In sharing my journey toward a deeper mind-body-spirit connection, I guess it was inevitable that I would need to address my body at some point. This is a little tricky for me. You know when girlfriends are hanging out together, pointing out perceived deficiencies on their bodies? Comparing muffin tops? I don’t have a lot to say. Not because I am without muffin top, but having dealt with body-image issues for as long as I can remember, talking openly about my muffin top presents some problems for me. (Men, I imagine you do the same when you’re hanging out with your buddies, right?).

As soon as I had a concept of “larger” and “smaller” I knew I was in the larger group. Sadly, I see in hindsight that this was probably because I was taller than most of my other friends. Of course I was larger, but I didn’t know how to differentiate between larger-taller and larger-wider, and honestly, I’m not sure that would have made a difference anyway. I thought I was too large and I went with it (looking back, I feel so sad for that girl who thought she was too large because she was damn skinny!).

While I’ve reconciled my body-image issues for the most part, I am still pretty sensitive to sharing, even with most of my beloved girlfriends. In the spirit of this journey, I think it is time to change all that. Please bear with me as I take a few steps outside my comfort zone.

In the midst of muffin top discussions, it never fails that I wonder: What exactly are we striving for? What are we comparing ourselves to when we decide our bodies are too much of one thing or not enough of another? Usually, it is some ideal or another, like when we think that someone we saw at the gym last week has a perfect body. Or we see some gorgeous mom breeze through the pick-up line at school. She is fit, stylish, friendly, and she smiles and hugs her children tightly when she sees them. She looks like she has it all. We want her body. Even worse, we want Gwyneth Paltrow’s body or Jennifer Lopez’s body – bodies we don’t ever even see in their natural states. We can all dream, we can work-out, we can starve ourselves, or eat healthy, well-balanced meals, but at the end of the day we have only one body. Our very own, unique, individual one and only body. And we must work with it.

The body I’m working with is definitely in the larger group these days. I think my body and I have developed a relationship much like an older couple who has been married for many years. We’ve been through a lot together. We love each other, but we’re not always in love with each other. Other than a gradual explosion in body size when I started college, and then again when I first started taking “the pill,” my weight was never truly an issue. I could have lost 5-10 pounds here and there, but for the most part, I felt good in my body. Right before I became pregnant with my first son, I even felt great. I was in pretty good shape, I exercised regularly, and I ate well. Then I gained 15 pounds as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I’m not kidding. I have no idea how it happened, but it did, and then it happened again three more times. I have heard there are other women who have had the same experience. It is just another prenatal phenomenon, I suppose. I didn’t over-indulge too frequently, but I ate whatever I wanted to whenever I wanted to while I was pregnant. I didn’t obsess over weight gain and my doctors didn’t either.

I enjoyed answering my crazy cravings (lots of citrus) and overall, I simply loved being pregnant. I was in complete awe of my body while I was pregnant. I loved knowing that while I sat watching a movie with my husband, someone was inside me growing ears. I loved watching my body grow and change. I thought it was fun to wear maternity clothes. I loved the butterfly flutters I felt in my belly as my baby grew and started to explore and I marveled at the punches and kicks I felt as he got bigger. I was not as fond of the sensation I had during the fully-reclined-with-foot-in-my-rib phase of pregnancy, but he came out soon after that so there are no hard feelings. I felt like I was a living, breathing miracle of life. If I hadn’t developed a deeper love connection to my body and its capabilities by the end of my pregnancy, I fell head over heels in love with my body when I gave birth to my son. It was the most exhilarating, empowering experience I had ever had in my body. Once my sweet baby James was out safely and I held him close for the first time, I knew my body and I could do anything.

As life went on with my new son, I slowly got back into shape. I was almost to that major milestone in a new mom’s career – pre-pregnancy weight – when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was elated! In keeping with tradition, I gained 15 pounds instantly. And then I had a miscarriage. I was devastated. One of my friends described her experience with miscarriage as feeling like a little girl whose balloon got loose and floated away into the sky. It’s funny how my mind works. As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I was flooded with hopes and dreams for our second child, and for James as a big brother. I asked my husband to meet us for ice cream at a diner near his office and dressed James in a “I’m the Big Brother” shirt I had been keeping for this special occasion. It was all so sweet and dreamy. Our family was growing…I was so confused when I realized none of those hopes and dreams would be realized for this baby. I became very depressed. As I reflect on that time in my life, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some level I felt like my Superwoman Mama body had failed me. Maybe that is when I stopped taking such good care of it.

A year later, almost exactly a year later, we learned that I was pregnant again! I gained fifteen pounds instantly and many more pounds after that. Alexander the Great was born. And then, almost exactly two years after that, I found out I was pregnant again! Another 15 pounds instantly. I swear to God! And then Sophia Pearl, our baby girl was born. And somewhere in all of that, I completely lost track of my body. I distinctly remembering trying clothes on at a department store while I was pregnant with Sophia and noticing for the first time that I had back fat. I was mortified. I wondered how it got there.

When Sophia turned two I started training for my first 5K. Running was something I never ever thought I would do, but I loved it! It was liberating. I had a blast making playlists on my iPod and running with the wind. The night my dad died I was running on the treadmill. I felt this surge of energy, like I had never felt before around 8:30 p.m. I think that must have been when he died. A couple hours later my mom called and you know the rest of that story.

A few months after my dad died I stopped running. I became addicted to yummy coffee drinks. I tried to fill the hole in my heart with chocolate and pastries. I gained back all the weight I had lost since I started running and then some extra weight, just for good measure. When I realized that I had gained additional weight, I was really disappointed. I think I again felt as if my body had betrayed me. Who could blame it though? I had completely disengaged from everything I needed to be doing to care for myself in a sometimes desperate effort to care for my children. I cut-up apples for them and then ate cookies myself. It was ugly.

I started practicing yoga more regularly in an effort to reconnect with my body (and quiet my mind and lots of other things) and that has worked beautifully. I feel much more in tune with this vessel that carries me from playdates to pre-school pick-up and back again. Slowly, but surely, I’ve begun running again. We’re on pretty good terms, but my body is asking more of me now. We both want to be as healthy as possible in the coming years of motherhood.

So, my body and I are starting a new “plan” next week. I’ve been thinking that this feels different. This is an effort born of love. I love my body, even though it’s large. I love my muffin top and the stomach below it in all of its stretch marked glory. I am especially fond of my deformed belly button, compliments of Sophia. I love how the right side of my stomach sticks out a little farther than the left side because it reminds me how each of my children seemed to prefer snuggling up over there in utero (maybe the other two had no choice after James stretched it out for them). I love my large breasts even though, well I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that nursing three babies was a very transformative experience for me (and my breasts).

In Martha Whitmore Hickman’s book, Healing After Loss, she says “I care for myself in honor of my life and all who have shared that life with me.” It’s really that simple. Out of love for myself, my body, my life, and all those who share it with me, I care for myself. This isn’t about wishing I had a different body or making changes because I don’t measure up to an ideal. For me, this is a journey about taking better care of my body because this body is truly a gift to be treasured. I hope, or I trust, that made in the spirit of love, this journey will take me right where I need to be.

Wish me luck!