We are HERE for this submission by Maura Rouuseau Sieller. She has so beautifully articulated her story, challenging herself and her fears of going public with insecurities many women (particularly moms) face. This is everything we want Swim Search to be. A safe place for everyone to share, support, thrive. We are so proud of the community that YOU have helped build since 2018. Keep on pushing yourselves, and the world will do the same.
Title: Baptism by Fire
I can vividly remember standing in front of the mirror on June 3, 2016 and examining my body. She was supposed to be out of me today, but she had other plans. There it was, a stretch mark, my first one and on her due date no less. What a kick in my tired ass. I had come so close. I had been so careful. I oiled up my ever-growing stomach every night. 12 days, some Pitocin, an epidural later, and there was Layla- eight pounds, 21 inches, red hair and all.
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Once she turned one, my husband and I thought ‘We can do this again.’ They say the second one comes quicker. They didn’t lie. Marissa was only six days late. Both hung low from the very beginning. Both over eight pounds. It seems foolish now to think I had a chance. The thing about second babies is that not only do they come quicker, but so do all the little reminders of your first pregnancy. I hated looking in the mirror and seeing the scars staring back at me. At first I tried to get rid of them. Then I told myself, you just need more time. They faded after a year with Layla, but here I am past Marissa’s second birthday and they are almost as stubborn and hard to miss as she is.
I had always hoped for boys. It just seemed so much simpler. They’d fight; we’d break it up. We’d teach them to respect women and demand nothing less. We decided to be surprised during my first pregnancy and not find out the sex. The ultrasound tech called the baby a boy. I was carrying low, I bought little boy polos, I was sure James would the name we would say when we called our families to tell them the good news. Then Layla showed up and it seemed so foolish to have ever hoped for anything different.
We always wanted two. This one would be a boy. I knew it. This time we didn’t give the tech a chance to screw with my mind. She smiled, “It’s a girl.” I said maybe one more, but no, Marissa quickly put an end to any thoughts of such. Now here I am with two girls I was scared to have. Raising daughters has always felt very intimidating to me. The pressure they put on themselves, others put on them, the standards, and the incredibly terrifying and painful reality that others will not raise their boys to respect women.
I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin. I want them to understand that unless they let it be, their looks will never been their most valuable quality. I want them to be bold. The only problem with this is that kids are smart and they are always watching. I mean they are ALWAYS WATCHING. I know that it’s not enough to talk the talk. I have to walk the walk. They are learning by what we do, by what we don’t do, so what do I do? I don’t always wear make up every time we leave the house, we don’t own a scale, they see me fixing things around the house, and my husband cooking. I almost write, ‘They don’t see it yet’, but before the sentence gets out I know that I’m wrong. They notice that I am covering myself up and that the other moms are too. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are hiding something.
Now what I am I left with? Stretch marks that linger, a line that marks where they use to hang, and little folds and rolls that tell of the life that used to grow in me. Now they run in the yard, jump in puddles, and run fearlessly into the water.
I have a drawer full of bikinis from my younger years, a.k.a. before Layla was born. The first time since giving birth I tried one on was when I submitted a video for the 2020 Sports Illustrated Swim Suit casting call. I was scared. I cringed. I was a little mad. If they were gone I would have felt a little bit more like my old self. She’s gone and that’s okay, but sometimes I miss her. It doesn’t matter how many salads I eat, or how many times I turn off my alarm and wake up in the dark of the morning to workout. Like a lot of women, I’m hard on myself. I set goals that are reasonable and then I get upset when the results don’t come quicker. I remind myself to focus on my strength and not the superficial, but I can be a perfectionist. What I’m realizing though is that there is no such thing as perfect and more importantly I think it is time that we all reconsider our notions of perfection.
Call this a baptism by fire. Do I feel comfortable sharing this video? No, but maybe this is the summer that I dust off those bikinis and let everyone else know that they’re not alone.