Raising Baby T. Rex: The Soft Underbelly of a Hard Femme Mama

I remember one of the first times I recognized an adult’s body. Like, the first time I saw an adult body and really understood it as a body different than mine. I was a little kid. My mom had recently taken a shower and was in the kitchen wearing a towel around her midsection. He hair was wound up in another towel on her head. She was looking for something or messing with something on the kitchen counter when her towel slipped, revealing her back and sides. I think I’d probably seen my mom undressed before. We weren’t particularly reserved about nudity in our family. My mom, sister, and I all shared a bathroom and often used it at the same time. I’m sure I’d seen her drying herself after a shower before or wearing a towel while getting ready in the mirror.

I remember this moment, though, because I really noticed her and how her body was different than my little kid body. What I remember most of all was the curve of her waist and hips. What I remember is that I thought she was so beautiful. Once, in church, I interrupted my mom singing along with a hymn to tell her she was a beautiful singer. She sort of laughed it off and said, “Thank you.” I thought my mom’s body was beautiful in the same way I thought she could be a professional singer, in the way a little kid believes their parents are absolutely perfect.


I’m 14 years old. My two best friends, Heather and Cathy, and I spend every weekend together, rotating between houses from Friday through Sunday. We try on each other’s clothes and take pictures of each other attempting to pose like the models in YM. My friends wear size 5/6 and 7/8. I wear size 11/12 or 13/14.

“I’m so fat,” I whine, pinching my belly fat. “Nothing fits me.”

“But you have such good legs,” Heather reassures me. “I’m so jealous you don’t have any cellulite at all! My legs are gross.”

“I wish I had your thick hair,” Cathy jumps in, touching her own hair.

“You have really pretty hair,” Heather agrees.

Cathy snaps a surprise photo of me as I’m changing into another outfit. I’m wearing a white bra and a red plaid skirt. I yelp and turn my face and body away from the camera as the shutter clicks. I get the photos back a week later and I immediately flip to that photo. All you can see is my back and the side of my head as I’m caught mid-turn. My hands are covering my face. I fixate on the slight line where my bra band digs into my back. My back fat, I would have called it. I hate it. I hate it I hate it I hate it.


“Your baby lived in here!” I protest. Waffle is telling me I have to throw out my maternity jeans, the ones that I wore all during my pregnancy and that I’m still wearing to chase around a two-year-old. No one makes jeans like this for fat girls. Comfy, soft, intentionally cradling and hugging my roundness and sitting high on my waist, stretching stretching stretching to accommodate all of me. Why don’t they make clothes likes this for my non-pregnant body, clothes that fit a belly, honor it, draw attention to it and celebrate it? I know the answer. I still ask the question.

Wearing my fav maternity pants in this pic. Note the child very much done gestating.

The fabric has been fraying where my thighs meet, threatening to split as the denim wears thinner and thinner. A huge hole inevitably appears one night, stretching across the upper inner thigh.

“It’s time. They have to go,” Waffle says. He goes online and buys me super high waist stretchy non-maternity jeans, which are very comfortable and not quite the same. “Promise me you won’t put them back in the washer,” he says.


Waffle and I tried to do Weight Watchers in the months leading up to our wedding ceremony in 2011. Weight Watchers promised they weren’t a typical diet. It wasn’t about denying yourself. It was a body positive community. Waffle wanted to lose weight. I wanted to feel healthier.

We paid for the monthly subscription. We downloaded the app and tracked our points. I substituted whole pints of applesauce for ice cream, diet soda for sugary lemonade or juice. We both dropped significant weight immediately. I started fitting into size 12 and size 10 again, the first time I’d fit in a 12 since freshmen year of college.

I got so adept at counting points that I didn’t need the app to estimate after the first few weeks. I was just counting them in my head, all the time. I’d be sitting at my desk at work, musing over what to eat for lunch, calculating the points. Always, always, thinking about what I was going to eat and adding and subtracting my daily and weekly allotment. The more you lose on Weight Watchers, the fewer points per day they allow you. I started with 29 points per day. As I lost weight, I got down to 22 points per day and the diet that allowed me to “eat anything I want” started to feel like an old familiar calorie-counting restrictive diet.

