Category Archives: It’s a Girl!

My Before and After Photos!! The Transformation Is Amazing!!

If you could abolish one thing off Facebook, what would it be?

For me: before-and-after weight-loss photos. All of them.

No, I’m not being sarcastic or funny. I loathe them. I know when we’ve had this type of success, we love to shout it from the proverbial rooftops and bring everyone along. And that’s noble. I’ve felt those things before too – I lost 103 pounds between the fall of 2010 to the winter of 2012. But I never posted before-and-after pictures because they have this really dark side, especially when they’re used to sell a product or program.

Every time you post a picture of yourself looking sad and fat and then happy and thin,
Every time you use a picture of a thin person – yourself or otherwise – to ask if my own body is “swimsuit ready” and whether I want your help to get there,
Every time you implore me to use your product for the sake of my health but couch it in terms meant to appeal to my vanity,
You attack the value of my body and every other woman’s.

“NO WAY!” you might scream. “I value your body so much I want it to be as healthy as possible.” I want that, too. But health might look different for the two of us.

Consider my own “before” picture:

 

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That was taken in the spring of 2012. I hadn’t had babies yet, wasn’t married, went to the gym for an hour or more every Monday – Saturday, and didn’t have to consider anyone else’s preferences when preparing dinner. I took extremely good care of my body by anyone’s standards – except, perhaps, my own. I was mostly slamming my body into submission, having hated it for so long. That’s probably a post for another day, but since it had produced nothing but dysfunction, ridicule, loneliness, and miscarriage, I had very little use for it. So, I did with it what anyone does when they hate something: I tried to destroy it. First with sugar and then with austerity measures.

Then, this thing happened. I gave birth to the two most beautiful girls I have ever seen, one in 2013 and one in 2016. And oh my gosh, did my relationship with my body change.

Here’s an example. I put on baby weight with both girls. I hadn’t taken off the weight from the first when I got pregnant with the second. Even after they were born, I couldn’t take my PCOS medicine while nursing, so that translated to even more weight gain. American culture, before-and-after photos, weight-loss salespeople, and most men would have me believe this made me not “swimsuit ready.” And yet, I have worn swimsuits much more frequently and confidently after having the girls because I realized 1) I had a body, and 2) I had a swimsuit. Boom! Swimsuit ready. I never, ever want them to see me not doing something I love – especially something physical – because of body shame.

Not only that, but I also realized that if my body could be broken for them, to give them life; if I could say to them, “Drink, drink,” after they were born; if the smell of my skin and the feel of my warmth could soothe their tears…my body might be worth something more than filling out a swimsuit in the first place.

It seems to me, having lost weight, had babies, and gained some of the weight back, that a woman must first love her body before trying to change it. Requiring compliance without love leans suspiciously toward prison wardenship, which is not the ideal relationship between soul and body. I speak from experience.

Besides, what good is dieting as an antidote to hatred? Just like I can’t ask my car to brush my teeth on the way to work, I can’t expect a diet to make me love my body. It can reshape it, maybe even revitalize it. But it can’t uproot shame and disgust. If all I do to combat body hatred is decrease in size, then the minute I put a few pounds back on, the shame will come roaring back. That is real life, y’all.

So I don’t do the before-and-after pictures and never will because I don’t want a single person to feel worse about what she looks like right now. I don’t want a single person to look at a picture of me and learn osmotically she must apologize for her body, cover it up at the beach, wear the grandma pants, and never show her thighs. I want anyone seeing pictures of me, especially my girls looking back on this time in our life, to feel empowered, strong. To feel like someone with agency. To feel like she can conquer, regardless of her size. Because, women, we are strong.

Here is my “after” picture:

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I weigh more than in the first photo, yet far from the heaviest I’ve been. But you know what’s different? I believe in my strength, my power, my – dare I say it – athleticism. My size-XL self trained to run a 5k with my beautiful sister, and I ran it.

I am a daughter of the King.
I am a mother.
I am a runner.
I cannot be shaken.
I am a woman.

