Saturday, April 5, 2014

On resemblances and regrets

 I started a draft of this blog in an e-mail to myself at work and when I copied and pasted into blogger the formatting got all borked. I tried to fix it but I stopped accruing html skills ten years ago. Apologies. So if the font is inconsistent in size or serif, please know that it bothers me as much as or more than it bothers you.

A few days ago M Instagrammed a picture of Roo at the Phoenix Zoo. I have looked at this picture probably twenty times because Roo is pretty much my favorite thing in the history of ever. 

Most people I know will insist that Roo looks just like me. I’ve never seen much of a resemblance; she looks much more like H than like me. But no one ever met H, and people tend to see what they’re looking for, and Roo did get half of her genes from me. But saying that is misleading, isn’t it? Scientifically it’s more accurate to say that Roo got half of her genes from my parents. The reason that biological siblings sometimes look nothing alike is that each person is the result of a random combination of their grandparents’ DNA. This explains why in my family, siblings look like this:

We're all white. Does that count as a resemblance?

and cousins look like this:

Definitely related.

If I were better at math I think I would have become a geneticist, because this stuff fascinates me to no end. 
Anyway. I’m aware of Mendel's laws and yet I was surprised when I saw this picture of Roo in front of the baboons, because I didn’t see a resemblance to H or to me. I saw a resemblance to my sister. My first thought was, sheesh, I don’t even look like my sister. My next thought was that here is this little person who looks something like my sister, and my sister has never met her, and probably never will. My sister shares DNA with Roo. My sister’s kids share DNA with Roo. From the grandparent-gene perspective, my nieces and nephews could end up looking a lot like Roo. And they will never meet. 
I wondered, for the first time ever, how the other members of my family feel about Roo’s adoption. I know that they think I made the right call and that they are proud of me (I think). But I wonder what they think of Roo herself. I wonder if there is a sense of loss for any of them. My oldest brother met Roo and has met P and M as well. But my other brother and my sister never met my little girl and I can’t imagine any circumstances in which they would. They have to have come to this conclusion as well. Does it bother them? Has it occurred to any of them that their kids share DNA with Roo, too?
My pregnancy has to have raised awkward conversations between my oldest brother and his kids. They lived in town at the time. At that point I’m sure the only birds-and-bees conversation that had taken place involved married mommies and daddies, or if they didn’t, the mommy-without-a-daddy thing probably wasn’t presented as a viable option. I know that my sister told her kids that they had a new cousin when Roo was born. And now I wonder, what was the conversation like when I chose adoption? How do you explain to a child that her cousin isn’t her cousin anymore? 
I wonder especially about my brother Christopher’s family. His youngest, Violet, was born exactly three weeks after Roo was. What kind of conversations went on in their house? My youngest nephew was still a baby when I placed Roo, and my youngest niece was born six months after placement. How will they find out about Roo, if they do at all? I mean, I’m a blabbermouth about adoption but I don’t know how my siblings have chosen to handle the issue in their own families. 
I get that parenting is pretty much all awkward conversations, but how many awkward conversations have I personally been responsible for? I wonder now. I never wondered before, but I wonder now how my siblings explained things to their kids. About Roo when she was mine and about Roo when all of a sudden she wasn't. I never considered or appreciated this burden before. I never cared.

I care more now, I think, and I feel guilty that it's taken me so many years to care. Who am I that I wouldn't give a thought for five years to how Roo and her adoption affected people other than me and Roo and her family? She will be 5 in three months, and yet this is the first time I have ever stopped to think about any of these things. I’m not sure what that says about me as a sister, or as a person. I mean, I know that I’m an inherently selfish being, but honestly, I should have considered these things before. I should have considered them many times. How am I just now realizing, at thirty years old, that I am not an island?

