The scar on my lower abdomen is close to healed, after six weeks of careful care. The incision is evidence of the arrival of my son, the same place my daughter escaped from. The skin above the incision is still swollen from months of pregnancy and oddly puckered due to surgery. It’s not a flat, perfectly sculpted specimen of an abdomen.
But I try hard not to care. My kids were created here.
The marks on my fingertips move every few days as I use a lancet to draw blood every few hours. Sometimes the dots left behind look like I stuck my finger into a jar of ground pepper, other times they are light brown marks that appear to live deep beneath the surface of my skin. But they represent moments when I needed to check my blood sugar and actually followed through on gathering that data.
When I look at them, I see evidence of me taking good care of myself.
The scaly patches of skin on my outer thighs are itchy and refuse to respond to lovely lotions and dermatologist intervention. They are left behind by continuous glucose monitor sensors that I wear to keep tabs on my blood sugars throughout the day and night. These skin issues are not comfortable or enviable, but the protection provided by streaming my glucose data helps me to sleep better.
My health is worth the inconvenient itch.
And, of course, there’s the shifting of my body, shaped by time and illness and exercise and pregnancies. Baby weight. Aging, even when I don’t remember to. My leg muscles are softer, but eager to be used again. My eyes have improved during this pregnancy, somehow. My blood pressure is carefully watched. My stomach is paunchier than it was 10 months ago. I weigh myself to see what’s happened over the last six weeks and try not to get too excited or sad at the result.
But the number on the scale doesn’t define me. Neither does the number on my meter. Neither does my age.
I look at my body sometimes and feel a little embarrassed or ashamed because I don’t physically conform to what magazine pages and commercials suggest I should look like. I’m not tall and willowy with shiny hair and slender arms. And I admittedly care about the size of the pants or the cut of the dress. It’s been harder than normal lately because I’m trying to recognize this new person in the mirror, the one who has carried two children and thirty years of chronic illness under her skin, never mind life’s normal wear and tear.
I’ve lived with body image issues that haven’t caused chaos but have given me pause from time to time. Diabetes has forced me to see my body through a specific lens, not always rose-colored. Sometimes diabetes makes me feel like I’m broken, unable to make insulin and struggling to create a child. It’s weird to look in the mirror and see someone who doesn’t look sick but who has felt unwell physically many times, and who requires effort to stay emotionally well.
Other times, the diabetes lens makes me feel as if I have superpowers … like, shouldn’t I be dead because I don’t make insulin? Every mile I’ve run or weight I’ve lifted stands in contrast to my unmotivated pancreas. How has my body managed to stop producing a life-sustaining hormone and yet I’m still here? Can’t I fly, too? And melt steel doors with my eyeball lasers?
I have to remind myself that there are marks and imperfections on this body that I’ve fucking earned. There are a lot of scars. Some visible, others harder to see, but all of them, earned or self-imposed, have contributed to creating me. This body is recovering from, responding to, reinventing itself in life, and that’s the image of my body I’m holding tightly to.