My Lifelong Struggle with Stretch Marks

If you’ve ever seen me in person, you’ve certainly caught a glimpse of some of my many stretch marks. They’re part of me I’ve had no choice but to accept, even though I’d rather not have to deal with them.

I credit my skin to my father, although he never got stretch marks as badly as I did. I remember him having stretch marks around the tops of his biceps from working out. My mother on the other hand, never got one stretch mark, despite 3 pregnancies and weight fluctuations while we were growing up. She couldn’t relate to my struggle at all, she couldn’t fathom why this was happening to me. She would even say that she didn’t even moisturize, while I slathered my body in cocoa butter, praying that I wouldn’t get another stretch mark.

I remember getting my first stretch marks on the insides of my knees in seventh grade. I had gone through a growth spurt over the summer. Later that year, I got 4 huge horizontal stretch marks across my back that even my pediatrician had never seen before. They honestly look like whip marks across my lower back. Then puberty hit, my boobs and butt grew and stretch marks came along with those.

I used to use Mederma scar gel, which did lessen the appearance of my stretch marks. But it was too expensive for my parents to keep buying for me. It needed to be applied 3-4 times per day and I had many stretch marks covering a good part of my body at that time. I remember one little tube costing $24. My parents tried, but the cost became too much.

Despite having stretch marks, I still wore my two piece bathing suits during the summer (no stretch marks on my stomach) and I always wore short shirts baring my midriff. Some people would comment but it didn’t bother me much, it was never negative, at least not to my face.

And then my now-husband and I started dating, and we both gained so much weight. I gained around 50 pounds, weighing the most in my entire life. As I packed on the pounds, I noticed stretch marks forming on my upper arms, soon reaching all the way down to my forearm. I even started to get some on my gorgeously smooth tummy, which was heartbreaking to me. When I realized I needed to make a change and start exercising and eating healthier…

I got pregnant.

I weighed 175 pounds when I got pregnant, and I was beyond excited that we were going to have a baby. The day my daughter was born, we checked in at the hospital and I weighed 201 pounds. My stomach during that time had gotten covered with stretch marks, which I expected. Despite using all kinds of lotions and creams. Yes, I used Palmers Cocoa butter, I even used cocoa butter baby oil. But nothing I tried worked. Nothing I had EVER tried worked to prevent my stretch marks. My belly got so big, people thought I was carrying twins, and the stretch marks that came in my last trimester were painful. The stretch marks on the underside of my pregnant belly were half an inch thick, my skin was literally tearing.

38 weeks pregnant.

About 2 years after my daughter was born, I was heavily into fitness and became a group fitness instructor. I had become vegan and I lost all the baby weight and then-some. I was in the best shape of my life. But I fell off when my father got sick with pancreatic cancer. I took up smoking cigarettes again and gained some weight back.

December 2013

Then in 2016 I got pregnant again with our second daughter. I was at a healthy weight to start and all was well, weight-wise. No new stretch marks, at least none that I could see. My stomach had stretched out so much the first time I was pregnant (and I still had a lot of excess skin) that at the end of my pregnancy with my second daughter I still had a little pouch of skin at the bottom of my belly. It wasn’t noticeable to anyone other than myself.

It’s been a lot harder to bounce back after having my second child. My stomach is extremely saggy and even at my lowest weight last year, I still had a lot of excess skin. So I only wear bathing suits that cover a majority of my stomach because I’m embarrassed of how horrible it looks. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be ashamed, I should be proud of my body. And for the most part, I am. I feel like a total badass that I carried two children. But there’s always that little voice in the back of my head telling me that my body, covered in all these stretch marks, is hideous. That no matter how much I work out and get my body in the best shape, I’ll never be able to do anything about these stretch marks.

I have accepted the fact that I can’t do anything about my stretch marks. The best thing I can do is love my body with all its flaws. I’m learning to ignore that voice in my head telling me my stretch marks make me ugly. I love myself, and I’m learning to love my stretch marks. My stretch marks tell a story about my life:

A story of a little girl growing up…

…of a young woman happily in love,

…of a mother carrying her children,

…and a story of a certified badass.

-Toniann

My Traumatic Birth Experience

I got pregnant with my first daughter at 20 years old. Back then, I thought I was grown, but looking back, I realize how naïve I was. The birth of my daughter was one of the most frightening experiences I ever had.

My whole pregnancy was wonderful, no complications at all. If I was tired, I would nap. I never had any pain, even during my last trimester. All I had was horrible heartburn. I didn’t even realize that my gas pains were actually Braxton-Hicks contractions until I was in the hospital getting induced.

My husband, my mother and I went to my final 40 week appointment and it was there that my doctor told me that she wanted to induce labor later that night. I was 1cm dilated for the last four weeks, which was normal. I had hoped to go into labor naturally, but she had explained that there might be complications if we wait longer. I don’t recall exactly what, but I trusted her. This was my first pregnancy and I was young, so as much as I didn’t want to be induced, I believed my doctor knew best.