~ Amie

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P.S.: This is my older daughter. After seeing me finish the 5k, she asked her dad to put the chain down all weekend so she could “cross the finish line like Mama.”

What we do with our bodies and say about our bodies matters. Count me swimsuit ready every single day.

 

 

 

 

Here’s what my car looks like now:
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Here’s my sister and me crossing the finish line:
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grace > ice cream

She’s just so crazy about her dad that I said, “How about I take the baby on home while you guys finish up here?” I knew she’d love to be alone with him for a while, her princess status unshared with mom and sister. I was right: she glowed at the suggestion and gleefully laced her fingers with his as they took off to collect the rest of the groceries.

What surprised me was when I put her to bed that night and asked, “What was your favorite part about your date with Dadoo?” (That’s what she calls him, Dadoo.) I expected to hear “When we had ice cream” or “We sang the whole ride home” or, as she once said with a sigh, “He’s just so beautiful.”

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Instead, she beamed and said, “He told me it was 100% not a big deal.”

Intrigued, I asked, “What was 100% not a big deal?”

She said, “I thought he’d be mad, but he wasn’t!”

Still I had no idea what we were talking about, so I tried again: “What happened right before he said that?”

She replied, “The thing that wasn’t a big deal!”

I know better than to attempt to pull something from a three-year-old – odd, ultimately frustrating verbal judo inevitably results – so I asked her dad later. “She says her favorite part of tonight was when you said, ‘it was 100% not a big deal.’ What happened?” He looked a bit mystified and told me about something gross she did that he corrected. When her eyes filled and chin wobbled, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s 100% not a big deal. Just don’t do it next time.”

Her favorite part of the night was grace.

During this Lent season that we just finished, I felt strongly as if God were dealing with my pride. An occupational hazard as a counseling graduate student is hearing stories of some of the worst things people do to each other, especially to children. I ended up developing this righteous anger that somewhere became unrighteous, thinking, “If I could just get ahold of those child abusers / rapists / neglectful parents / the ones who inflict fates worse than death, I’d fix them once and for all.” I had no trouble imagining them at the Good Friday scene: throwing stones at Jesus, screaming for his death. Bad, bad people. I’ll show them.

Here’s the problem. As a sinner, I was there too. Also throwing stones. Also screaming for his death. Also committing sinful acts that nailed that perfect man to the cross. Because that is what sin does (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10). We are the same, the “bad people” and me. We are all bad people without Christ.

If I want him to show me grace, I can’t keep it from them. If I don’t want him to give me what I deserve, how can I turn on them, hoping they get what they deserve?

And my favorite part of my story with my Father is grace. When they make their way to him, I bet theirs will be too.

My daughter already knows this, even though she’s only lived three and a half years. In Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God,” she always replaces the second word with “grace.” You can correct her all you want, but she stands her ground. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

But there’s something that rings very true when you hear a toddler singing her lungs out:

How grace is our God!
Sing with me, how grace is our God!
And all will see how grace, how grace, is our God!

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I Quit Forever.

I made a New Summer’s Resolution. I am quitting all diets forever, and I mean forever.

This isn’t a new idea. “It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle” has become cliché in our age of dietry. So I want to be clear: when I say I am quitting all diets forever, I don’t mean I’m adopting a certain diet as my new way of life. I am not a new Paleo convert. I literally mean I am quitting. All diets. Forever.

It occurred to me one day that I have spent a ton of time being afraid of and simultaneously drawn to a few “bad” foods; namely, cookies, sweet tea, and French fries. These are my heroin, my security blankets, and my antidepressants (that seriously don’t work). But these foods have no inherent value; they are not “bad.” They are inanimate, valueless. My method of consumption is what determines the wisdom of eating them.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to end up waging the same war I have for 30½ years. I want to win it and end it, perhaps for us both at once. I’d rather my daughter know that some foods are everyday, all-you can eat foods; some foods are treats; and some foods are just for parties. I want her to see food as sustenance and occasionally a social enhancement and definitely a gift from God (as evidenced by the existence of taste buds, according to my pastor). What food is not is an emotional anesthetic or a substitute for affection. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables have superpowers, and that’s why God made them so bright and colorful. I want her to know that singing and dancing and laughing and playing all make for better journeys than Oreos do.

