A bikini is no longer an option for me. After two pregnancies, my stretched out bellybutton turns down on both ends like it’s frowning. Yep, these days I want to be fully clothed when I do push ups or put my body into the “plank” yoga position. Otherwise my loose tummy skin hangs down like a wrinkly elongated bagel made of jello.

It’s not totally hideous. I still walk around in my bra and underwear in front of my kids. But I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to ask Siri (my personal iPhone assistant), “How much is the cheapest tummy tuck in Portland, Oregon?”

3-stages-of-womans-belly-300x100When Andy and I were lying in bed a few months ago, I pulled the sheet up over my stomach and said, “I’m just going to cover up my wrinkly tummy.” Andy moved the sheet aside, kissed my stomach and said, “I love your wrinkly tummy and what it represents.”

No one else can say that to me, and mean it, but Andy.

I remember him touching and kissing my growing belly during my pregnancies, expressing his love for me and our yet-to-be-born children. And he’s continued to touch and kiss my tummy since then, sending me a beautiful, counter-cultural message: You are as beautiful now at 39 as you were at 22.

We were talking yesterday and realized that we both think the other is actually more physically attractive now than when we were dating or newlyweds. We agreed that we were both more critical of each other back then. Not that we criticized each other out loud, but that we noticed things about each other’s appearance that we thought could use improvement.

I think that must have been part of immature love. Now we see each other clearly. We know each other deeply. We’ve gone through hard times. We’ve asked for forgiveness. We’ve grown through failure and disappointment.

Seventeen years of life shared together has adjusted our vision. We see clearly, now more than ever, that what we have is beautiful.

(Photos are by photographers Sarah Sampedro and Savannah.)