It ended when I found myself sitting on the floor crying, because all that negative self-talk I’d untaught myself was overwhelming me. Somewhere along the way, I’d started thinking of food as “good” or “bad” again, as though food could be ranked on some arbitrary binary scale. I’d started ignoring my intuition and drinking diet soda to curb hunger between meals. I wasn’t thinking about being healthy anymore. I was thinking about being thin — thinner, thinner, down one more size.

I thought I’d left that person behind, the one who was obsessed with disappearing, but here she was all along right there just past the curtain into my subconscious mind, ready to shame me into obsessing over every point, sighing in my ear, “You’re going to have to exercise if you eat that 8-point bagel.” “Maybe you should just skip lunch so you have enough points for dinner.” “You’re going to get fat again.”

I quit Weight Watchers.


“You don’t look that much different,” Waffle commented. I was looking at my post-baby body in the full-length hallway mirror. I was trying to remember what I looked like before I was pregnant. I didn’t show right away, but my stomach hardened up and got a little higher and rounder. I’d definitely had a round belly, though, to begin with. I was thick around my waist with small hips, an almost rectangular shape except for my large chest. I’ve always carried my weight in the front and I’d developed vertical stretch marks around my belly button in the year before getting knocked up.

When I first got those new belly stretch marks, I had to consciously force myself to embrace them. “These are fine,” I’d say in my head to myself as I ran my fingers over the red lines. “Lots of people have stretch marks. They’re beautiful.” I didn’t believe it, but I just kept saying it to myself until it became my truth.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my body. Loving my body is a full-time occupation. I need constant reinforcement and reassurance and permission to be kind to myself. The truth of body positivity is that it isn’t a one-stop destination. It goes on and on and on and you are always practicing it and always kind of not quite getting it right, too.

After pregnancy, my tummy was still there. I still carried my weight in the front. The stretch marks faded, but my tummy hasn’t toned back up. The skin was tauter and stretched over my fat before pregnancy, like the cute accent pillows on my couch. Plump and stuffed and fitted just right. Now my belly is more generous like the king-size pillows on my bed, soft and fluffy and pliable, a gentle place for resting. It’s a bit saggier. It hangs a little lower. I have a little crease under my belly that’s more pronounced now. I have belly dimples. My pants can’t sit under my belly anymore without my tummy flopping over the waistband.

I love how soft I am postpartum. It’s a reminder of how my body stretched and grew and changed to grow a tiny human, how it protected Remi for almost 10 months. It’s a reminder of how I howled and rocked and focused completely naked and sweaty and raw for hours and hours to bring her into the world. I didn’t know I could be that strong and that soft simultaneously. I didn’t know my softness could be my strength.


“I’ve got a six-pack under all this fat,” I joke, “because all I ever do is suck in.” I’m always looking for ways to appear slimmer, always holding my stomach in. I automatically inhale when I stand up. I sit on the edge of my seat in class with my shoulders back and my pelvis forward and stomach flexed. I wear body shapers under my prom dress to create a slim waist, so tight I can barely eat my fancy dinner. I wear pantyhose under my pants to slim my thighs. I have a bikini that I only wear for tanning, at home, never in public. My BMI is in the “overweight” category, the gym teacher reminds me every year. I’m stuck at 142 pounds. I can’t get smaller than a size 8 or a size medium. I have this one skirt that’s a size 4 that I can just barely squeeze into and I wear it just because it makes me feel petite. All I want is to be small. Boys would like me if I was small. If I was small, I could be happy.


Remi snuggles into me when she’s in the mood to lounge. In those quiet moments, I love how she rests her hand on my belly or lays with her head across me or leans her whole body into me and relaxes into my softness. It reminds me of how I used to snuggle up to my mom, how it felt so good to be breathing her in all nuzzled up and warm, like slipping into her pocket.

I want Remi to love my body the way I am. I want her to see me as beautiful the way I saw my mom as beautiful, with my short hair and my double chin and my hanging belly. Perfect. It feels so right when she reaches for me and throws her arms around me, when she rests her head on my chest or shoulder, and even when she uses all my bumps and lumps as footholds to scale me like a human playground.