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I don’t want her to be scared of food. I definitely don’t want her to be scared of being fat.

So I’m not quitting health. I’m actually kind of finding it, now that I’m exiting the diet funhouse with all its mirrors that distort and lie and frighten. It’s a hard place to leave, because as restrictive and hateful as diets can be, they’re also seductive. They tell you sexiness and happiness and all your dreams-come-true are in following their simple regime.

It’s a lie.

Instead, we walk together, my daughter and I. We have Bath-Time Dance Parties. We snack on grapes and avocados when we’re hungry. We point to different parts of our bodies and say, “Anna has pretty arms; Mama has pretty arms! Anna has pretty feet; Mama has pretty feet!” And we remind each other that strong is more important than gorgeous, but gorgeous is a given.

A really beautiful memoir I read earlier this year included the line, “Contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” Very true: more potato chips have never led me to more joy. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to diet to eat fewer potato chips. You can just choose an alternative ending. Sure, you’ve always eaten the whole bag. See what happens if you don’t this time. I’ve been practicing. The skill sharpens with repeated success. And it definitely keeps proving the point that more food never equals more contentment.

When I get to the end of my life, my daughter with me in my room, I sure hope she doesn’t say, “Mom, you taught me how to diet.” I hope she says, “Mom, you had soul. You knew how to fight and win. You knew how to dance.” If that’s the story I want to tell, I’d better stop the dieting, choose something greater than the cookies, and just for the love of God get started dancing like she does:

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My Booty.

My name is Amie, and I’m all about that bass.

It’s probably genetic. When a bass line comes on in my Aunt D’s car, she “neck-dances.” It’s always been one of my favorite things about her. My sister performed ballet en pointe for years and killed it. Even my 10-month-old kicks and grins when certain songs come on. Rhythm is a life force in my family. So when Shannon, my jazz dance teacher with faux red hair and a cigarette-frayed voice, responded with laughter to a routine I choreographed, it cut me. She asked how much longer I’d continue, given that I “didn’t have the body of a dancer.” I suppose I don’t, but I didn’t think that’s what jazz dance lessons were about. Especially for a twelve-year-old.

Shame is a thief, and that day it stole my moves. I quit dance at the end of the semester, horrified at the thought of taking my not-dancer body back to the mirrored wall that ridiculed me for an hour every Tuesday. I quietly retreated to piano lessons and choir accompaniment, where I could hide behind a baby grand while someone else was visible out front. But you can’t keep this girl from dancing, somewhere. I broke a toe while dancing in my room one Saturday afternoon, high-kicking right into my bookcase. (My best friend didn’t believe I’d actually broken my toe and came over to see. She promptly fell over laughing and even took a picture of my bandaged purple toe.) One of my dad’s colleagues saw me dancing in my car once and described it to my dad in such a way as to prompt him to later ask me laughingly if I had been high. I even danced in the minivan on the way back from New York three days ago while my family slept. Although, to be fair, that might have been as much a failing of my lucidity after sixteen hours in a vehicle with three young children as much as the booming bass of my music.

Regardless, here is a truth about my booty. It is a two-hand grab, and it likes to get down. It doesn’t twerk or grind, and it isn’t a real-life version of Elaine Benes. But joy in me has always spilled out physically, and lobotomizing that aspect of myself never worked. Probably because it was put there by God, made in his image (see Zephaniah 3:17, for example). So as part of my radical, shame-be-damned, self-acceptance journey, I danced at my mother-in-law’s wedding last Saturday, the first time in public since Shannon’s comment seventeen years ago. I threw off body shame and hit the dance floor with my daughters, sisters-in-law, and husband. When given the option between shame or true self, I finally chose myself.

