Some mornings I'm still not convinced my reflection is really me.
I guess the postpartum acne started about two months after Delilah was born. In the beginning I didn't think much of the few blemishes, but as the few began to multiply, I became horrified. This wasn't part of our deal. I had never had acne problems, not even in high school. I always figured it was part of an unspoken agreement with God. I had big hair that I didn't know how to control and I wore an A-cup through most of high school, but in exchange I got clear skin and long, beautiful legs. Seemed like a fair trade, and while probably not how I would have prioritized assets (given the choice, I would have opted for boobs), not a bad shake.
Even after Gabriel was born, I held up fairly well. My son wasn't here to hold, but my body didn't bear the tell tale signs of childbirth. No c-section scar, no stretch marks, no acne, minimal weight gain that I shed with ease. But for the scars on my heart, I could continue on as normal, which was a relief when I found myself single and on the man-hunt again.
Marcos has pointed out that he barely knows me not pregnant. Indeed, we've been together less than three years, and I've spent 18 months of those three years pregnant. I know that he doesn't mind the belly that will never go away without surgery, the acne, the 20 extra pounds I'm still carrying from Eden. He doesn't seem to care that even while my face has erupted like a teenager's, creases are forming at the corners of my eyes and around my mouth. My hands, constantly at work, look dry and old and are chronically swollen from rheumatoid arthritis, but fortunately are not yet deformed.
When I look back at my reflection, those are the things that I see. I am not, nor do I think I ever will be, that woman who embraces her imperfections. I don't affectionately refer to my stretch marks as those of a mommy tiger who has earned her stripes. The wrinkles are not laugh lines. They are all just indications to me that I finally look as old as I feel.
My vanity stretched to its maximum, my confidence hanging by a thread, I set out to have a crown replaced. The crown is part of a dental implant that I got when I was 14 years old. While the implant is now the standard in tooth replacement, twenty years ago when I was struck in the mouth with a softball, implants were still a fairly new and sexy treatment. I underwent 14 hours of oral surgery by the then-premiere oral surgeon in Bakersfield, and had my crown done by a prosthodontist of the same caliber. Neither of these very skilled, very expensive practitioners had the foresight to realize that at age 14, my gums and teeth and bones were still growing and eventually, that crown would recede back into my gums while my other teeth grew longer than and asymmetrical to the crown. The process was slow and incremental. Little by little, I noticed that in photos, all I could see was the short crown.
I expressed my petty concern with my dentist, who was able to write up a request for authorization to replace the crown so that half of the cost would be covered by insurance. After coughing up my co-pay, the dentist and I embarked on what ended up being a 5 visit process. Today, when he cemented the new crown into place, I felt my confidence immediately restored, even if just a bit.
As "they" say, youth is wasted on the young. I wish now that I had appreciated things about my body in my twenties - The flat belly, yes, but also the ability to stand on my feet for 8 hours, to have joints that - while not pain free - didn't hurt so much. I wish that I had recognized that I used to be able to walk into a room and turn heads, not because I was so pretty, but because there is simply something light and easy and beautiful about a woman in her twenties, even a woman who carries the weight of dead boyfriends and dead babies. I was so busy then, bearing the burden of grief, that I didn't enjoy the freedom of being twenty-something. And now here I am, mourning my twenties rather than enjoying the ease of being thirty-something.
Woven discreetly into my mass of big, thick hair which I've learned to - if not control, at least manage, are two hot pink streaks of color, extensions that were placed when I had my hair trimmed last week for the first time in a year. With less than an inch cut, and two extra pieces of hair added, I felt lighter than I had in some time. I knew that the following week, I would get my crown replaced, and that the acne was clearing day by day. I'll never be that girl in her twenties again - That girl fell in love with self-destructive men who would rather shoot themselves or move to South Carolina than stay with her, and that girl wasn't equipped to hold down a professional career AND mother two little girls responsibly. That girl exploited herself to prove that she, and she alone, was in charge of her own body. She didn't know how to be loved by someone that is kind, and good, and emotionally healthy. She harbored guilt, way too much guilt, for one man's decision to pick up a gun and kill himself. That girl made stupid financial decisions. That girl was a selfish daughter and sister. I don't want to be that girl again.
I don't want the darkness that came with being young and light and pretty in that way that all twenty-somethings are pretty. I want love, security, a stable life for my husband and daughters and me. Sometimes, I want to feel a little rebellious. Sometimes I want to get pink in my hair, or turn a stranger's head when I've walked into a room. But what I want most, I've already got.