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bea black dressYesterday, I posted this picture on Facebook as an experiment. I wanted to see if people would assume I’m pregnant and they did, including my own sister. To clarify, I’m NOT pregnant and I’m not offended if people assume I am.

This has been my post (and pre)-pregnancy body since I gave birth for the first time in 2007 (I gave birth to my fourth child in November 2013). I always lose the baby weight but I keep a little “baby cushion” and the loose skin that comes with it (I will spare you a picture).

Recently I wanted to change my old 2009 Facebook profile picture but I wanted a picture that doesn’t show my fat belly. People tell me I’m thinner than most women with four babies and the truth is, I didn’t want them to know what I really look like.

Then I realized that my husband thinks I’m beautiful as I am and I thought about all the women who are ashamed of their post-pregnancy bodies. I decided to take a picture that remains modest but where I don’t hold my breath and I’m not striking a weird pose to pretend I have flat abs. This is my non-pregnant belly and I’m not ashamed of it.

I have pregnancy-related diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles), which explains in part my “baby pouch”. I’m not trying to lose belly fat with exercise because I’m lazy and because you simply can’t do crunches with muscle separation. The only abdominal exercise I do is to suck my belly button in and hold as long as possible to promote healing (it also helps with my back issues). I had a little hernia episode when I was two weeks postpartum last November. Suddenly, I saw something sticking out of my stomach. I simply pushed it back in and kept wearing my belly binder. It didn’t require medical attention and went away.

Doctors told me about surgery to repair my abdominal muscles but here is the twist: there is no point in operating women who “are not done having children” because the muscles would separate again in the next pregnancy. I will turn forty in February and I’m open to life. If I decide to do surgery, it won’t be until menopause.

Sometimes, when I’m getting dressed, my children notice my “belly pouch” and ask if there is a baby in it. I tell them no, it just looks like that because they have grown inside it. They call it my “bread belly”. They like to touch it and play with my skin, the same way they like to play with a piece of the sweet bread (brioche) I make for them. Interestingly, “brioche belly” is the French equivalent of “muffin top”.

For years I thought motherhood was not for me because I had defiled my soul and my body with abortion. But with God’s mercy and my husband’s love, my body has blossomed with the miracle of life again. I take children as they come, if and when they come.

My stretch marks and my “bread belly”, the fact that I look pregnant when I’m not, I treasure these things and so should you. They are the visible marks of our “yes” to life, our “yes” to love. What is your belly story?