I wonder how much of my lack of consideration for this is due to the fact that my mother was adopted. For my whole life I have simply accepted that I share DNA with people I will never meet. I'm not just talking about my mom's birth family, either. I have cousins on my mom's side that I have never met, and cousins on my dad's side I've only met once or twice. I'm half envious, half mystified when I meet people who are close to their entire extended families. It's nothing I've ever experienced. Is that sad? It sounds sad, I think. I've never given it too much thought. 

But whatever the reason, I'm only now starting to wonder if my family is similarly blase' about having biological relatives they've never met. And I wonder if they include Roo in that relative count. 

I think maybe it's time for me to have a few awkward conversations of my own. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hopes and Fears*

Last week was an adoption picnic and I went to it, as I go to every adoption event, because I knew Roo was going to be there and I will take any chance I get to admire the fantastic little girl who used to live in my womb.

Roo will be five years old this summer, and frankly I don't know how that happened. I swear she just barely learned to read (before she was three, you guys!) and now she'll be in kindergarten in the fall. Because I don't see her every day, she always seems so much more grown up each time I see her. Taller - although not much; genetics are not on her side as far as height goes - and smarter and more independent.

Gone are the days when Roo was a tiny baby whose decisions were made for her. She has her own mind and she does as she pleases, within the limits set by her parents. Case in point: when Roo's daddy brought her to the picnic - she had been at a birthday party earlier - she didn't want to socialize. She wanted to play on the playground and I could barely get a hello out of her. She was too focused on climbing the jungle gym.

I watched her run off in her princess dress and for a moment I missed the tiny, chubby baby I used to be able to hold captive in my arms. It was easier to feel connected to her then, when I could hold her warm weight and clearly remember her little feet kicking me from the inside.

I missed the darling toddler who would play pretend with me because she was the age when children will play with anyone who sits down with them. I felt less connected then but she was still so small and she was easy to distract in my favor.

I watched Roo climb higher and higher - surprisingly adept at keeping her dress in place as she ascended  - and I realized, maybe for the first time, that openness is not a choice that Roo made for herself. It's a choice that was made for her. She knows who I am because her parents thought it would be best for her and for me. She did not ask to meet me. She did not ask to have me in her life.

And I realized that the time may come when she does not want me in her life. It may not come, of course, and I hope it doesn't, but as I watched her climb I thought, I have to prepare myself for that eventuality. If the time comes that Roo would rather not have a relationship with me, I will have to find a way to be okay with that.

I don't know any adults who grew up with an open adoption because it's such a relatively recent phenomenon. I know adults who have reconnected with their birth families, but none who grew up with a birth mom in their lives. What will my presence do to and for Roo as she grows up? Will I be a benefit to her or a burden?

Such heavy thoughts for a picnic. This is what happens when you use caffeine as a substitute for sleep.

Roo grew tired of the jungle gym and came over and we had an Arizona snowball fight with the rest of the picnic attendees. We made play dough shapes together ("Don't make any more seahorses," she told me. "Make something else") and she made me a valentine card and we watched the ducks swim in the pond.

("I wish that I was a duck," said Roo, "so I could swim all day and people would feed me." She looked pensive and then added, "But Mommy would miss me if I were a duck here.")

For now, Roo is happy to play with me when she's not asserting her independence. My hope is that she will always be happy to see me. That she will be able to feel my love for her. That she'll be a happier, healthier person for having an open adoption that includes her birth mother as a sometimes presence in her life.

But my hope is also that she will make the kind of choices that will result in peace and happiness in her life, whatever those end up being. My hope is also that if the time comes when she feels I am a hindrance rather than a help, that she will be strong enough to let me go. I don't want to be an obligation to her. Openness was chosen for her as a benefit, not a burden. I don't ever want to be a burden.

I don't want to not be a part of her life. The thought that someday Roo might not need or want me around scares me. And I don't want it to happen, and I don't anticipate that happening, I really don't. But I want the choice to be hers, when she's old enough to make it.