I’ve learned since having daughters that body shame is passed down. If my daughter is told she looks just like me but then hears me complain about my awful thighs, what does she learn? She looks at her just-like-me thighs and labels them “awful.” And if she’s anything like most of us women, body shame will not only keep her from dancing, but also destroy her self-confidence. So on Sunday night I grooved out onto the dance floor. My daughters need to see me dancing. They need to know there’s an alternative to shame. They need to see everyday courage. They need to know it’s not about how you look but who you are. I’m all about that bass, and I hope they will be too.

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Theme for Motherhood 101

Here is a confession.

Every moment with my daughter is not beatific smiles and homemade cookies.

This is what my Facebook hopes you will believe, because it is what I would like to believe. I am a classic perfectionist: in my mind, I should start each morning at 6:00 with a bright smile, brew my husband a steaming mug of Cost Rican coffee, spend an hour in powerful intercession as the rosy-apricot sunrise streams golden bars of light through my window, dress my daughter in a fashionable baby outfit that stays clean all day, work out my slim legs and shapely arms for an hour in the gym, cook a healthy and delicious dinner for my family, and cuddle myself into bed at 10:00, at which point the Lunesta butterfly will settle on my shoulder and marvel at my seraphic glow.

Alas, that is not my life.

Except for the Costa Rican coffee, which I typically brew for myself.

The truth is more like this: I wipe sleep-slobber off my face and groan when the baby monitor tells me my nine-month-old has awakened before I can eat breakfast or even brush my teeth. We survive the day until 3:00 p.m. when she morphs into a screeching monkey. I’m endlessly patient until, you know, 4:00 p.m., when I find myself counting the hours before bedtime: three and a half. We sigh, we cry, we grunt. We just generally wish the other understood why she has to stop acting like this right now I-mean-it. I flop into bed later than I mean to, stressed and aggravated with myself over my stress and aggravation. And if any medication-induced fauna enters my bedroom, it’s most likely the green Mucinex crud-globs, trying to invade my sinus cavities in the night.

Perhaps women like my perfect dream-twin do exist, but I think they might be fairy-tale elusive, like woodland sprites. In my lucid moments, I know this; in my more numerous everyday moments, I believe I should be one because I believe everyone else is. It’s probably this belief that led me to hide in a closet a couple Sunday mornings ago, shaking and sobbing, with my journal – failures splashed in blue ink all over – covering my ears to block out the dreadful waking-up sounds of another day. The reason I am even around my daughter at 3:00 p.m. is that the doctor wrote me out of work for three weeks to try to recapture whatever dim glory I might’ve had before The Closet Incident. Simultaneously being a wife and new mother – if you’re aiming for success at both – is really hard on the soul.

In life as in writing about it, I’m accustomed to ruminating on the difficulty of certain situations and then tying it up neatly with a crystalline truth, something sweet and precise, maybe even helpful. However, since becoming a mother, I feel sort of shabby, like my crystal isn’t polished anymore and the prisms are harder to come by. I am exhausted, disappointed with myself, and frequently at a loss for truth at all, much less that which can be artistically voiced. The one solid bit, the gravity holding my feet to the ground even when my feet are drenched with tears and hidden in the closet, is the knowledge that Jesus loves me. How odd: Jesus loves a shabby, puffy, ill-tempered mother on antidepressants. Jesus loves a screeching-monkey nine-month-old whom I call “sweetheart.” Jesus loves a stressed-out set of parents who beg incessantly for his help, even though He has a perfect track record of coming through for us since well before Day One.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves…me.

Maybe I’ll make it after all.

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Why We Are All Good Enough Already

When I was inducted into the Mommy Club, I had no idea the dues included massive heaps of guilt. I generated enough all on my own, but I also found myself accepting it from others. “You’re doing an all-natural vaginal birth, right?” a lesbian chiropractor, a stranger, asked when fate crossed our paths at Dave and Buster’s. “You’re putting her in daycare? Wow, I don’t even trust daycares anymore,” said a brazen acquaintance I saw at Walmart. I could continue with comments about our formula supplementation, the length of my maternity leave, and a thousand other “issues” (that of course are not issues).