Later that night, we all drove to the hospital. I was so excited and nervous that I was finally going to meet my baby girl. When we arrived, I changed into a hospital gown and my stomach was strapped with a contraction monitor. My doctor then gave me Pitocin to induce labor.

And we waited.

My contractions started to get stronger and stronger after a few hours. Labor was progressing, very slowly. I wasn’t sure how much longer labor would be and I knew the pain would only get worse, so I asked for an epidural.

It was the middle of the night when the anesthesiologist came into my room. His hair was disheveled and he looked like he had just been woken up out of his sleep. He told my husband and mother that they were not allowed in the room with me and they left.

I had seen a video on how an epidural is performed and I was fucking scared.

I sat off the side of the hospital bed with my nurse in front of me. She gave me a pillow and told me to hunch over. The anesthesiologist warned me not to move and he gave me a small shot to numb the area. But it didn’t work. He started to poke at my back and I felt everything. He told me to stop moving and I apologized but I couldn’t help but wince at the pain. He poked me more than once and at one point said that my “vertebrae were really close together.”

I remember this going on for some time, and I started to get cold sweats and I felt nauseous because I was in so much pain. I looked up at my nurse and told her, “I feel like I’m going to vomit.” It was then that my nurse yelled at the anesthesiologist:

“Can’t you see she’s in pain? Give her some more numbing.”

I got a second shot of numbing and I felt my body finally relax. The epidural was in and I laid back in bed and felt my pain melt away.

Later, my doctor popped my water bag to try and help speed things along. She saw meconium, which is the baby’s first poop, so she flushed my womb. And we waited some more.

I got some sleep and in the morning my doctor came to check me again. I was 6cm dilated. I thought to myself, “great, we’re making some progress.” But my doctor told me I wasn’t progressing quickly enough, and she was having an operating room prepped for me to have a C-section.

I would be down in the operating room in 30 minutes.

Holy shit.

I didn’t speak up because I truly believed she had my best intentions in mind.

We went down to the operating room and my husband was the only one allowed to be with me. The put a big blue curtain up under my chest so we couldn’t see anything. And then they started.

I remember a lot of pulling and tugging. They even pressed down on the top of my stomach to get my daughter out. I know the used forceps to get her head out because she had a bruise later on. Finally her head was out, and she cried right away.

And then I cried. I cried this huge sigh of relief that she was finally here, and that she was okay. They told my husband to look over to see her and I remember asking him if she had a lot of hair, which she did. And I asked if she really was a girl, which she was. She was 8 lbs 9oz, my big beautiful girl.

They gave her her bath right in the room, dressed her and my husband went with our daughter to the nursery while they closed me up.

Jonathan and baby Isabella in the nursery.

And I was all alone.

I was surrounded by so many hospital staff but it was like I wasn’t even there. No one asked me how I was feeling, if I was okay or not.

I remember feeling freezing cold and exhausted. My job was done, I had my baby, and I was tired. So I closed my eyes to try and go to sleep and I heard my own voice in my head scream:

“Don’t go to sleep! Open your eyes!”

So I did. I opened my eyes wide and kept myself from going to sleep. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized what had happened.

I was brought back to my room and my epidural was removed. I had a heated blanket on me because I was freezing cold. I tried to go to sleep but the pain started to creep in. My incision felt like it was on fire and the damn heated blanket was not helping. I rang for my nurse and told her I was in excruciating pain. She gave me morphine, which felt like a heat wave all over my body. I still felt some of the pain but I was relaxed enough to get some sleep.

Later that day, my new nurse came to my room and asked me how I was feeling. I told her I was really tired, but I had attributed that to the fact that I just had a baby. She had told me that I had lost a lot of blood and kept asking me if I was sure I was okay. I told her yes and brushed it off. But my husband told me later that when he looked over the curtain after our daughter was born, it looked like a horror movie. All he saw was my body there, open and surrounded by an enormous amount of blood.

And I realized why I heard my voice in the operating room, yelling at me not to go to sleep. I probably wouldn’t have woken up had I kept my eyes closed.

It’s unnerving to think back to what I went through over 8 years ago. The pain that I went through before, during and after my daughters birth still haunts me. I had a huge bruise on my back after giving birth that my mother pointed out and she saw four distinct holes where the anesthesiologist had attempted to put that giant needle. I still have pain in my spine where he performed my epidural.

Despite all that I went through, I would do it all again for my daughter. She is the biggest gift I never knew I needed.

My Isabella

To all you mamas who have had a traumatic birth experience, I know your pain. I know how it feels to have your baby born, and suddenly you don’t exist anymore. I know a lot of you have had it much worse than I have, and I’m sorry. Having a baby should be the most magical time of our lives. I wish it was always like that.

Stay strong mamas, you got this.

-Toniann