"But will they go away?"
The hope in her voice is so palpable I am slow to answer. I find myself in the awkward position of someone who knows all-too-well what's on the other side of pregnancy, while my dear friend is expecting her first child. The subject at hand? Stretch marks. And like most conversations with expectant mothers, so wide-eyed with anticipation and wonder, I struggle with how candid I should be.
"I've heard they can get lighter," I reply evenly, which is not untrue. "Some of my friends have had success with creams they say helped fade them."
Her eyes search mine for answers, but why should I be the one to crush her hopes and dreams? In time she will learn that motherhood itself is one big stretch. It leaves a permanent impression on your heart that didn't exist before. It's hard. There are scars, and even if she escapes the stretch marks, she could never, ever escape how it will change her. She will grieve the body she used to know, but in time she will discover a joy more fulfilling than her own youthful reflection in the mirror. In time, she will come to recognize, as all mothers do, that the process of becoming a mother is a metamorphosis in its own right. We can no more go back to our old selves than a butterfly can pull its cocoon back over its head and return to caterpillar larva.
These are the things I long to say, but I know she couldn't possibly understand - not yet.
* * *
A few months back I ran across the @loveyourlines campaign on Instagram. It's a montage of black and white photos featuring stretch marks submitted by women whose bodies have been forever changed from the important work of growing humans. There are marked hips and stretched thighs and fleshy bellies. There are disfigured belly buttons and muffin tops and surgery scars. For some, not all of us, this is what the aftermath of pregnancy looks like. These are the bodies we cover up at the beach, and try desperately to alter with celebrity diets, boot camps, expensive creams and plastic surgery. These are the bodies society does not want to see. These are the bodies expectant mothers (like my friend) hope they never have to embrace.
And yet they are reality. Birth leaves us with bodies that have been marred, altered, ripped apart and sewn back together. Somewhere along the way we learn to accept, or at least live with our C-section and perineral scars, separated ab muscles, weak bladders, melasma, and of course how it looks (I'm whispering now) down there. Meanwhile society praises those among us who "snap back" from pregnancy seemingly physically unchanged and unaffected.
* * *
"So how are your stretch marks this time around?" my mom asks casually one day last week.
"I have no idea," I reply nonchalantly. "I gave up worrying about them a long time ago."
"But have you noticed any new ones with this pregnancy? Are there more than before?"
"Have you at least been putting cocoa butter on them?"
I can feel her knowing gaze on me, but honestly, I am so over it. It's foolish to expect that doing something as miraculous as bringing a life into this world would come with no war wounds. These are our scars and our stories. They come with the stretch.