For a huge chunk of my life, people used to look at my legs and say “you must be an athlete.” If you were to find a photo of me at age five you would see there is a hint of she-hulk in my blood. I was strong from the start with a six pack rippling through my pink leotard and biceps completely ruining my chances with that third grade crush. Even from a young age I wanted to hide certain body parts, very aware that I didn’t look like the girls in the Limited Too catalog. These legs, however, always gave me away. I never got used to them-all sharp angles and bulky muscles and a calf muscle that was one part genetics and two parts hard work. They were the product of years upon years of go. Sprinting and dead lifting and squatting and ladder jumping and bleacher running and blocking and on your mark, get set, go. They stood strong and powerful-yet never quite graceful-through dance and cheerleading. These legs happily put muscle to use in soccer, lacrosse and basketball. They were put to the ultimate test in track and undoubtedly the only part of my body that allowed me to survive a college volleyball career. When my neck gave in, my back quit, my shoulder refused and my wrists caved, my legs only grew stronger. For 24 years of my life, I wished I had legs people would look at and say, “are you a model?” or “how long have you been dancing?” I have spent my time since leaving team sports trying to lengthen and elongate muscles to finally escape the legs that make finding the right skinny jeans something like finding a bobby pin when you really need one. I have been trying to change my legs since the moment I realized they didn’t need to say “athlete” anymore. I had given up that title and wanted to take on a new one. Casual Pilates partaker? Daily jogger? Healthy but normal? The world was my oyster. This was my chance; my legs could say anything I wanted them to.
As I write this, my right leg is propped up on a pillow with a surging dull ache and bruise like soreness. A cocktail of water retention and third trimester weight gain create a light padding of soft flesh from top to toe. Varicose veins run from the base of my calf and wrap all the way up the thigh like purple and green ivy mimicking a snake slowly squeezing and trapping its prey. For this leg, I’ve been prescribed a routine of careful activity but not too much activity and plenty of rest but not too much rest. They are confined to long, thick, poorly ventilated compression tights and hidden under maxi dresses for the majority of the time. When they are free, however, I no longer hear questions like “what sport do you play?” More often than not its, “does that hurt?”
Now, when people look at my legs, they will know I am a mother. They will see the tiny fireworks of purple dancing across the backs of my knees and know I have carried life. The swelling should go down, they tell me. You can get surgery, they say. The excess weight will be worked away. The shape will return. They may even rival the strength of their former days. I am confident of this. But I know deep down these legs of mine will never be the same, and for some reason, typing that sentence and swallowing down the acceptance of it has made me cry. Not for the vanity of it all, no it’s something deeper. It’s skipping the goodbyes thinking you’re leaving something to come right back to it only to find out you’ll never see it again.
Motherhood changes us in every possible way, and even if we wanted to go back to exactly who we were once we shed every last pregnancy pound, once our babies are old enough that our wardrobe doesn’t have to be limited to stain resistant and nursing friendly, once our swollen faces have returned to normal and our sweet babies sleep long enough through the night that we actually look human the next morning; once every last physical sign of carrying a baby is gone, we realize motherhood is actually written all over us. It’s a truth that can be hard to swallow sometimes–especially if, like me, you’re not the “I have earned my stripes! I am mother, hear me roar!” type. I can, however, say without even a trace of doubt that when people look at me I want to beam from the inside out with the two things that have changed my life: One, I am a child of God. Daughter of the Most High, saved by Amazing Grace. And two, I am a mother.
My legs will tell my story.