As a queer hard femme, my gender expression is about hard edges more than feminine touches. I like an exaggerated cat eye in a black liquid liner that’s so sharp it could cut you. I like bright red and dark purple and black-blue matte lipstick and glowy silver highlights and dramatic jewelry. A student recently told me I have B.D.E., which I had to ask them to define and then did not completely love the definition of, but I think they meant that my presence commands attention. My femme-ness has never been soft and delicate. I’m scared to be that vulnerable as a woman. My hard edges have been there, in so many ways, to protect my softness.

Being fat and soft with Remi feels different. Being a fat, soft mama makes me feel sturdy, like an immovable mountain or an impenetrable fortress. It’s a strength that would never harm Remi, could never poke her with a hipbone or a hard angle, and could protect her infinitely. My capacity to move for her and make room for her and mold my life to hers is one way to love her, with all of myself.


Remi loves her belly. She really, really loves her belly button. She lifts my shirt to find my belly button and pokes it or kisses it and exclaims, “Boop!” It makes her giggle so hard she has to sit down. She shows her belly off to anyone. She’s so proud of knowing her body.

One day, as much as I try to be her radically soft mama and model body positivity, she’ll wish her belly was small and flat and firm. She’ll want to hide it. She’ll learn to hate her body. I hope my softness shows her how strong soft bodies can be. I hope she never stops loving my softness. I hope it helps her love herself against all odds.


4 Random Parenting Feelings I’m Currently Over-Processing

1. Baby Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

Ya’ll. I didn’t know about Baby Shark. I didn’t know. I don’t know why this song, specifically, is so endlessly entertaining to kids. I do know it is a very catchy tune that gets stuck in your head. I know putting on this video is a surefire way to distract Remi if I need to get some work done. If you don’t have a child, you may not be aware of this entertainment gold. If you don’t understand the appeal, watch it with a toddler. I am slightly concerned that this is Remi’s first exposure to Korean entertainment, but OK we’ll deal with that later, I guess.

(This is on in the living room right now while I wrap up this column.)


2. Things I’ve Googled This Month

  • what age toddler bed
  • how many words 2 years old
  • counting age normal
  • signs ready for toilet training
  • why do kids like baby shark
  • toddler nightmares
  • toddler doesn’t use blanket

3. Late to Bed, Lazy to Rise

Our kiddo has a really late bedtime of somewhere between 10pm-11pm, which we’re kind of embarrassed to admit. She’s never been a long sleeper at night, though, and she sleeps at most 10 hours. Also, we like to sleep in because Waffle works nights, we’ve been able to avoid having to pay for daycare because Waffle watches her during the day, and I don’t need to be to work until 9:30 or 10am most days. So, like, it works for us until she starts school (or daycare — whatever comes first). It’s just a little awkward to talk about because most of our parent friends put their kids to bed at, like, 7pm.


4. Baby Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Part II)

View this post on Instagram

She’s usually really chill when I head out for a work trip or even when I leave her somewhere else overnight. It happens more than once a month. But last night I made the mistake of telling her I was going away for work right before bedtime and she totally lost it. Nothing like your baby wailing and sobbing “Goodbye, Mommy…” alone in her dark bedroom to make you go back in for extra hugs. I hope this morning with @daddy_dino_waffle goes better and she’s takes the news that I’m at work a little better tomorrow night. These two-year-old feelings are big, big ones, y’all. I want her to feel her feels, but I also don’t want her to worry too much about me. I’ll be home soon, Remi! #babytrex #cryinginthecrib #toddlerlife #workingparent #toddlerdancemoves

A post shared by KaeLyn Rich (@kaelynrich) on

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 196 articles for us.

69 Comments

  1. KaeLyn this was perfect. I remember asking my mom when I was very little why she was so soft and she said it was bc I loved her so much.

    Also Slade went to bed at 10/11:00 bc no way did I want to wake up at 5am if I didn’t have to?!! I think having those years with him where we only listened to our body clocks and did what worked best for us really illuminated how arbitrary and annoying typical work and school hours are, and how they really super don’t fit everyone!

    • Your mom! @green, that made my heart grow three sizes, seriously. I am totally using your mom’s answer if Remi ever asks me why I’m so soft. I love it!

