I stared at the picture with a curious mix of mortification and amusement. There I am in all my pregnant glory on a website for all the world to see. Could this woman with a tiny head, a trapeze zebra-striped dress stuffed into an enormous body with thick arms, gigantic breasts and a butt so large it hangs off the sofa chair, really be me? Well…yes.
It is number five in a series called This Stage of Motherhood, done by a famous New York photographer that—to my horror and (strangely) pride—hung in a New York gallery and is now part of her coveted collection of work. In it, I stretch my bare leg out and stare dreamily at the hot pink nine-inch heels on my feet, completely oblivious to the fact that the photographer, Gail Albert Halaban, is taking the shot with what seems like a wide-angle lens and is coming at me from below, widening my already considerable girth to an unbelievable size. I am the female version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man—actually worse, an Eddie Murphy character.
The photo was taken ten years ago—a lifetime, really. I had stored the picture away in an envelope in a box in the garage—there to keep but mostly forgotten. That hard copy of the photo was given to me by Gail at my baby shower. When I opened the envelope, I laughed and then I cried. My mother advised me to rip it up and never let anyone see it again. I cursed every single person who advised me to eat anything I wanted because I was “eating for two.” I cringed recalling my repeated visits to buffet brunches and the hordes of bacon, eggs benedict and danishes that I piled on my plate. So, when my friend alerted me to the picture’s existence in the gallery and the website, it sent me into an existential tailspin. Like a stubborn gray hair, it had resurfaced. I realized it would live forever on the web and would remain a part of me like those stretch marks on my stomach. So I had to come to terms with it.
My body’s transformation was only the beginning, only a hint of the roller coaster ride I (and every other mother) embarked on when I decided to have children. Now looking back, I realize what a trip it has been. I squeezed two kids out and never knew so much pain. When I saw their little smooshed faces, I never knew so much joy. I was excited to quit my job to spend more time with them. I was depressed after quitting my job and spending days in sweat suits. I built an endless number of sand castles at the park and resented my mind going to mush. I savored the beauty of a clear and cool lazy afternoon at the park and allowed myself to feel soft. I fantasized about going back to work. I dreaded the idea of going back to work. I have driven my husband crazy ripping out the lawn and re-landscaping because I had to find a project. I have cooked delicious, labor intensive meals he relished because I had to find a project. I have adored my kids. I have wanted to strangle my kids. And on it goes.
So I now realize that the picture is symbolic. Gail captured me as I was transforming. I see it for what it was: a rite of passage. It was a moment in time that marked the end of one era in my life and the beginning of another, more tumultuous, complex and fulfilling one. Maybe, I am not the Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman but rather, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I am very, very, very fat. I have eaten one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, a cake, an ice cream, a pickle, a slice of cheese, salami, a Popsicle, a slice of pie, a sausage, a cupcake and a slice of watermelon.
This adventure began by filling my stomach. But I have moved on to nurturing my soul. And I hope that the book is right and that I am on my way toward becoming a butterfly.