I was just talking to my friend Cary about a new body part I’m noticing: my “smile belly.”

Over the past few years, I carried both of my babies so low that the skin between my belly button and my pubic bone became their permanent home. My body, stretched out in like a shelf, my baby curled up on top of it.

Now, five months postpartum after my second babe, I have this new body part. Beneath the pouched, rounded part of my midsection, I have a U-shaped smile fold where my babies rested for all those months.

It’s beneath the pooch, down underneath the soft part of my belly. If I push my hands on the top of my stomach and press down, I get a double-chin right where my hip creases are.

This is where my body held my babies up.

And when my second was born, when I pushed out all 9 pounds, 11 ounces, and my doctor exclaimed joyously and laughed and my husband cried and the anesthesiologists looked bewildered (they couldn’t get me to sit still long enough for my requested epidural, file that under “things that didn’t happen,”)—that day in the delivery room the doctor laughed and put my baby straight on my chest and said—I HAD NO IDEA you HAD THIS BIG OF A BABY IN YOU—

It was my body that made THIS body. This big, chunky, delicious baby boy.

And this body smiles now, and says to me in the mirror: I did that.

These are the new laugh lines: the wrinkle lines of postpartum bellies, the sags and the squishes and the love bundles and the folds.

But I also look in the mirror, and my vanity pipes up. Sometimes I pull the skin back and I wonder, “Will this go back?”

And I also wonder—do I feel guilty for wanting it to go back?

So I called Cary, my dearest of friends.

And she said,”Oh yes, that feeling of vanity versus gratitude. It’s such a hard one.”

But what she said next was so brilliant, and one of the fundamental tenets of Startup Pregnant—it’s not an “or” at all!

She explained to me that it’s a false choice.

We’re forced into these two bizarre camps by culture and patriarchy. Either

(1) You get your body back as soon as possible and leave no evidence that you are ‘anything other than a virgin 22-year-old,’ (because otherwise you are gross, and you’ve ‘let yourself go,’) or—

(2) As a mom, you must sacrifice everything, including your body, forever, and give it all over to your children, because it’s selfish and vain to want something else other than to serve.

Do you see how the patriarchy gets you here?

Women, you can either be virginal and perfect, or you must be a mother and completely sacrifice yourself.

In both cases your worth is defined by your devotion to someone else.

I can’t do that dichotomy. I can’t be subsumed by somebody else. First, I’m me. Then and ALSO I’m my relationships to other people. Not instead of. It’s a yes to both. Yes, and.

This is where the nuance and complexity comes in.

It is okay to want to have your body be beautiful, in your own eyes, and in your own way. I can love my smile belly and want to be stronger and leaner in the future. It is okay to want to be sexual with other people, and to paint and decorate and adorn our bodies how we choose, athleisure to stilettos.

You can be all of these people.

I can be dedicated to my children as well as dedicated to myself, and my work. In fact, my children can hang tight for a minute at daycare while I write. Because me, myself, and my own space in this world are important things.

Because I matter, and you matter, and our bodies and our minds and our hearts are so, so important.

I’ll be here, with my smile belly and my eye wrinkles, gathering up dust from the earth as I live each day a little more. Because my smile belly isn’t a sign that I’ve let myself go, nor is it a sign that I’m no longer sexual, or worthy. It’s all part of ME, and I’m still here, fiercer than ever, grateful for my sexuality, in awe of the ability to create life, and deeply satisfied with a body that gives me round belly laughs and deep tears on a regular basis.

If my smile belly goes away, I’ll love it while it lasted. If it’s here to stay, I’ll have someone to smile at in the mirror every damn day.

Wearing high waisted jeans and a bright red lipstick, and on other days, sweatpants or just my underpants—

It’s all me.

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