      I totes agree with not getting up at 5am. Why?! No thank you! The only thing I miss is having some alone time at night. LOL. But we just push that back, too.

      I agree the 9-5 workday is a sham! Capitalism is the worst.

  2. I love reading your parenting stories! I think there are so many implicit messages about being a mom, that it’s good to be purposeful in defining for ourselves and our families what it means. To be explicit about the parts that feel right that we embrace and to reject the parts that don’t fit, that don’t work for us and our families.

    • I really love this idea of being purposeful about what being a “mom” means to you. It’s such a huge identity shift and there are so many cultural messages about what you are supposed to be. How much of this is what I want to do or what I am expected to do? Thank you for this. I am definitely going to think about how to be more intentional about how I practice motherhood.

      • @Lauren, when I was sixteen my mom forgot to pick me up twice in one week. I was upset and hurt. At the same time, I knew that my mom did and does so much for so many people! I think highly of her, and she’s a great parent. Still, as a “mom,” she was falling short of this idealized picture of someone who always is thinking of their children. So I decided to start calling her by her first name, which 20 years later I still do, as a way of trying to separate societal expectations of motherhood with the reality of women getting to be a person outside of their role as a mom.

  3. This was lovely! I’m always up for more Baby T-Rex content.
    Also, I have to admit that I was half convinced that the Baby Shark song was something the Mx. Ocean contest winners created on their own. They were great! I bet Remi would be an excellent addition to the team.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this KaeLyn, I actually first felt extremely welcome reading Autostraddle a few years ago because of a comment you wrote on a post about needing to support trans women (which I am) that was so succinct and clear.

    • @bearhatalice, that genuinely makes me so happy to hear! I don’t remember this comment at all, but yeah, cis women are responsible for stepping up to support trans women, so it sounds legit that I would comment such a thing.

      I’m so glad you stayed around and hopefully continue to find a little home here. <3 <3 <3

  5. I loved this! Thank you! I also wore my maternity jeans until they basically disintegrated and my partner begged me to never wear them again. But they are just. So. Comfy.

    This might sound weird but sometimes when I’m feeling bad about my mom bod I’ll ask myself, if there was a woman in my bed with a body like this, would I feel repulsed or excited? And I realize I would want to make her feel beautiful and sexy and then I’m able to see myself that way a little more.

    And I look at all of my mom friends and yeah we’re softer than we were before but that just belies our strength.

    • I love that mental trick to snap yourself back into the reality of your totally hot mom bod. 🙂 So true! I think all bodies are sexy and I just need to give myself permission to treat myself with the same affection.

      <3

  6. Wow, KaeLyn, these words about your body are so powerful and everything that you write about your family fills me up so much! Thank you!

    PS I know Baby Shark as a campfire song and have been watching this new rendition spread with much amusement.

  7. KaeLyn I almost forgot (how could I ever forget?) how much I LOVE YOUR WRITING.

    This love letter to your softness was perfectly timed for a reminder I needed about my own softness. It’s a journey, like you said.

    I loved the bits at the end about parenting thoughts/ worries you’ve had! Ok. I just loved all of it. Byyyyeeeeee!

  8. Horay I’m so glad you’re back writing! And relevant too; I’m a month postpartum. My maternity pants are driving me bananas because even though I still am very round around the middle they slip down all the time. Since November of last year I gained enough weight to go up six sizes and I’m so deeply ambivalent about it. I can feel the extra weight I’m hauling around acutely; I’m aware of it being harder to get up off the floor after diaper changes etc but also have such intense hunger from nursing and so little desire to be hungry. This is a good reminder to be so soft and strong.

    • I am currently playing Pinkfong’s 120 minute verson of Baby Shark songs, @mayim-juno. WOW IT’S A LOT. But I’m trying to get some non-work work done on my US bank holiday day off.