*Dear Keane: please forgive me for stealing your album title for my blog post. Hopes and Fears is my favorite of your albums, and "This is the Last Time" got me through a rough patch. I love you guys, even though I hated the heck out of your collaboration with K'naan.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If You Want to Help a Birth Mother

In my local adoption community, I am seen as a success story. Not as any kind of hero or role model, but as a success. I placed my baby for adoption after a brief stint single parenting. I went through the messy grieving process and came out of it a better person. Four years later I have a career of sorts, an apartment, a car, and mental health. I am doing well. I have a good relationship with the child I placed and with her family. I've got 99 problems, but adoption ain't one.

I know way too many birth moms who can't say the same. I have seen open adoptions - and birth mothers - fall apart spectacularly. I am more acutely aware than ever that I hit the jackpot as far as adoption is concerned. I wish everyone could be so lucky. 

I think this is why, in the last three months, I've been asked for advice by adoption caseworkers and their ilk. They all want to know the same thing: why did things work out well for me, and how can they ensure similar successes for the birth moms they work with?

I wish I knew. I am hesitant to give advice because every situation, every adoption is its own little planet. Every person is different and every adoption is different and things can change so quickly. I've never wanted to set myself up as an example of what to do or how to be. That makes me very uncomfortable, particularly when in adoption, two people can do exactly the same thing and end up with vastly different results.

I've tried to explain this, but still I'm asked, "What can we do to help birth mothers?"

I'm expected to have some exclusive insight as a birth mother. But all I can think of is how right after placement, there was almost no help on earth for me - not that there was none offered, but that nothing worked. The only thing that made me happy was seeing my baby girl and how well she was doing. I lived for her and for those moments. Other than that, there was too much going on to be helped by any single entity or program. I had too many different issues.

That's the real gist of it, isn't it? There are always too many things going on in a birth mother's life. We can talk all we want about how there ought to be support and programs to help women who have just placed a child for adoption deal with that issue. And I'm not saying those things aren't important. But what we're forgetting is that so often, an unplanned pregnancy isn't the overarching problem. It's a symptom. When a woman is facing an unplanned pregnancy in the kind of situation where she's considering and choosing adoption, the pregnancy isn't her problem. If you want to help a birth mom, you have to realize that.

Not that there's ever one single underlying issue. There are dozens. Low self-esteem, co-dependence, abuse, depression, anxiety, daddy issues … sometimes it's a combination. But part of what makes placement so gut-wrenching is that you've got the grief of placing a child layered on top of these other issues that were never treated. In my personal experience, if you want to help a birth mom, you have to help restore her sense of self-worth. 

I'm not saying that every single birth mom has made horrible life choices or gotten herself into a bad situation. But the vast majority of those I have met (and I include myself in this number) ended up pregnant because a lot of other things were going on. My pregnancy was a symptom of a much larger problem.

I've always hated the term "crisis pregnancy" because it sounds like some sort of emergency or disaster. My pregnancy wasn't like that. The fact is that it saved my life. I was self-destructing spectacularly before I got pregnant. Roo saved my life. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, there would have been a crisis situation. If you want to help a birth mother, don't look at her pregnancy as a crisis. Look at it as an opportunity to make positive changes in her life.

So, adoption professionals, here's my advice to you. If you want to help a birth mother, stop looking at her as a birth mother. Look at her as a person. She had problems before placement and she's going to have them after. There is no one-size-fits-all help for her. Don't put her in a box. You can do better than that. She deserves better than that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Which Jill Word-Vomits Some of Her Ugly Feelings

This blog used to be a painfully open book about every single thought and feeling that I had about adoption. It didn't occur to me to filter what I wrote, because it didn't occur to me that anyone would ever really read it.

People read it. I have been told that it was helpful, but mostly I find myself embarrassed that I shared as much as I did. If I could go back I would probably say a lot less. But I can't go back.

