Having babies changed our bodies forever, but we love our stretch marks, scars and saggy bellies

HAVING a baby altered these women’s figures forever, but they wouldn’t change a thing as told to Nicola Fahey.

‘My C-section scar is a badge of honour’

Jemma Holcroft, 31, is a supply teacher and lives in Doncaster with her football coach partner Ben, 37, and 19-month-old son Archie. She is expecting a second child in June.

“Looking at my naked body in the hospital bathroom mirror, I began to cry.

After an emergency C-section, following a traumatic 52-hour labour, I had an angry scar across my abdomen, my breasts were swollen and I felt exhausted and ugly.

Back in bed, feeding my son Archie, I was consumed with guilt for worrying about my appearance, but couldn’t shake the fear my body had changed forever.

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I’ve struggled with my self-confidence since I was a teen, when I was bullied at school for my frizzy hair, glasses and braces.

Throughout college and uni, I overhauled my geeky image, and when I met Ben in December 2016 on Tinder, I was wearing hair and lash extensions and wouldn’t leave the house without fake tan and a full face of make-up.

I went to the gym before and after work daily, and was a size 8 with washboard abs.

After I became pregnant in November 2019, I felt insecure about the extra weight and my veiny breasts, but Ben always told me I was beautiful.

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I ran 5k three times a week until I was 36 weeks pregnant, and assumed that once the baby was born my body would return to normal.

But three months after Archie’s birth in August 2020, I was still recovering and couldn’t exercise.

My breasts were huge, with larger, darker nipples. It felt like it wasn’t my body.

My abs were replaced by a roll of fat that hung over my jeans, and I had no time to do my hair or make-up.

I loved Archie so much, but felt desperately unhappy.

In February 2021, I saw my GP, who diagnosed me with postnatal depression and referred me for counselling.

I sobbed as I admitted feeling guilty for being so self-absorbed about my image, but the counsellor reassured me that my feelings were valid.

After two months of weekly sessions, my mindset began to change. 

Moisturising my belly after a shower one day, instead of seeing my C-section scar as a flaw, it felt like a badge of honour and reminded me of my strength, while my swollen breasts were keeping my baby alive.

Archie was one when I began exercising again for my mental wellbeing rather than to achieve a certain body shape. I was a size 10.

I’d accepted I’d never fit into my clothes again and gave them away.

I’m now 28 weeks pregnant with our second child, and counselling helps me stay positive.

It’s been a long journey to acceptance, but who cares if my abs are a distant memory – becoming a mum made me stronger than any gym session could.”

‘My stomach bulges over my trousers, but I’m proud of it’

Nicola Lynch, 25, is an eyelash technician, and lives in Rainham, Kent, with her partner Steve, 29, a digger driver, and their children Millie, four, and Charlie, three.

“I was four months pregnant with my daughter Millie when I got my first stretch mark – a faint purple line crawling up my tummy.

At first, I felt proud because it was a sign I was growing a baby. But by the time my due date arrived in August 2017, my lower body looked like a map, with red lines on my thighs, bum and belly.

I didn’t worry, as I used Bio-Oil on them, and I hoped they’d vanish once I gave birth.

However, though they turned to white and silver scars in the months after Millie’s birth, they didn’t disappear.

My stomach sagged so much, it made the stretch marks wrinkle and look like crepe paper. I was 20, but I had the stomach of an 80 year old. 

I hated it. I felt nervous to let my partner Steve see me naked, and when we started to have sex again, it was strictly lights off.

When Millie was three months old, Steve and I were watching a movie when, for a split second, my T-shirt pulled up and exposed my tummy.

As I self-consciously yanked it down, Steve said: ‘Those marks are our daughter’s first artwork.’

It was such a beautiful, reassuring comment, and I realised I needed to stop being so harsh about my body and appreciate its post-partum beauty.

When I was 15, I had anorexia, triggered by my dad dying when I was nine. I starved myself down to 6st and was admitted to a psychiatric unit after suffering heart palpitations and seizures.

Doctors told me I was close to death, but nothing they said resonated until they told me I’d damaged my body so severely I’d probably never have children.

That was the reality check I needed, because I’d always dreamed of being a mum.

It was a slow process but, in September 2013, after 10 months of treatment, I’d gained enough weight to be released as an out-patient. 

