Few things humble a woman more than some of the special gifts Mother Nature reserves for our fair sex. I am more than grateful for fertility and our ability to bring life into the world, but these wondrous powers come with unique costs. There’s menstruation and its accompanying pain and mood swings. Then with the gifts of pregnancy come the challenges of morning sickness, back pain, and daily cognitions that seem to range from anxious to insane. And we haven’t even gotten to childbirth yet!

One thing a lot of women feel—before, during, and after their gorgeous baby has made an entrance—can be summed up in one word.

Huge.

Growing up I didn’t suffer much in the weight department. I thought Mother Nature was balancing the scales for my four years of braces in high school. But it turns out she had other plans. It was after my second child was born that I looked at myself, forty pounds over my normal weight, and wondered who had abducted my body.

Maybe I took one too many trips to Whataburger. (But I had cravings!) Maybe I took one too few walks around the block to balance things out. (But I was living in a heavy driving-culture part of Texas!) Maybe it just catches up to you with age, and this time, there wasn’t going to be an easy way to get rid of this weight. Whatever it was, I found myself wearing maternity clothes long past maternity leave was up. I would do a double-take at the sight of my arms when passing a mirror, and I would balk at my larger face in photos. But I also was sleep deprived and taking one day at a time with my sweetest little one, so I couldn’t afford to worry too much about it.

Six months passed. The weight had not budged.

Was this the new normal? I couldn’t believe it. My son was born with a range of food allergies and skin sensitivities, so I couldn’t even care. I didn’t feel I had one brain cell left to devote to even worrying about my weight. Mother Nature was in control, I told myself. At the same time, I resented how Nature continued wielding control after all I had been through. What kind of baby-shower gift was this?

Finally, I gave up. I decided a couple dozen extra pounds was worth it for the gift of life. I embraced my new reality and did my best to dress respectably. I tried to laugh it off with family and friends. Nature had the wheel, it seemed, and I was buckled in for a ride.

I had been telling myself that my new body was natural and that nature will take its course, but the fact was, I didn't really think it. I didn't like this body and I didn't feel like it was really mine. But that changed for me when I had to sit for a professional photo shoot with my team of coworkers at the time. I had brought my baby with me on the work trip, and I decided to wear my halfway decent pants I wore all year for anything remotely formal, and a long-sleeved shirt to veil my arms. The shoot was in a park, and I was instructed to sit next to a fountain, so I did. Here goes, I thought. Let’s just get through this.

Then, I had an epiphany. I remembered that I have loved fountains since childhood, making this a fitting place for my portrait. Even as my body shape changed over childhood years to adulthood, I am the same person. Somehow being in a park with a fountain tapped into this mystery. I looked into the camera and tried to convey myself through my smile, even if my body wasn’t one I was familiar with. 

And the smile came through. It was still me in there. It may not have been a body I was familiar with, but it was still my body

Now four years later, my body looks very different than it did back then. I suspect the adventure isn’t over yet. But I will never forget my postpartum weight challenge of baby number two. It forced me into a corner I didn’t expect. It forced me to face the unpredictabilities that come with the glories of womanhood. And in that surrender came so much freedom.