He was being sexy.  He was being complimentary.  He was being kind.  And what’s more, I’m pretty sure he was being honest.

The pictures flashed across the screen in a regular progression.

“Look, baby.  You look so good.  You are so sexy.  You still look like that.  You can’t tell me you don’t look hot.”

One file was from the summer of 2006.  I was 24.  Wearing a bikini.  Smiling seductively at my then-boyfriend behind the camera.  My hair was tousled and looked like it had been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I had on a red hooded sweatshirt, half zipped. The top of the hoodie had fallen down.  It lay, rumpled in the crook of my elbows, exposing my shoulders. I had the distinct glow of a sunburn across my freckled chest.

He clicked the mouse again.  The next file appeared on the screen.  It was from the summer of 2012.  My daughter was only four or five months old at the time.  I was again wearing a bikini, my hair again showing signs of having been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I remember the day he took those pictures.  I was arguing that I needed to buy a new bathing suit before we left for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  Some good friends were getting married, and my husband and I were taking advantage of their elopement to spend some much-needed alone time over a long weekend away.  My husband told me that I didn’t need to buy the body-camouflaging one-piece I wanted.  He took several pictures of me, modeling my old bikinis, hoping that when I saw myself as he saw me, that I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. I was doing my best to look confident and sexy, but I could see the strain on my face.  I was holding in my stomach, standing with my thighs slightly apart, hoping to make them look thinner, less prone to cellulite.  My hip was cocked, trying to look firm enough so that the small bikini bottom didn’t cut into the soft, ample flesh.  I was trying to stand the same way in every picture, the images all looking stiff and uniform as my husband clicked through them.

I wound up packing the bikinis, but we never made it to the pool that weekend.

“That was only four months out.  Look how sexy you are after just four months.  And this one’s different.  You haven’t even put on much weight.  You’re going to bounce right back.  Just you wait. You already look so good.”

He was staring hungrily at the screen, his hand on my thigh.  He was speaking quietly, earnestly. He was being sincere.  He loved the images of me on our computer.

He smiled as he turned to look at me, but it quickly crumpled away.  He immediately dropped the mouse and folded me into his arms when he saw the silent tears streaming down my face.

 

I didn’t recognize the girl in either picture.

 

In less than two months, I will give birth to my second daughter.  My oldest child will be eighteen months old when her little sister gets here.  Since Saturday, June 5th, 2011 (the date of our intrauterine insemination), I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding.  I will be breastfeeding my second child as well, for at least 8 months.  When it’s all over, I will have nearly 4 solid years of rigid physical reproductive focus, and that’s not counting the year we spent in infertility.

I want my body back.

I’m not saying that I want my body to look like it did before I had children.  I don’t need to be that 24 year old in the red hoodie again.  I don’t need that tan, smooth skin.  Those muscular thighs.  Those firm, small breasts.  I’m adult enough to know that those days are gone.  I know that the body I’m occupying right now is going to be my “new normal.”  Softer, hairier, greater fluctuations from dark to light. This is going to be me now.  But I want some time to myself, time to acquaint myself with this new body.  I’ve been living in this body for two years now, but we’ve never been formally introduced.  I don’t know what it’s capable of, what it can do.  I haven’t pushed it to its limits (not counting childbirth, of course).  I don’t know how it feels when it’s just mine.  When its primary function hasn’t involved the creation and sustentation of my children.   I got pregnant with my second daughter only six weeks after weaning Honest Girl.  I barely had enough time to start looking at (much less appreciating and familiarizing myself with) the new, soft, empty breasts that had replaced the full, firm, milk-filled boobs that Honest Dad used to joke looked like leaky implants (the result of my over-production of milk).  I never made it back to the gym before this second pregnancy, and because of the bladder damage caused by Honest Girl, I haven’t even gone for a jog since early fall, 2011.  I don’t know how this new body breathes, how it moves, how it bends, how it flexes, how it dances.

<Sidebar>God, I miss dancing.</Sidebar>

Honestly?  I’m afraid.  Afraid that I’ll never feel normal in this new normal again.  Afraid that I’ll never feel confident, sexy.  Afraid that I’ll never be able to see my husband behind the camera and flash him that seductive, you-know-you-want-me look again.  Afraid that I’ll never recognize the girl looking back in the mirror.

There are so many unknowns with this pregnancy.  I have to have a C-section.  I have to be in the hospital three, maybe four days.  I have to wear stiff, strong stomach binders, and be on pain killers.  I have to have a spinal instead of an epidural, my torso and legs completely numb, perhaps unresponsive.  My stomach will be sliced and stitched back together, through skin, tendons, muscles, and organs.  I have no idea how my body will react to any of these things.  I have no idea how long it will take for the new normal to take hold, to establish itself.  I have no idea how my new scar will look, will feel, or where it will be.  I have no idea what the normal will look like on the other side.

I’m hoping to join a gym.  And, because I will be breastfeeding, I will be eating as healthy as possible.  For the sake of my new daughter.  Because for at least a little while longer, my body will be hers.  It needs to be.  It should be.  And for now, all I can do is hope.  Hope that the new normal will become a normal that I can feel comfortable about, confident in.  Hope that one day I’ll be able to look at pictures of myself and see what my husband sees, what he’s always seen.  Hope that, after my body is hers, it will be all mine.  Because only after it’s all mine, can I ever think about giving it to him again.

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