I was getting out of the shower recently and did something I normally don't dare do. I took a glance at my body in the mirror. The glance turned into a stare.
My body, once so lithe and lean, looked shockingly like the lumpy, droopy bodies of older women I used to pity smugly in locker rooms. What happened? I thought.
Kids are what happened. Ever since my body endured two pregnancies, childbirth, and nursing, it's never been quite the same, even now, eight years later. "Creating a baby and giving birth, your body has gone through some remarkable changes," says Iffath Hoskins, M.D., an obstetrician in Savannah. "Many parts of your body will revert back to normal, but not everything. After kids, your body redefines what normal is."
In our appearance-obsessed society, that's not exactly comforting. It's hard not to grieve the departure from what's considered attractive.
Of course, some women do manage to accept their body's changes as badges of honor, and even welcome the excuse to relax their expectations. "Having had kids has given me permission to stop worrying about my body so much," says Gloria Lee of Austin, Texas, a mom of two, ages 10 and 7. "After all that, I figure I've earned the right to wear elastic-top pants and skirts if I want!"
"I'm too old to be Jessica Simpson and (hopefully) too wise to want to be," says Elena Junes of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the mom of two, ages 8 and 6. "I feel like my body is the sum total of the experiences I have had in my life."
There's comfort in knowing we have lots of company in these long-term physical changes. Here, the most common transformations:
Face Almost 25 percent of women have a change in their skin pigmentation, due to hormones while they're pregnant. Many women complain of blotchy skin after having kids. "It's the reverse of the 'mask of pregnancy'" says Jennifer Proud Mearns, a mom of five from Shaker Heights, Ohio. "It's almost as if the melanin has been zapped from my face in places where it was initially dark." The sun makes those changes more noticeable, says Marianne O'Donoghue, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The prevention is daily sunscreen. The cure: a gentle bleaching by a dermatologist.