What I can do, and have done, is be much more thoughtful about the things that I share. Because I was so candid in the past I find myself being excruciatingly careful in choosing every single word anymore and as a result I don't blog nearly as much as I used to. I'm a worrier; I don't know how much I have mentioned that in the past but the first 25 years of my life were basically one long panic attack. As I've grown up I've gotten better at channeling my worry when I can and stuffing it down when I can't. My blog became one of the places I shifted this mental energy. I agonized over every word of every post and quite frequently I would write entire posts - they would take hours! - and then I'd decide at the last second that they weren't good enough to share.

It's exhausting. I'm tired of worrying so much. I'm going to try to worry less and just say what I feel. It worked for me in the past; I think it's what grew my readership. I've never been numbers-focused in my blogging. I don't care how many people read it; I just want the people who do read it to get something out of it.

So, I'm just going to get some feelings out right now. That's what I used to do. I'm going to try doing it again. And I'm not even going to proofread. How's that for living dangerously?

I turned 30 in October. I had a great week of birthday celebrations but then it ended and I felt like I had this itch I couldn't scratch. I'm not where I wanted to be at 30. I don't feel like I have much to show for my life so far.

I want a husband and I want children. I want children very, very badly. Not having any has made me miss Roo more lately. Not the real Roo, who is four, but my baby Roo, the tiny newborn who for a brief time made me a mother. I miss her. I miss being her mom. Babies are awesome. It seems like everyone I know is either engaged (seven engagements in two weeks, I kid you not) or having a baby, and I can't even get a first date.

In the 4-ish years since placement until the end of November, I was asked maybe a total of three times whether I had any kids. It just never came up for some reason. Then this past week I was asked twice if I'm a mother. The second time was at work. A very adorable and chatty five-year-old asked whether there were any lollipops in the library that she could have, and I apologized, telling her that we don't usually keep candy there. She felt bad for me.

"Next time I come in I'm going to bring you some candy. I'll bring lots. You can have some and you can take some for your kids. Do you have kids?"

I don't even know why my brain did what it did but for some reason I said, "I have a little girl." I felt like I was hearing myself say it more than I was making the conscious decision to speak.

"Well, she can have some candy, too," the girl told me, and then her grandmother said they had to leave.

And I was really glad there was a line at the circulation desk, because I think if I hadn't had work to do right then, I would have gone to my desk in the back room and just cried. Because I don't have kids. Because I don't have a husband or even a boyfriend. Because I don't have any money, or any plan for the rest of my life, or anything that I thought I would have at 30. Because maybe I never will.

I always get depressed around the holidays. It used to start at the beginning of October but I was still pretty happy then and I thought maybe I'd get a break this year. I was wrong. I've been a mess since just after Halloween, and I've spent the past 2 weeks in particular desperately fighting off a panic attack. It's like swatting a fly that won't go away. No matter how many times I beat back those feelings, they keep pushing at me.

It's exhausting. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of constantly thinking and feeling. I wish I could just shut that part of my brain off for a few weeks. I wish I could stop worrying and just enjoy my life and be happy with what I have instead of defining myself by what I lack.

That's the trick, though, isn't it? Because the world I live in is determined to define me by my lack. No kids, no husband. No college degree. Not tall. Not thin. Not pretty. Not enough. (I've had self-esteem problems lately, too, in case that isn't coming through.) It's hard to remember the good things about yourself when society only sees the bad.

One of my problems ... blah. I wasn't going to mention it but as long as I'm being honest, I'm going to just be completely honest and get it all out there.

I've kind of lost my head over a guy I know. He doesn't feel the same way about me. My friends and my mother and my therapist all have opinions on the matter but I don't feel comfortable with any of the advice I've been given. In the meantime I have all of these stupid feelings jammed inside me and I can't shake them. I am desperate to shake them. I have spent hours asking God to take away my feelings for this guy but whether I have them for a reason or I'm just not strong enough to get rid of them, the feelings are still there.

This, too, is exhausting. It's like having a toothache that doesn't go away. Some times it hurts worse and some times it's not as bad, but the pain is always there, waiting for a bad time to remind you of its presence.

I have had many days lately where I think that this whole adult human thing just isn't working for me. Of all the stupid things I've done in my life, being an adult is on the top of the list.

