. It was a small price to pay for the gift of carrying her, feeding her and being a mom.
The small scar on my lower back is new. It's still red and very visible, a bright reminder of the pain I experienced last year and the surgery I had to fix my damaged disc and nerve. I'm still working on regaining the strength and flexibility in my back. It's a gradual process, just like the gradual way my scar is lessening and fading.
My legs. My poor legs. I used to love looking at the muscles in my legs, reminders of the hard work I'd done, the result of hours and hours of running and working out. Those muscles aren't what they used to be, especially in my right leg. It too shows the evidence of the challenges I faced last year. My calf muscle is shrunken and small. I don't know if it will ever again be symmetrical with my other leg. The nerve damage in it may be permanent.
My left knee has faint scars around the kneecap, the result of knee scope surgery years ago. They remind me of the pain that was once so bad I could hardly walk or sleep without discomfort. The pain still bothers me when I run, but I've learned to manage it over the years. I decided I wouldn't let it be an excuse to stop me from doing the things I want to, like running.
My belly button has two small scars, reminders of the brief period in my life when I had a belly piercing. Yes, I once thought that was cool! I was on vacation in Brazil and it seemed like the perfect souvenir from an amazing trip. The belly button ring is long gone, but the happy memories of the experience remain.
On my front, left torso is my tattoo with the Latin saying Hinc Ilae Lacrimae surrounded by daffodils. The words mean Hence These Tears. They are a literal representation of the pain, loss and tears I suffered after Julie's death--with me always just like the pain of her loss will be.
And then there's my face, especially my eyes. When I look at my eyes in the mirror I see how drastically the challenges I've faced the last five years have aged me. My eyes reflect it all, every last bit of pain and suffering. Some days it's more obvious than others. I'm always a little shocked at how old I look around my eyes now.
As I scrutinized myself last night I realized that although my body will never again be what it was when I was 16, 25 or even 40, I'm completely okay with my body and what it represents. When I look in the mirror I'm reminded of the many very hard things I've endured in my life. The marks and changes some of them have left on my body are like battle scars, reminders of things that have challenged me, changed me, and in most cases made me stronger.