It’s stating the obvious to say your body changes once you’ve given birth. There are new stretch marks and loose skin, your boobs – which ballooned to Glory (spelled with a double G) while pregnant – shrink to a sad and lonely B... like those bean bags kids do races with on sports day. Bean bag boobs. You know? (If you’ve breastfed, you know.)
Sometimes, you can’t help but mourn the inevitable physical changes that come with having a baby. You might even weep a little bit. I’ve looked at photos of myself squeezed into a Little Black Dress on my last night out before I got pregnant (thanks a lot, Facebook Timehop), then down at my soft and wobbly ‘mummy belly’, and sighed. A lot.
But, here’s the thing. You know this, but I’ll say it again anyway: your body is amazing. My body is amazing. It carried two babies – nurtured them, fed them, birthed them and rocked them, on some patchy and pretty terrible sleep, for years. Now those twilight baby years are over, I’m reclaiming the skin I was born in. And to commemorate all of the sheer bloody graft it’s put in, I’m decorating it with some beautiful tattoos.
Stay with me. I’m well aware tattoos are divisive. They aren’t for everyone, and can spark feelings of disgust or prejudice, even fear. My parents aren’t big fans – and that’s putting it lightly. But I’ll explain my reasons for getting more tattoos since I became a mother, and perhaps you’ll understand.
My body has never felt more my own. And at this point in my life – older, a little wiser, definitely greyer (though I recently went blonde) – I have never felt so empowered. My body is completely mine, after giving itself up for years to my children. Women grow an entirely new organ – the placenta – during pregnancy, to filter in oxygen, glucose and other nutrients, and filter out all the bad stuff. Isn’t that incredible?
“Some people are scared to get tattoos because of the pain, but believe me – compared to childbirth, it’s a breeze."”
By reclaiming my body in a way that doesn’t affect or harm me or anyone else, I am acknowledging its years of service. I am applauding it for pushing out two 8lbs babies on gas and air alone, and marvelling at the way it got up, uncomplaining, every couple of hours to breastfeed for an entire year – twice. I am choosing to commemorate these achievements in a way that suits me and only me, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Some people are scared to get tattoos because of the pain, but believe me – compared to childbirth, it’s a breeze. Others are put off by body art because they worry what it’ll look like when skin gets older and loses elasticity; when it becomes wrinkled and scarred, or covered in liver spots.
Conversely, I relish the idea that my body will be a road map littered with small flags and signposts. It will tell its own unique story, even when I die. I’m not covered in them – I only have seven (so far) – but the ones I have mean a lot to me. I love looking down at my wrists and feet, my arms and ankles, and being reminded that I chose to do this, and that I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission.
My tattoos are a powerful symbol of femininity and individual choice. And they’re a constant reminder of some of my greatest loves: from the black rose I have on my right arm, symbolising my daughter’s middle name; to the ensō circle I have on my left, a nod to creation and creativity. I’ve even got one planned with an artist whose work centres on flora, fauna, fertility – and quantum physics.
I can say with certainty that while I won’t be having any more babies, one thing I will be having, as my body keeps getting older and (arguably) a lot more interesting? More tattoos.