Squidge has a book about a caterpillar that asks his friends what he will be like when he grows up. What he will look like more specifically. Now of course, we learn that caterpillars grow up to be beautiful colourful butterflies, much like the Ugly Duckling grows up to be a beautiful swan.
When I was a kid, I didn’t know this about myself. When I say kid, I mean, with the awkward haircuts in school, the wonky tired limbs that I’d fall over most days. I’d look in the mirror, catch sight of myself in shop windows and I’d balk. Why did I have to look like this? I never felt pretty and if anyone dared trying to tell me otherwise, I’d scowl. They were obviously liars. Except, of course they weren’t. They were kind, trying to bolster me. But you know what, it can’t mean much if you cannot see in yourself what other people see. It has to come from within first.
I know everyone, disability or not, has hang ups about their bodies. It’s natural. But I will say that cerebral palsy has complicated and soured my view of my physical self my whole life. It makes growing up, trying to find your true self, frankly miserable.
My feet have turned in on themselves to trip me up. I have been developing unsightly, aching bunions since I could walk practically. I became aware of them aged 11 when my shoes became painful against the bumps and my physiotherapist gave them their name. I’d learnt at school that these deformities blighted ballet dancers and old people. I was neither. So now, something else besides my balance and different sized feet and collapsed arches affected the shoes I could wear, the pain I had while walking. It was no fun becoming a teenager with these restrictions. I had no body confidence at all.
Cellulite and stretchmarks crept in as I grew into my adolescent self. I have long remained flat chested with a paunch belly. (It’s only since having my girls I’ve realised that my stomach itself is not something I can change, I’m never going to have a washboard stomach, but I digress!).
My adult teeth had grown in worky because my mouth was overcrowded and my tendons surgery when I was 7 had left me too morbidly afraid of injections to entertain braces! In short, I never learnt to feel attractive or confident, not even when I met the love of my life. We’ve been together over a decade now and it is still a very physical struggle not to instantly reply “Liar!” whenever he compliments me.
Through 2 pregnancies now, my stretchmarks have multiplied and my boobs have deflated and now dropped from their painfully large pregnant size and honestly look a bit sorry for themselves, like the golden age is gone. I don’t suppose it helps that I gave up on bras about 10 years ago. Fiddly, physically frustrating and uncomfy, I took it to be the one plus point of having no boobs.
Now, rather than despairing at all my physical shortcomings, I find myself at a new place in life. The “little monster” that lives in my ear, that I have battled against pretty much all my life, picking out all my flaws and faults in its nasty relentless little voice, is somehow silenced. The realisation of why has been a really comforting discovery for me.
Through the several years of work I have done since Squidge’s birth to take back control of and understand my mental health, I have finally arrived at a place where I don’t need to turn in on myself.
It is quite the revealation. I can only assume this is peace.
Because I am not repulsed by my stretchmarks. I wear them with pride. They are the evidence that a body I have considered wasted and useless for so long have done something miraculous, not once, but twice in giving me my daughters to adore.
The cellulite is still there, but y’know what? I’m not really into nightclubs and short skirts anymore, so we’re all good there too.
My post birth body really is quite something this time around, marks and all. Even as I lay on the recovery ward, having just been pulled apart and restitched to welcome our second baby girl into the world last month, both Kev & I looked down and said “Wow. Look how flat my stomach is!” Now, it’s not pancake flat, as I said, I’ve always had (and hated!) my paunch. But it’s certainly flatter than any post baby body I could have envisaged. I even found myself back in my pre-pregnancy jeans by the time the Gabster (yes, this is Baby #2’s nickname. It’s terrible, but it’s stuck!) was 2 weeks old. With Squidge, I’m pretty convinced I was still wearing Kev’s joggers with a cushion held against my tummy to soften the blow whenever I moved.
I feel so much better than I believed I could post section and dare I say it (yes I do!) I look better than I ever remember seeing in any of the mirrors I’ve looked in before in my life. I can even smooth my tops out over my tummy now, because my trousers are holding me in rather than giving me away. It makes me feel good. That may sound like humble bragging to other mums out there, because I know the post baby body is such a hard thing to either work to banish or come to terms with. I’m far too lazy for the former, so it has to be the latter for me. But I promise, this isn’t bragging. This is genuinely the first time in my whole 31 years, even when I’m sleep deprived and mainlining caffeine, that I can look at my own reflection and smile. Because it all looks right…. for the first time, I know I look good. And I think after 31 years, I bloody well deserve it too. Everybody does. I just never thought it would happen.
As wonky as my teeth might be, I actually really like my smile. Because I know it has taken a lot in this life to mean the smiles I have on record. If those wonky teeth are on show, then my God, in that moment, I am truly happy.
My poor feet will remain a painful mess until surgery becomes nevessary, or indeed a viable option (read: when the babies aren’t babies anymore, can’t be off my feet with toddlers can I?) And in the meantime, there are companies out there that can make sure my shoes don’t make me cry and that they can be pretty too, not just some bulky atrocity from the orthopaedics department! All I had to do was tell myself I am worth the investment.
I’ve been catching sight of myself in the mirror, cuddling my newborn daughter after night feeds, dog tired and hair dragged up and every time, I have smiled. I am what a mum should look like. It is truth. There is no self hatred there now. Just a calm like I have never known before.
For so long, I have had this picture in my head of what an attractive, confident and “together” woman, a grown up woman looks like. I’ve never felt like a grown up, I’ve always been too afraid to allow myself.
After all, she has a full face of make up, her hair is perfect, she goes to the gym. I do none of these things. I’m in my 30’s and I can’t see any of these things happening because they’re not me and that’s OK. My hands are too awkward and my body, quite frankly is too damn tired. So physio and massages will have to do, because they add to the sense of peace that has been missing from my life, because I didn’t know I needed it. No, more than that, I didn’t believe I deserved it.
But becoming a mum has changed that for me, as cliché as it may seem. For want of a better word, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to articulate just how crippling my self perception of my physical form has been to date.
This body of mine, however, in the midst of all the other challenges it cannot hope to avoid, has given me my greatest gifts. My daughters, their father and the family we create together have given me the sense of purpose I was lacking before them. I know what I’m for, and it’s not to whack on a full face of make up every day.
I’m for them. So now, I can appreciate everything I have and at last, everything I am. Because only I could have created this world. I had masses of help from the wonderful man that loves us unconditionally of course, but nothing we have together could exist without me, if I was not me.
So, just like Squidge’s caterpillar…. “I can finally see, I am beautiful – and I’m so happy to be me!”