As women, as mothers, many of us can look at this mama bear and we relate immediately and deeply, like a swift punch to the gut.
Don't get me wrong - we grow up and live in a society that tells us our sole worth is our looks. How pretty we are. How thin we are.
We're bombarded with negative messages about our bodies our lives. Too fat or too thin, too flat, too tall, too hairy, too this, too that. Basically, many (most?) of us reach adulthood certain in the knowledge that our bodies are wrong, one way or another. Or even in a multitude of ways.
Almost all of us have experienced pressure to "bounce back" after our babies are born.
These things surely make it 100x worse...
But can we just acknowledge for a sec that the intense physical changes motherhood brings can be tricky to come to terms with even WITHOUT all that stuff.
Mrs Bear didn't experience any of that societal crap, and still: she certainly notices some physical change.
It's all too easy to anthropomorphise this image, this moment. We see her and we think, I've been there. We've looked down at an unfamiliar belly and thought, variously, bloody hell. Yes, it's different. Yes, it's mine. This is me. Ummm.
I don't know about you, but I was transported back viscerally to that moment. That harsh dismay at the new version of me, and on top of it, a layer of guilt that I shouldn't feel like that, I should only be thinking about my baby...
It doesn't help that this moment is often coagulating in the centre of soreness and fatigue and rampaging hormones.
Yes. You will heal. The rational bit of ourselves tries to assert itself.
The reassurance sounds so hollow in that moment, though, and in all the hard moments that follow while we tread the path back to wholeness and "normal".
I don't think it's too much to say a lot of us feels a kind of grief for the Before version of ourselves. As much as we love the little person we've made (and sometimes that love takes a while to grow), still, so many women mourn their old selves at least a little. It isn't just our bodies that have changed. That is just the bit we can see. Maybe we miss a lot of little things. Many of them, taken each on its own, could be thought of as trivial. The clothes we could wear comfortably, the energy we had, the time we had for self care, our libido, our ability to be spontaneous.
The rapid changes during pregnancy can feel like a roller coaster, or a runaway horse. We can't control it or stop it, and that alone is a bit alarming.
And then, perhaps just as we have come to terms with it, birth itself brings a slew of more changes, more scars. We are left looking and feeling perhaps not quite like ourselves. Belly empty, breasts overflowing, stretched and stressed and shell-shocked and bleeding....
As much as we might have planned it, wanted it, longed for it (and actually, if we are honest, this is not always the case)... even so, we sit there, maybe poking at this new wobbly, scarred middle... and we feel some Stuff.
While we are getting a handle on caring for this new little person, more changes are afoot - especially if this is our first rodeo. Relationships evolve. The one with your partner is tested. Friend circles undergo a rigorous winnowing. Whatever is between you and your own mother might also enter a new phase.
And underneath it all, we are pickled in hormones and our brains undergo radical restructuring.
It's all change, and that belly is just the jiggly tip of a huge iceberg. That iceberg represents a gauntlet of human emotion and experience. It also represents transformation - all the way down to the cellular level, and all the way up to the neurological.
Safe to say, to be a woman is to live in a constant state of flux, and self acceptance is an ongoing project.
Be kind to yourself, mama.
Quote from the photographer:
"This picture was one of the hardest for me to take because I hold a 600mm Canon lens in my hand and I laugh as hard as the other 2 people standing next to me. This poor black the bear had 5 cubs.Yes, 5. She sent them up to the tree and sat down and began to look at his poor, battle-stretched stomach. The man next to me said, “every woman who had a child understands this …… kept moving the folds of skin and he looked at his [sic?] belly."
Thank you for reading!