How my baby changed the way I look in the mirror

By Chrissie Dunham
@cdeist

Before starting the car I flip down the mirror to remove a stray eyelash stuck beneath my lid. Seeing my reflection in the bright outdoor light, I startle at a dark splotch on my right cheek. A new island in an archipelago of markings. I know that pregnancy hormones increase pigmentation — the July sun isn’t helping either — but knowing doesn’t block a stab of dismay.

I turn away from the mirror. Why should this minor imperfection make me flinch? There’s no reason for me to look any particular way this afternoon — I’m on my way to the dentist. I doubt my husband would notice it or be bothered by it if he did. Have I ever looked at someone else and been upset by a less-than-perfect complexion?

No, that judgment is reserved for my reflection.

When I touch my husband’s face, each marking is a treasure — the prickle of an errant hair, the punctuation mark of a mole beneath one eye, a scar two inches past the left temple. He looks up while weighing a question and I try to guess at the response brewing behind his eyes — I’ve gotten better at it but I still marvel at the unexpected directions his mind goes.

When talking to a friend my eyes don’t linger on uneven textures or tones. I listen to her words — she shares thoughts on the insignificance of birthdays after thirty and I laugh out loud in agreement.

When looking at others it’s so easy to see past blemishes — or to not see them as defects at all.

When I look in the mirror, I make an unspoken demand for a perfect image. I base my appraisal on one dimension.

The image in the mirror can be useful, but it tells an incomplete story. It tells me nothing about the mind producing these thoughts, the hands that prepare meals and wave hello and pluck the strings of a guitar. The womb where a tiny person is growing.

The image in the mirror can be useful, but it’s woefully incomplete. I should take its assessment with a grain of salt.

*

It’s late August and I’m sitting on the couch with my week-old baby in my arms, my husband’s arm around me. Grandma snaps a photo . The three of you look so content! she says.

We are.

She shows us the photo and my eyes narrow in on my abdomen, the bulge pregnancy has left behind. My inner critic opens her mouth but then—I take in the whole picture. I see strong arms cradling my baby’s delicate downy body. A soft mouth that shush-shush-shushes his fits of tiger cub cries. Long legs that bend and bounce and carry him back to sleep.

I know that inside is a heart thump-thump-thumping for the baby in my arms and the man with his arm around me.

Hot, happy hormone-fueled tears roll from my eyes, painting wet streaks down my face. I go to the bathroom to grab a tissue. I look in the mirror. My cheeks are still splotchy, but they’re glowing. I smile, and the woman in the mirror smiles back.

Chrissie Dunham writes software for a living and writes essays to explore her life. She lives in a San Francisco suburb with her husband, newborn son, and four chickens. Read more of her work on Medium @chrissie.dunham

Art by Chloe Trayhurn.

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