      Also, your body one month postpartum is doing just what it needs to do to take care of your child! Let it do its thing. I don’t know how you feel about breastfeeding or what your postpartum experience was after your first kid (if your first kid is by birth). I was afraid of breastfeeding and then loved it, but it didn’t really work for me once I went back to the office full-time. Personally, I didn’t feel fully in control of my body again until I weaned (even though I missed that time with my baby). You’ve got so much going on with a newborn and a preschooler, I’m sure. Let your body by one thing you can just trust to do it’s best by you, whatever that is like. <3

      • Oh wow I hope you recover from that soon! Also amazing what we learn to tune out once toddler repetition time sets in!

        Thanks, I’m trying to roll with it. I feel so ungainly and awkward. I nursed my older kid till around 3 years old and partway through this pregnancy, but the last two years of it were once a day and when I took a weekend away I didn’t pump. So it’s been almost 4.5 years of pregnancy and nursing.

        I enjoy being athletic so this time around I made a point to start my favorite activities earlier. That was what made me feel like I was back in my own body before, but it took an entire year to ride my bike regularly again. I just started yoga again a week ago and it feels amazing.

  9. I’m going to become a femme mama soon and I needed this! <3

    Also, re: maternity pants: I needed new pants when we started trying to conceive and bought maternity pants preemptively. Even though I wasn't pregnant yet, they were sooo comfy and I swore I would never give them up, but when struggling to conceive (the process was more difficult than anticipated) they also were sometimes a bitter reminder that I was not getting pregnant.

    I'm not entirely regretful about buying them preemptively because it saved me money a year later when I actually needed them, but I had not anticipated that emotional mayhem. Now I'm back to loving them and wanting to wear them forever but not sure how long that will last postpartum given that I live in Florida and they are sometimes less comfortable (with the big, un-breathe-able belly panel) in the heat.

    • The full pannel is atrocious in the heat, in my opinion. I’m sometimes ok with dresses (it was 90+ degrees today and I’m way over this heat and went with a dress today). But if you’re nursing you have to think through how the dress is going to work for that, too. The nice thing about dresses postpartum is that they work for the still-big tummy and big weight fluctuations.

      • Yes, second @mayim-juno‘s dress recommendation, @kiahb6! I actually didn’t buy many maternity dresses because my regular dresses are already maternity dress-like (stretchy AF)? And I totally wore my favorite maternity dresses postpartum and my regular dresses, too. Look for v-neck wrap dresses in stretchy fabrics. Those worked the best for nursing for me!

        I actually don’t mind the belly panel in the heat. BUT I always have issues with my pants slipping off my hips and I hate the feeling of jeans digging into my tummy, so I’d prefer being comfy to being cool, I guess. In fact, I wear a similar stretchy (not compression) undergarment sometimes under my summer dresses that helps with thigh rub and sits high on the waist like belly bands. It’s a bit hot, but my thighs aren’t chafed!

    • I have seriously considered it, @mathilde! I’m still on the fence with how much effort I want to put into it since I’m not actually pregnant.

      I’d have to look for deals because maternity clothes are expensive. Well, for my tastes. It’s all fast fashion and they have a captive audience of pregnant women so the sales are kind of underwhelming. (I don’t even know how pregnant men and more MOC folks do it because it’s almost all hyper-feminine at these stores.) I will definitely probably buy more maternity tank tops for layering because they’re super long length and I love them and I can just buy them online when they’re on sale.

      Speaking of online, I also feel weird buying pants without trying them on. Even with the belly band, sometimes the fit isn’t right in the hips and legs or the rise on the crotch is weird. The challenge is that maternity store employees are HYPER AGGRESSIVE about getting all up in your business and asking about your due date and all of that. I could get around it be shopping at department stores that carry maternity clothes instead or I could just be, like….honest about it. I don’t know! I feel weird about it, I guess, is what I’m saying! I suppose I should just get over it and stop problemetizing it!

      • I think this is a great idea! I agree that store employees are aggressive. Places like Gap moved all of their maternity stuff online. And yes, I am a kind of more MOC dresser (I do wear dresses for special occasions but feel way more natural in a button up and pants), and finding clothes was very hard. I got a few good pair of jeans and good long opaque tanks, and put a collared shirt on over. Harder to do once the heat really kicked in.

