Thursday, July 27, 2006

Of Bread Dough and Racing Stripes

Recently my three-year-old was watching me getting dressed. She’s at just the right height (or wrong height, as the case may be). She tilted her head and quite soberly declared, "Mommy, your tummy is SO big."

Gee, thanks for pointing that out. On Sundays I can mask it with control-top hoes and one of those things they now call a "body shaper" but is really just an elastic girdle that makes it hard to breathe.

Now all I needed was commentary on saggy skin and stretch marks.

I smiled and tried to explain that Mommy’s tummy got a bit stretched out because four babies had grown inside there. "Before you were born, you were in Mommy’s tummy, too."

Nice way of shifting the blame, I know.

It wasn’t until she answered that I realized that unlike my older three children, she had never seen me pregnant and didn’t understand the concept.

She narrowed her eyes, snorted the way only a toddler can, and with a shake of her head and a giggle said, "Nooooo . . ." Apparently Mommy was being silly.

Not quite. Like most mothers who have given birth, I have what can be affectionately referred to as "bread dough tummy." If you have it, you know what I’m talking about—that stretched-out skin with the consistency of bread dough that will never be tight again and instead just hangs there. It's one of those after effects of pregnancy that never go away, like stretch marks.

Eight months into my first pregnancy I was rather pleased that I had managed to escape the dreaded stretch mark phenomenon. I slathered on a cream every day. It was supposed to help repair skin, and three weeks before delivery, I was still stretch-mark free.

Then I ran out of the cream and couldn’t justify buying another $50 tub for the last part of the last month. After all, it probably hadn’t done much anyway, and really, how much bigger was I going to get in the last stretch of pregnancy? Whether the cream worked or not, I’ll never know.

What I do know is twofold:
1) babies do grow a lot in their last few weeks and
2) somewhere in the last days of that pregnancy, stretch marks blossomed on my thighs and crawled up my belly.

Watching the red lines travel felt like being trapped inside a science fiction movie with an organism that couldn’t be stopped.

Over the years my stretch marks have faded from scorching red to a pinkish silver, and I make a point of not even looking at them. Avoiding swimsuits tends to help. But a few weeks ago my husband and I were visiting my parents in Israel. Like good tourists, we took a dip in the Dead Sea. As I floated in the bath-warm water, I looked at my legs, hovering barely under the surface.

Did you know that water is a perfect magnifying glass?

The wobbly silver lines I hadn’t looked at in months suddenly looked as wide as racing stripes.

And this time I didn’t have any of my children around to blame it on. "See? You did that to me."

Which is just as well, because the reality is, my children were worth getting every squiggly line and every ounce of hanging bread dough.


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