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"It has been 20 years and 8 babies since I liked my belly button"

Image: Kelli with one of her daughters (via Instragram)

It has been twenty years and eight babies since I liked my belly button. (But who’s counting, right?) Since I only glimpse it in the dressing room mirror or stumble upon it in the shower from time to time, I suppose it has become something of a stranger. A relic of yesteryear, showing signs of age and wear–receiving little more than the passing glance and the demure nod.

But a Saturday morning make-over changed all that.

Fuzzy-headed toddlers arrived bedside at the cusp of dawn. Light barely winked in through the window, like sunrise herself in the middle of a yawn. Leaving my husband to tickle and snuggle with them, I got in the shower. The six-year-old came in just as I stepped out. She, groggy. Me, dripping. I didn’t expect us to have a conversation worth much. But her little voice surprised me, squeaked out over the sound of the boys now jumping on the queen-size bed:

“Mum, could we give you a make-over today?”

I couldn’t deny the hope I heard in her voice. I couldn’t deny the shine in her eyes. I couldn’t say anything but, “Yes.”

Ten minutes and a bathrobe later, the girls were back. Not just one this time, but three of them. They filed into my room, arms laden with their favorite dress-up clothes for me to try on, fingers loaded with nail polish in every colour, and faces etched with the many expressions of delight: make-over, here we come.

When your tiniest daughter asks to see your belly? Well, it can call forth the modest in the least likely.

And that’s when it happened.

As the very first dress was hoisted out to me, and I grappled with it, reaching for armholes, the littlest girl—that one whose voice squeaks in the most angelic way—piped up, “Mum, is that your belly button? Can I see it?”

Now, I’m not a modest person by nature, but when your tiniest daughter asks to see your belly? Well, it can call forth the modest in the least likely. But in the very same moment I was tempted to cringe and brush off her request, I realised the opportunity that lay before me.

Here was my daughter, still firm and supple with youth’s abundance, asking not only to see my wrinkled, stretched, and saggy body, but somehow asking beyond her words, to see what I thought about my body. For I knew that it wouldn’t be only my belly button that would reflect in her eyes, it would also be my face. Not only “How does a mummy-belly look?” but also “How does a mummy feel about how her belly looks?”

I dropped the dress so I could get my brave on.

This is the question that matters. This is the mirror that counts.

I dropped the dress so I could get my brave on.

(And then I swallowed hard so it wouldn’t get snagged on the knot forming in my throat.)

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Each of the girls took turns looking at my belly button. They asked questions about why my many-times-stretched skin looks different than theirs. They poked and pulled. They wondered at it and marveled aloud. I smiled at them and drew them close. I explained how large a woman’s body must become to make room for the miracle of motherhood. I welcomed their questions and told them glory stories of births and laughed at the incredulity of it all.

And then the moment passed. I seemed to still be breathing. I pinched myself, just to make sure. Yes, I was indeed alive. I was indeed standing before them and what I saw in their eyes was not the disdain or competition of the locker room. It was not the criticism or condescension of the beach.

There were no snickers. There was no raising of eyebrows.

What I saw in their eyes was respect.

Somehow my willingness to let them see my imperfection up close and personal was planting seeds inside them.

In that holiest of moments, they had become divine mirrors: reflecting all the beauty of co-creation. (And what is left in its wake.) But it was more than that. Somehow my willingness to let them see my imperfection up close and personal was planting seeds inside them. Seeds that I pray will someday bloom into female relationships characterised by cooperation and trust, not competition and manipulation. Offerings they could take with them into locker rooms and beaches and classrooms and shopping malls and all the other places where the imperfect is seen as weak and where only the fittest survive. Kernels of what it means to know that beauty is deeper than skin.

I slid into the dresses handed me and swirled around in front of the mirror. They painted my toes lovely shades of purple and red. We talked hairstyles and eye shadows and shoes and what fall fashions we liked best. But the beauty of the make-over had already happened. And it wasn’t in the making-up or the covering-over. It had happened in the nakedness where self-acceptance is planted deep, in the darkness of dare where love becomes our lens.

Right there in my bedroom, bathrobe around my ankles, we were standing on holy ground.

This post originally appeared on Momastery as part of the Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series. For more like it, visit Momastery’s website. You can find Kelli Woodford on her blog and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

In celebration of the beauty of pregnant and post-birth bodies, check out these stunning images from Jade Beall’s photography book project, A Beautiful Body. 

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