I know that what I need to do is focus on all of the things that are amazing in my life. Lately I have come to truly realize and appreciate how fantastic Roo's open adoption is. I feel like my relationship with Roo and her family just keeps improving, and it is a great blessing in my life. I'm a lucky girl. I know way too many birth moms whose open adoptions haven't turned out the way they'd hoped or planned.

I am so, so proud of Roo. She is the most awesome little kid ever. She is very smart and very cute but more importantly she is very kind. It does me a lot of good, when I'm feeling like a wreck and a failure, to look at Roo and her life. No matter what else happens to me, no matter how many things I mess up, I grew and gave birth to this precious little girl, and I found her family. I love the way that she is being raised. I think she's going to be unstoppable when she's an adult (and maybe even before then). How lucky am I to be able to see these things firsthand?

I am trying really, really hard to stay positive and to have hope. I had a motto for myself this year that I abandoned ages ago - probably back in March - that was cheerful and optimistic and then life happened. My new motto is something I try to remind myself of every single day --

It's not always going to be like this.

It's not. It won't. Things are already different than they were a year ago, and next year will be different, too. "Different" hasn't meant any of the changes I had hoped for but at least if I have problems, they're different problems. I like variety in my heartache. But I do hope for less heartache.

I hope that someday I will have the opportunity of falling in love with someone who loves me back. I hope that someday I will remember how to sleep. I hope that someday even if I don't have what I wanted for myself, I'll be happy with what I have. I hope that someday I will make Roo and her family proud of me. (I should want my own family to be proud of me, but they know me too well for that. Best to stick to attainable goals.)

I will. I have to believe that. And in the meantime, I will follow the brave example of Liz Lemon:

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Still Hurts

Last week I got to be on a panel at an adoption conference. Two other birth mothers and I answered questions from new birth moms and expectant parents, and I think it went really well.

One of the questions we got was whether placement still hurt years later.  I said no, and it was the truth. It hurt a lot for quite a while but that's in the past. But lately I have been thinking about the circumstances that led me to choose adoption, and I realized that that's where the pain comes in. That's what still hurts.

I may write about all of these circumstances in the future but today I'm going to focus on the one that tapped me on the shoulder yesterday and said, "Hey, I know you were happy a second ago, so I just wanted to remind you that you should probably fall into a bout of tears and self-loathing."

Yesterday was H's birthday.

There's no point in remembering an ex's birthday, but I always remember dates, whether I need to or not. I'm sure that I have been vaguely aware in past years of H's birthday, in the same way that I am vaguely aware of minor holidays like Arbor Day or the start of Brumalia.* But I never thought much about it, and I doubt that I would have thought much about it if I hadn't been trying to do a favor for a friend.

Saying I was doing a favor for a friend makes it sound like I was being generous and thoughtful but the fact is this favor included scouring Pinterest for a picture that in the end I didn't even find. What I found instead made me think of H, and I cried.

What I found was this. More pictures and the full story can be found on the photographer's website here. Go ahead and look, I'll wait.


Good? Okay.

Anyway. The four pictures from the pin broke my heart. I thought back to my time in the hospital four years ago. It's nothing I would have wanted photographed. It's nothing I want to remember.

I've always wanted to be a mother. I know that's probably appallingly unambitious in today's modern, post-feminist society but it's the truth. In my younger years I used to imagine what my life would be like when I brought my first child into the world. The reality was so far from what I'd imagined, it was devastating. I cried through most of my time in the hospital and very little of my tears were due to physical pain. I cried because this wasn't how I wanted to begin my motherhood. This wasn't how any baby ought to be welcomed into the world.

I had imagined a devoted husband holding my hand, telling me I was doing great. I had imagined both of my parents in the waiting room, talking about the day that I was born. I imagined my brothers and sister anxiously waiting for my parents to call so they could tell their children about a brand-new cousin. I imagined dozens of people - friends, family, church members - all excited about the birth of my child.