      • @kaelynrich, thanks for explaining how it’s not as easy as I thought. It makes sense you feel weird! It’s okay if you can’t just get over it; your feelings are valid. I wish maternity store employees were not so aggressive. I imagine being honest with them would be risky due to their (likely) fatphobia. I wish you the best of luck whatever you decide 🙂

  10. KaeLyn! I missed your writing so much!

    This was absolutely beautiful. I loved what you said about softness being strength. I too have those vertical stretch marks on my stomach. When they first appeared I honestly thought I had a rash, which was embarrassing. Even now, when I look at them, they look like a wound to me. Like my body was injured and has not quite managed to stitch itself back together all the way. I know this is not true, but it’s a powerful illusion.

    I have never given birth but I have often felt like my body might be more… I don’t know what the word is… excusable, I guess, if I had. I feel like I look like I might have had a baby. I sag in all the right places, seemingly. I look at myself in the mirror and think wow, if you hate yourself this much now, how are you gonna feel after you’ve had a few kids and you have way more stretch marks and your skin is looser than before and you still have all this cellulite and blah blah blah.

    But this reminded me that if I do have the privilege of being pregnant and giving birth in my lifetime, the evidence of that incredible process on my body is not something that I should fear, but rather embrace. I don’t have kids but I do have much younger siblings and when they lay on me or hug me I feel less bad about myself, it’s true. Like the bulk of my body is sheltering them. I love that my stomach is a safe place for my little sister to rest her head.

    It also makes me think of my grandfather, who passed away in February. He struggled with his weight his whole life, but it never affected how I saw him. I remember calling him fat when I was a a very small child and immediately regretting it because I could see that I had hurt his feelings when in my child-brain I was just stating an objective fact. Honestly I still kinda feel this way. Like yes! My grandpa was fat and I loved him so much, I loved resting my head on his thick shoulder or falling asleep with his stomach as my pillow. It wasn’t embarrassing or shameful. It was just a characteristic of this person that I loved.

    Anyway. This got away from me but I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this. It’s helping me reframe my view of myself at a time when I am really, really struggling.

      • Thanks, @thedunhamator! It feels good to be writing again. Way back when before I was writing for AS and before I was preggers, I wanted so much to write and read more about queer parenting. I’m glad to be able to do that for all ya’ll!

        Being fat is not easy. It’s hard work to believe that your body is worthy of love and compliments and care. I don’t know anyone, even the most body-positive fat blogger, who doesn’t still struggle with it. If you don’t already, I’d suggest following some of the fat posi bloggers and influencers. I love seeing fat bodies in my Instagram feed and it helps me appreciate mine a little more. <3

  11. Yesss so glad you’re still writing about your parenting experience! And Remi is so cute!
    And thank you for sharing your feelings about your body. I have gained…I think 10? lbs this year because ice cream is my go-to stressed out/depressed out thing and when the fuck have we all not been stressed out this year? So anyway I have very visible stretch marks on my belly now and it brings up all kinds of feelings and kjhgfkjaghadf

    • When it comes to getting over our body hang-ups, I really do think the power of thinking positively helps. Like just fake confidence until you actually start to feel it for real. Even if I’m feeling rally down on myself, telling myself, “You’re beautiful and great!” when I look in the morror in those moments helps a lot more than telling myself “You’re gross and ugly.” Retrain your brain!

      Also ice cream is delicious and I like to think embracing my fatness is a direct confrontation to the patriarchy so really eating more ice cream is a personal resistance, OK, @mtuckered? 🙂

  12. I LOVED THIS. MORE PLZ.

    I especially resonated with this:
    “No one makes jeans like this for fat girls. Comfy, soft, intentionally cradling and hugging my roundness and sitting high on my waist, stretching stretching stretching to accommodate all of me. Why don’t they make clothes likes this for my non-pregnant body, clothes that fit a belly, honor it, draw attention to it and celebrate it? I know the answer. I still ask the question.”

    I feel this so much. I often get seats offered to me on public transport because people mistake me for preggers, because I don’t try to hide my belly and I wear clothing that shows it. (Sometimes I also take the seat if it’s from a white guy and I’m tired, SUE ME)

  13. AHH I somehow missed this update! Love love love

    I have night-owl friends whose two boys (6 and 2) stay up with them until around 11 every night, so it’s not just you. It just works better for their family!

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