Not long after that, I met Steve through friends. He never judged me for what I’d been through and encouraged me to keep getting better.

As our relationship became more serious, I told him I might not be able to have children, but he said we’d cross that bridge if and when we came to it.

My periods, which had stopped for three years, finally returned, and in 2016 I was overjoyed to discover I was pregnant. 

It wasn’t planned, but was the most amazing surprise. Despite struggling with my body image, I loved watching my bump and curves grow.

After Millie was born, I weighed 13st – 3st more than pre-pregnancy.

With my cellulite and saggy, wrinkled tummy, I looked nothing like new-mum celebrities on social media. I felt like a failure because I hadn’t returned to my old shape quickly. 

It took Steve’s lovely comment about my stretch marks to make me realise that they were OK – that my body had done an amazing thing.

When Millie was six months old, I became pregnant again. I refused to worry about the impact on my body so soon after my first pregnancy, focusing instead on staying healthy and growing a new baby.

Charlie was born in December 2018 and my stomach will probably never recover from back-to-back pregnancies.

With loose skin and stretch marks, it bulges over my trousers, but when I look at it now I feel proud. I’ve grown two healthy babies and that’s all that matters.

I’m a size 12-14 now and weigh 11st. 

I feel healthy and sexy and I’ll happily look at my naked body in the mirror. I’m working on my confidence in the bedroom so that we can have the lights back on!

Steve tells me I’m the most attractive I’ve ever been.

A few months ago, Millie noticed my stretch marks when we were in the bath together and asked what they were. I explained their story with pride. They’re a bond with her and Charlie that make me feel beautiful.” 

‘I’m 2st heavier, but my mum taught me how to be happy with who I am’

Jodi Vernon, 39, is a doll maker and lives with her partner David, 40, and children Hamilton, 13, Clarke, seven, and Shiloh, two, in Brixton, London. 

“Squeezing into my jeans, I sighed as I looked down at my rolls of belly fat. My youngest child had turned two, but I was still carrying my baby weight.

I wished I could call my mum Annette and hear her tell me I was beautiful, no matter what, but she passed away two years ago in April 2020, aged just 63, after a fatal reaction to kidney dialysis.

I became aware of my thicker thighs and naturally big bum at seven years old when I started ballet classes.

The teacher would tell me to tuck my bum in and I could see I was built differently to the other girls. I confided in Mum how embarrassed I felt.

Born in Jamaica and fiercely proud, she told me I was beautiful inside and out and to be proud of my body.

I matured early, starting my periods aged eight, and by 16 I was a size 10 in a 36C bra. Boys at school would tease me about my big boobs, men heckled me in the street and I hid my curves in tracksuits.

In my 20s, I was a size 12-14 and worked out for 90 minutes a day, avoiding foods like rice and potatoes.

During my first pregnancy in 2008, with my ex-partner, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, causing me to vomit up to 60 times a day, and I was in and out of hospital receiving fluids intravenously.

I lost 2st, dropping from 11st to 9st, during pregnancy and was relieved when Hamilton arrived safely in January 2009.

Even though I was at my lowest weight for years, my skin was loose and saggy and I felt unattractive. 

I returned to the gym and took up cycling when Hamilton was nine months old and within six months, my stomach was toned again.

Hamilton’s dad and I split in 2012. A year later, I bumped into an old boyfriend, David, in the supermarket and we began dating.

Our daughter Clarke was born in June 2014, and it took two years to lose my mum tum, working out at the gym daily while she was in the crèche.

Although curves are celebrated in our culture, I still wanted a flat stomach and for my love handles and back fat to be gone, even though David told me to stop putting pressure on myself.

My third child, Shiloh, was born in August 2019 and I still haven’t lost the 2 1/2st I gained during that pregnancy.

I’m so busy, I’ve only just started back at the gym, and struggle to find time to train like I used to. I snack when they eat, then have a meal later with David, and have not got back into a healthy routine.

I try not to stress about my size 16-18 body and am comfortable being naked around David, who has always told me I’m beautiful.

Losing my mum taught me life is short and to be enjoyed, and I want to be a good role model to my children, too.

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Every morning, Clarke and I chant affirmations together: ‘I am strong. I am important. I am brave.’

The greatest lesson Mum taught me is not worrying about fitting in with an ideal, but being happy with who I am.” 

  

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