Instead, it was just me and my mother. She cried a lot, too. The fluorescent lights in the hospital buzzed in and out and at times the room I was laboring in seemed so dark that I fought my contractions, unwilling to deliver a baby in a place so devoid of light and joy.

I am grateful that my mother was there with me. But her emotions got the better of her. She tried not to cry in front of me but there was nowhere for her to go. "This isn't right," she sobbed at one point. "You should have a husband and he should be here with you. You shouldn't be alone."

I needed her to be strong for me, but she hardly had enough strength for herself. I didn't blame her. I blamed myself.

You may be wondering where H was during all of this. I have no idea. The last time we had communicated I had been planning on placing my baby for adoption and although I had vacillated between placement and parenting since then, I knew better than to bother H with my ambivalence. He had been very clear that if I chose adoption he would be out of the picture.

It wouldn't have been any better with him there at the hospital. He wasn't my husband. He didn't want this child. He didn't love me. I don't think he ever did. And I felt ... oh, so many things. But mostly I felt as though I had given him too much of myself already, trusted him with too much of who I was. There didn't seem to be anything left of my identity that he hadn't colored. I wanted to labor without him, to try to find myself somehow in the beautiful, terrible pain of giving life.

I have learned over the years to not dwell on dark days. I take from them what they have to give me and I leave them behind me where they belong. But every now and then something will take me back down the rabbit hole of my past. Every now and then I get a reminder that once I gave my whole soul to a man with the most beautiful, sad brown eyes, and that he didn't want it. We created life together and it still wasn't enough. I wasn't enough. There was nothing on earth I could do to make him care, to make him love me.

Oh, don't mistake me, please. I don't need him to love me now and I don't need him to have ever loved me. I was foolish then; I still believed in fairy tales. I'm smarter now. I know better. It just stings, the remembering does. The thinking. The wondering.

H was my first boyfriend. H was my only boyfriend. No one wanted me before and no one has wanted me since. If I didn't have eight years of therapy to lean on these facts would break me. Even with the therapy it's easy, when my defenses are down, to imagine that no one will ever want me. It's easy to imagine that my choice is between loneliness and cats. Out of everything emotionally wrenching thing that has happened to me since I found out I was pregnant, that's what still hurts.

Thank you for slogging through these emotions with me. I promise my next post will be happier and include a picture of my Tom Selleck birthday cake.

*Oh, don't pretend you don't remember the start of Brumalia. I can't be the only one ... well, I guess I can. Never mind.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What's Your Excuse?

Oh, Internet. I can't leave you alone for one minute, can I?

I went to New York City last weekend and when I got back, everyone online was raising a stink about a photograph.

I'm not going to post it here because reasons, but if you have spent any time on a computer in the past week you have probably seen it. It's a photograph of a mother with her three small boys. The mother is wearing a body-baring sports bra and booty shorts, so we can admire her impeccable abs. The caption at the top of the photo reads "What's your excuse?"

"What's my excuse for what?" I thought, because I enjoy being deliberately obtuse. But obviously, this woman is asking what my excuse is for not having a body like hers.

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to the world about pregnancy and childbirth and a woman's body. But Beauty Redefined says it better than I could, so I'll let you go there. The world isn't very kind to women who don't bounce back from a pregnancy with the speed and precision of a celebrity. You know what makes it even worse? Not having a baby to show for it.

I think that even though society has these expectations of new mothers, we're willing to make allowances for a woman if she's pushing a newborn around in a stroller. "Her midsection is doughy," Society says, "but she did have a baby a few months ago." When I went to the store with Roo, my baby belly was excused. I had proof that there was a purpose to how I looked.

After placement? I was just another fat girl. No one could tell that my body had done something amazing in growing a human from scratch. No one could tell that I emotionally gutted myself to give that tiny human a wonderful life. And it didn't matter - in the eyes of the world, I wasn't a birth mother or a woman or a child of God. I was just fat.

