Not all that glitters is gold. My stretchmarks glitter, silvery, in the evening light, and I reflect on them and how my relationship with my body has changed over time.

Once upon a time, I found myself 25 years old and a single mother, out of nowhere. I sat back and reassessed my chances at ever finding love again. I had a sixteen month old boy and I was breastfeeding. My body was a far cry from its condition when I met my son’s father, so many years before. Pregnancy and motherhood had left me with these things, these stretch marks, and I was mortified.

How could any man ever love me, look at these hideous lines? I lamented, vainly seeking cocktails of chemicals and oils that could resolve this injustice and restore my body to something more acceptable. I assumed that men looked for perfection. I was terrified they were a sentence to a lifetime of solitude. That turned out to not be the case at all, and my perspective has since changed. I talked to my current and very wise boyfriend about  how I wanted to write about my stretch marks. He volunteered his opinions and I’m forever grateful for his words.

He gifted me this song, by Brandi Carlile and its lyrics “All of these lines across my face, tell you the story of who I am”. He talked about the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi/kintsukuroi, wherein instead of trying to hide the cracks, they are filled with gold dust and resin to illuminate them. They are a part of the story, not something to be ashamed of. This made a lot of sense to me, since mine seem to be filled with silver.

The way I see my stretch marks is that they are a map of all the times I grew. My belly swelled to make room for a precious child who is larger than life. My breasts grew to nourish him and help him grow. My muscles grew when I started lifting weights and they occupied more space than my skin was used to covering. I  see them as a physical manifestation of the times I’ve grown in non-physical ways too.

Single parenthood can be excruciatingly lonely. My immune system is pretty abysmal and I’m sick a lot as a result. My son gets sick. I’ve been through two major car crashes in that time that took a long time to recover. Sick and injured can be extremely isolating. In that loneliness, I’ve grown a lot of self sufficiency and independence. Many of the things I used to rely on a husband for I have learned to do myself. I have also learned to reach out and expand my social circle. I have found people I can depend on, that contribute to my happiness, that make the journey less difficult or at least more bearable. I’m thankful for these alliances and the strength they brought and how they made me grow bigger inside.

Stretchmarks remind me of size. There have been so many times I’ve felt so small. These are the times when outcomes are completely outside my span of control, problems seem huge and life doesn’t make sense. Other times I’ve felt impossibly big, achieving professional success that caused me to break clean out of my chrysalis with startling speed and little warning. I’m blossoming as a writer and my voice is growing stronger.

The stretch marks tell the story of my shrinking and expansion and I’m thankful to have these glittering little reminders that nothing is constant, and that’s okay. For me, they are proof of life and evidence that limits are like skin, we can push past them and create something incredible. In the end, we are left with an atlas of battlefields with glorious tales for each one.