Stretch Marks: Unexpected Lessons When You’re Forty-Two and Pregnant

Posted on Oct. 6, 2008 at 8:54 a.m.

By: Daniela Abbott

By:  Daniela Abbott

Writing this article has been especially difficult; not because the topic, my pregnancy, has been a hard one, but because I expected some larger theme to illuminate the whole process, to be the “Aha” I would then write about.

Instead, I find myself in the perplexing place of having an experience too large to put into words, like trying to describe the sky, the ocean, or the mountains.  Big as these experiences are, they defy words.  We simply look with awe and wonder, knowing that we are part of something much  vaster and more magnificent than ourselves. 

That’s what pregnancy has been like for me.  And perhaps that has been the “Aha” of the experience; that I don’t have to find words, and that these babies are a miracle that I simply participate in.  As I write this, I am tearful.  I find it easy to cry for no reason at all when I’m in the bigness of it all, moved by gusts of recognition that I’m part of something so big that I can’t describe it unless I bring it down to a smaller, more human scale.  Pregnancy definitely brings one into the realms of the spirit, the body, and the community where no words are necessary.    You just feel it and appreciate it.

When I let go of the need for a larger insight, I recognize that there are smaller experiences, too small to explain the whole, and yet significant.  It’s as if rather than describing the ocean, I can dip a cup into the water then observe what I see; or  hike to a certain point on a mountain and describe that particular spot; or look out into the sky, watching a cloud, or the color of a sunrise or sunset, finding words to match the colors, shapes and feelings rather than trying to describe the sky itself.  These are the moments in time, the parts of a larger experience that are small enough for us to understand, or at least attempt to explain. 

I’ve had my smaller moments, the ones that have made me laugh and take stock of what was happening particularly during the first trimester when all the physical changes came quickly and drastically.  I had the usual symptoms of weight gain, cravings and aversions, plus the walls of tiredness that seemed to emerge out of nowhere.   Out of these I learned:

  • Bigger breasts do not a centerfold make.  Even though they’re larger, and have the potential to fill then cascade out of any top you wear, shape matters.  Yes, pregnancy breasts are essentially the same breasts you’ve always had but bigger (so if they seem to reach toward your armpits, they will only reach further!) I remember one evening as I was undressing, my husband remarked, “You look beautiful.”  Looking down at my rounded and expansive self, I felt surprised by his comment.  After all, I can’t tell how I look. I’m pregnant, and that’s the all-encompassing word I use to describe the new me.   I looked back at my husband and asked if he really thought I was beautiful, and he quickly retorted, “Yeah, you look beautiful!  I didn’t say you look sexy.”  Well, no problem there.  Being described as beautiful was more than I would have ascribed to myself, and when it came to the word “sexy,” I’d more likely use the adjective, “hungry.”   Mashed potatoes?  Gelato? I think the evening ended with, “Honey, do you want to share some cheese and crackers?”  Yummy…   
  • Food cravings are to be taken seriously.  Not just by the pregnant woman, but by all those surrounding her, especially fellow drivers and those in the food services.  I remember my desperate desire for a grilled chicken sandwich one afternoon, in between appointments bursts of nausea.  After reviewing the few possibilities for something fast and healthy, I set my sights on Chili’s.  I got into the fastest lane I could, headed down I-25 and called in the order (I could not wait one minute longer).  When I arrived at the to-go counter, I was handed my Styrofoam box.  I flipped open the top, and immediately squirted ketchup all over the bun and the fries and began to eat.  Between gulps, somewhere in mid-feeding frenzy, I actually remembered to hand over my credit card so that I could pay for my sandwich. Yes, I’m sure that the 17 year old behind the counter thought I was nuts,  lacking any tell-tale bump big enough to excuse my boorish behavior, and just chubby enough to make her think that I behaved this way often, that I approached my food with a singular focus, and she’d best stay out of my way.  Actually, that’s good advice!
  • And, guess what?   The great thing about pregnancy is that you just don’t care.  Yes, emotions run high, and it’s easy to go from zero to one hundred when you feel slighted or stressed.  Anger, urgency, hunger, tiredness, and feelings of “it’s now or never” are the norm.  But just one sleep cycle later, it all disappears, and it’s hard to remember feeling any intensity over anything at all.  Whether it’s after a nap or a night of sleep, all is fresh and new, and you wonder what could possibly have stirred you from this wonderful sense of amnesia and tranquility.    There’s a protective layer of fuzz around you that seems to say, “Everything’s okay.  Just keep sleeping, eating, and playing a little in between.” And if you can allow yourself to surrender the old you, the one who did it all, it is okay.  It’s really okay.  Everything keep rolling along.
  • The community cares for you.   This truth, as much as the bigness of it all, brings tears to my eyes.   I have experienced an incredibly generous, loving, and caring community surrounding me, just a hand’s reach away from my fuzzy, amnestic self.  My dearest friends, clients, the women of iTHRiVE, and complete strangers have stretched out toward me, to take care of me, to bid me well and share their love stories of wonder and awe as parents, aunts, and fellow pregnant women.  Whether it’s through opening doors, offering me cool drinks, feeding me, finding me a comfortable chair, or just inquiring about my health and the health of my babies, I have been received with deep and abundant compassion.   And this again reminds me that I am not alone; that I am part of the much larger fabric of life, of humanity and of a community that shares in the bigness of life, and loving the new lives that come into it.
  • Feminism increases the fabric of care in the community.  With more women in the workforce, you’re more likely to encounter a woman on the other end of any transaction.  And because there are more women in the world of commerce, retail, and business, we have more opportunities to experience and exchange compassion in our daily interactions.  

Over the past month, it struck me that I’ve been touched by three very similar expressions of kindness offered by  women who were strangers on the other end of a business transaction.   All three of these women happened to be the staff behind the counters of typically impersonal establishments, such as a gas station, a drug store, and a grocery stores.   In each encounter, I was meeting these women at the cash register, just trying to get my stuff and go, when their kindness intervened.

These female cashiers, varying in age from nineteen to her mid-fifties, took extra steps to care and advocate for me.  In two of the cases, the women told their male co-workers to use the cash registers closer to me so that I wouldn’t have to walk so far.  In the third example, the female cashier brought a product to me so that I could stay seated and wouldn’t have to walk to the shop next door.  Each of these women accessed instinctual mother-bear and sister energy, using almost the same words to elicit the care from the community they thought appropriate and necessary.  “She can’t do that.  She’s pregnant!”  was their battle cry, as they came forward themselves, and/or urged others to do the same.  What an unexpected gift!  And while this kindness is already so special when offered by our beloved circles of our family and friends, to receive such care and compassion from women who are total strangers is a direct result of having more women in our daily lives.  Thank you, Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement!

A good friend of mine says to her grown children, “I got stretch marks from having you and I’ve been stretching ever since.”  Indeed, the process of pregnancy stretches us to experience life differently, through  our bodies, our emotions, and our very definition of ourselves.  We are stretched to make room for these new additions to life who need us, choose us, and give us opportunities to learn and grow along with them.

Pregnancy also stretches the community to come forward, to tell their stories of parenting love, to demonstrate kindness, and to share the unique and universal bond of participating in the cycle of life in its many forms:  as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and grandmothers.  Pregnancy also allows us to share the stretch marks, not just along our hips, breasts and bellies, but across our faces as we smile with each other, beholding the miracle that is life.  Whether we have been there before, or are there for the very first time, what else can you do in the presence of such a miracle?  There’s no need for words.  Just the radiating joy of something as big, bright, and beyond as a smile.


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