I don't like that word, by the way. Fat. I don't like the way it's defined today and I don't like the way that it's used. My sister-in-law doesn't allow her children to say it. They're allowed to speak in terms of healthy and less healthy, but never fat, and they understand that you can't tell if someone is healthy just by looking at them.

I've struggled with my weight and with disordered eating for 2/3 of my life. When I was 19 years old, I finally got skinny. I had flat abs and slim legs and I fit the societal definition of health because I could wear a certain jeans size. It's worth noting that at that point in time I still wanted to lose 10 pounds, because according to the Body Mass Index I was overweight. But, hey, I was skinny - my body looked a lot like What's Your Excuse Lady's, right down to the washboard abs, so I must have been fit, right?

Wrong. I had hypertension, my cholesterol and triglycerides were atrocious, I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night, I was a mental health disaster, and I got winded if I tried to run from the front door to the sidewalk. My physical appearance gave the impression of health, but I was as unhealthy as it was possible to be without a fatal disease.

I looked good, and I was constantly given compliments on my appearance. But my looks didn't tell the whole story.

What's Your Excuse Lady is probably much more physically fit than I was at my thinnest. Or, you know, maybe she isn't. Because all I know about her is that she looks fit. What's Your Excuse Lady might find my body repulsive, and wonder why it looks this way. I'm single and childless - why am I not working out an hour each day?

For the record, here are my abs as of three weeks ago:

Please note the myriad stretch marks. I am very proud of them. Roo gave them to me. When I see them, I think of her and how much I love her. You may also notice a few odd little horizontal white scars. Those are from the surgery to remove my gallbladder. Because when I was skinny and by all appearances healthy, I had gallstones. (When my gallbladder was inspected post-surgery, they lost count at 15 gallstones.)

These are my abs, and I am, at the age of 30 years minus a week, the healthiest I have ever been in my life. I probably can't convince you with the picture above, but it's true. I can do 10 pushups with perfect form. I can hold a full squat for a solid minute. I can do a 20-minute ab workout without a struggle. I can run - not super fast, but I can do it. My cholesterol is on the low end of normal. My triglycerides are perfect. My blood pressure? 93/50. I am happy and mentally healthy and, by the way, I weigh 155 pounds.

So, what's my excuse?

My excuse is that I think there are at least 600 things in this world that are more important than flat abs. My excuse is that "have a perfect body" isn't anywhere on my list of priorities - health, yes, "hot," no. My excuse is that I am so much more than what I look like. My excuse is that I would rather live a full and interesting life and have a doughy belly than spend 365 hours a year at the gym. My excuse is that I have value and worth beyond my physical appearance.

My excuse is that I am capable of doing things, not just being being looked at. My excuse is that I am strong, and strong doesn't have a single look, nor should it, nor should we expect it to. My excuse is that I earned this stomach, stretch marks and scars and all, and I love it. My excuse is that I am happy with who I am, regardless of the fact that no one covets my abs.

My excuse is a precious, perfectly imperfect little four-year-old girl named Roo who is going to take her cues about health and worth and womanhood from the influential women in her life. She is blessed with an intelligent, clever, and media-savvy mother to guide her, and I am so glad! I can't talk M up enough. If I ever grow up I want to be just like her.

I don't know how big of an influence I will end up having on Roo and the woman that she becomes, but I refuse to take any risks. I refuse to sacrifice any part of myself at the altar of "hot," because I don't want Roo to think it's something I place any value on.

I know that her parents will teach her well, as they already have. But if she ever looks to me as an example or a role model or even just as a genetic roadmap, I want her to see a woman whose imperfections give her strength. I want her to see a woman who is more concerned with making the world beautiful than she is with making herself beautiful.

My excuse is that I don't want the person I love most in the world to ever have to feel she needs to make excuses for the way that she looks. She is more than her body. She is precious to me because of who she is, not because of her looks.

I have made a lot of excuses today, but you know what? I don't need them. There are only a handful of things you can tell about me by looking at me, and none of them are important.