I was accepting the guilt with a weak self-defense – and a sinking heart – until I heard a father quoted on the radio one day. NPR is my #1 preset, and my curiosity was piqued when they interviewed an author who wrote a book about the experience of parenting in America. When asked what her favorite finding was, she talked about asking a man on a plane, “Do you ever feel like a bad father?” He said, “Absolutely not. I am the standard.” He explained that he went to work each day, helped with the kids, and took care of himself and his wife emotionally. Who could ask for more than that? So no, he never felt like a bad father. The author said she was so struck by his conviction that she had “I am the standard” printed onto customized bumper stickers and handed them out to all her friends and clients.

The most guilt I have felt is over feeding my baby. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to produce all the milk she needs. Everywhere, including in my own head, abounds the pressure to exclusively breastfeed, but my body just won’t allow that. Certain days I would hold my daughter and start crying that she couldn’t get all she needed from me. But when airing my sorrows to a friend one night, she commiserated and then said, “Maybe think of it as ‘just feeding,’ nothing special. Just feed your baby.” That, coupled with the belief that I am the standard, has Scotchgarded my motherhood from (most) guilt. I provide all the breastmilk I can and supplement the rest. I read to my baby. I dance with my baby. I enjoy her awakening spirit. I pray for her daily and for my man and me, that we will parent her with wisdom and grace. I change her diaper, feed her, take her out with me. I am the standard.

A superb book I just finished, Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, quotes a French mother, wife, and lawyer on the issue of guilt: “I never wonder whether I am a good enough mother because I really think I am.” That, my friends, is a confident woman. I want my daughter to think like that, talk like that. So it’s up to me to show her. I no longer wonder whether she has the right mom. Because I really think she does.

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What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting: Taking Baby Home

Dedicated to Dave, who wins the Ultimate Best Husband of All Time Ever award, for doubling the joy, halving the stress, and helping me keep my cool.

If you weren’t expecting, you might not have learned some of the practical ways your life will transform. Here are some simple exercises you can perform to ease into new parenthood.

1.  Practice sharing your bed with a spider monkey. Place it conveniently between you and your partner. Try to sleep.

2.  Learn to perform all tasks one-handed. You may pick which side you use. Beginner level: In the other arm, from crook of the elbow down, place two five-pound bags of sugar. Don’t drop them. Intermediate level: Poke holes in the underside of the bag closest to your hand. Contain the sugar leakage. You’ll need this skill if your baby’s diaper quickly becomes overwhelmed with waste.

3. Compose a To Do list of 1) brushing your teeth, 2) showering, and 3) changing out of your pajamas. Try to feel very accomplished when you finish.

4.  Program your alarm to go off every two hours at night. When it wakes you (no snooze buttoning!), head to the kitchen and measure out three ounces of caffeinated coffee, and load it into a medicine dropper. Test the temperature of the coffee on your wrist, making sure it’s comfortably room temperature. Take it back to your bedroom and feed it to the spider monkey you’re now sharing a bed with. Don’t give him more than a drop at the time so you don’t choke him. When you’ve finished, the monkey will be completely awake, so you’ll have to coax him back to sleep. You’ll probably notice an inverse correlation between the sleepiness you experience and the sleepiness the monkey experiences. And never fall asleep holding a spider monkey. It is very dangerous – just ask the hospital.

5.  Empty your savings account.

6.  Once an hour, inject your breasts with pure potassium or some other fire-in-the-veins liquid. This will prepare you for the “let-down tingle” of milk production, which should in fact be called “let-down avalanche of pain” if you are taking performance-enhancing herbs like fenugreek and blessed thistle.

7.  Find a YouTube video or Vine of a crying infant. Set this to play on repeat every time you and your partner are in the mood for love. Learn to either 1) ignore it and continue, or 2) become asexual.

8.  This I can’t prepare you for, no matter what exercise I come up with: your heart is about to double in size and walk right out of your body. Sure, you’ll be sleep-deprived, teary, and sometimes plain angry. But that baby is the most precious, joyful bundle you’ve ever seen. You won’t be able to kiss that face enough, take enough pictures, or snuggle that little body enough. Prepare to fall in love all over again.

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