Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks

Not my belly… but isn’t it gorgeous?

The other morning I got out of the shower and leaned over to wrap my long, curly hair into a towel and couldn’t help but notice the stretch marks on my belly.

These were the same stretch marks I was convinced I didn’t have when I was pregnant with my daughter 17+ years ago. I kept looking for them in the mirror, but to my utter amazement – I didn’t have any! Or so I thought…

The illusion was broken when I was about eight months pregnant and marveling at my changing body in front of the mirror again. Only this time, my husband was in the room.

Me: “I can’t believe I don’t have any stretch marks! I mean, my belly is HUGE! I would have expected there to be a ton of them! But nope, not one.”

Him: “Ummm… I think you have some down here” (pointing low on each side of my belly) “Whoa! there’s a bunch of them… you just can’t see them.”

And he was right. My belly had gotten so big that that it had begun to cast a shadow and all of my stretch marks were hiding – on the dark side of the moon.

After my initial shock (which really wasn’t warranted… there was no way that my belly could have gotten as big as it did without stretching enough to leave a mark!) I’ve never given my stretch marks a second thought. After all, they’re not that big, they’ve faded over time and aren’t very noticeable, and besides, I don’t regret any of them because they mark me as a mother.

I’d forgotten they were even there, to be honest.  But the other morning as I stood bent over, eye-to-stretch mark, I couldn’t miss them. And suddenly, I had a thought about how a different type of stretch mark is happening to me right now.  It’s one that no one else can see, but it marks me as a mother just the same.

My oldest daughter – the OG stretch mark maker, herself – left on Thursday to go halfway around the world to perform with her dance company, The Jefferson Dancers. They’re in the South of France (Ooh! La! La!) for ten days.

It’s my heart that’s being stretched right now – and it’s going to leave a mark for sure.

I don’t have the typical angst that you might think would go along with kissing your “baby” goodbye as she heads to a timezone that’s 9 hours ahead. I know her to be a mature, strong, smart young woman and I know she’ll come home with amazing stories to tell and wonderful memories to last her a lifetime.

It’s just that this trip signifies something more. My girl is almost grown and out of the house.

My first little bird is getting ready to fly away.

As I typed that last sentence, I paused to see what feelings this brought up for me…

No sadness – just deep, abiding joy and pride at who my girl has become. And this: how amazing to think she still has so much life left to live. So many more memories to make and stories to tell. So many chapters yet to be written.

As I get ready to head home to see my own family later this month, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for my parents as they watched all of their little birds fly away. Some, not too far, but me? Two plane rides and a 3-hour time zone away!

None of us thought this was going to be forever! It was supposed to be a one-year commitment with The Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But almost 25 years later, here I am getting ready for the first of my own four to stretch her wings and soar.

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I spent the entire weekend teaching expectant parents. Saturday was a one-day express childbirth preparation class, focused on providing these families with realistic expectations about birth. Sunday, was my first ever Becoming Us class, where the focus was on realistic expectations of the transition to parenthood and how to keep the couple relationship strong despite of, maybe as a result of, the normal changes and challenges of new parenting.

I could see the stretch marks on these parents as they wrapped their minds around all that’s involved in the birth process or what it really means to become a parent.

But how can I express to them what is yet to come? Soooooo much stretching!

They will be marked and marked again on their parenting journey: the day they drop their baby off at preschool; the late night worry they’ll feel when their baby is sick; the piercing cry they can’t stop hearing after their toddler’s spectacular wipeout; the good ache that comes from a heart full of pride as they watch their child do something amazing; the bad ache that comes from a heart breaking right along with theirs as their child feels the sting of rejection; the recognition that, if you’ve done this parenting thing right, eventually… they leave.

I love my stretch marks, all of them – maybe those not visible to the naked eye most of all. For they’re a reminder that I have birthed my babies not just from my body, but out and into this great big world. A reminder that mirrors why I’m still so passionate about the work I do with parents who may not have discovered any physical stretch marks (yet!) The parenting journey begins when a family says yes to welcoming a child into their hearts. And from that day on, it never ends. It never breaks down…it just stretches on and on.

PS – I got to talk with my girl at my 11:41 pm my time to 8:41 am her time just as I was putting the finishing edits on this post. It’s a weird thing this stretching – my heart is so full, I sometimes think it might burst. But it doesn’t, it just stretches a little bit more.

Do you have stretch marks? Are they purely physical, or can you relate to the idea of “emotional stretch marks” as well? I’d love to hear what you think about this – please leave me a comment, or share this post with anyone who might appreciate it. PS – I appreciate YOU!