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My short article “Bellies, Bikinis & True Love” was published on the Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS) blog on Valentine’s Day, but their server was overloaded for a couple of weeks and access was limited. It’s up and running now. For those who dislike Valentine’s Day, perhaps this will sit better with you on an ordinary day like today. Although today is Ash Wednesday, so it’s not really an ordinary day. 

bellies-bikinis-and-true-loveA bikini is no longer an option for me. After two pregnancies, my stretched out bellybutton turns down on both ends like it’s frowning. These days I want to be fully clothed when doing push ups or holding the plank position. Otherwise, my loose tummy skin hangs down like a wrinkly elongated bagel made of Jell-O.

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, “How much is the cheapest tummy tuck in Portland, Oregon?”

When my husband, Andy, and I were lying in bed a few months ago, I said, “I’m just going to cover up my wrinkly tummy,” then pulled the sheet up over my stomach. 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.

3-stages-of-womans-belly-300x100I remember him touching and kissing my growing belly during my pregnancies, expressing his love for both our yet-to-be-born children and me. He’s continued to touch and kiss my tummy since then, sending me a beautiful, counter-cultural message: You are as beautiful at 40 as you were at 22.

When Andy and I were talking recently, we realized that we both think the other is more physically attractive now than when we were dating. We agreed that we were both more critical of each other back then. We didn’t criticize each other out loud, but we remember noticing things about each other’s appearance that we thought could use some improvement. I think that must have been part of immature love.

Today we see each other more clearly. We know each other more deeply. We’ve gone through hard times. We’ve asked each other 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.

(Black and white 3-stages-of-a-woman’s-belly photos by photographers Sarah Sampedro and Savannah.)