My body – my post-partum, baby-slinging, breast-feeding body – defies metaphor. I look at it and figurative language escapes me. I look at it and I don’t want to find just the right words, I don’t want to put it into poetry (oh body of mother/life-giving belly/breasts that nourish/what-the-fuck-ever). I look at it and I think, ugh.
I know that I am being hard on myself. I just gave birth seven weeks ago. I’m in my thirties. I can’t expect my body to just bounce back. And in any case, bounce back to what? To my pillowy, matronly post-Wonderbaby badonkadonked self. To heavy thighs and pouchy belly. To a body that bore all of the signs of childbirth and cinnamon rolls, and none of the signs of grapefruit and granola and exercise. To the body of a mom who looked in the mirror at some point in her child’s babyhood and was all, like, whatever.
I didn’t care, for a time. I enjoyed not caring. I enjoyed having finally arrived at a point in my feminine psycho-social development at which I did not care, to any significant degree, what I looked like. It’s not that I gave up or let myself go or became slovenly (excepting the early days of new, first-time motherhood, which were an exercise in extreme physical disrepair and unparalleled slovenliness) – it’s just that my appearance ceased to be a priority. I had never had an intimate relationship with my perfect, youthful body – I wrote (in an essay for future publication) this past fall - I hadn’t needed to. So I didn’t really know it. But this body, this stretch-marked, lumpy, heavy-breasted imperfect body – this body I got to know. And love. I came to love my imperfect body. And in loving it, I stopped caring about the imperfections. I embraced the imperfections. Somehow - I wrote - unexpectedly, my big, battered maternal body became beautiful – erotically beautiful – to me in a way that my perfect youthful beauty never could, because of its perfection.
I came to love that body, to not care about its imperfections because the imperfections became beautiful to me. I have, now, fallen out of love. The scales, as they say, have fallen from my eyes and when I look down at myself in the middle of a nursing session or while tending to aching breasts or just standing, stock-still from exhaustion, in the shower (having avoided all mirrors, because, oh my god, are you kidding?) I just see pasty, lumpy flesh. I don’t see a miracle of nature, I don’t see physical accomplishment, I don’t see the hard-won padding of a mother in her (rolling brogue here) prime. I see a body defeated, beaten.
Why? Why have the imperfections ceased to be beautiful? Why do I look down at the vast expanse of soft belly and pendulous boob and cringe?
You should be proud of that body, says my husband. It’s done amazing things. And: I love to see you like this.
But still I cringe. And I struggle to find words, to reclaim the poetic embrace of my physical self, the embrace can came so easily before this last pregnancy. I struggle to know this physical self and to feel comfortable claiming it as my own. I long to regain the comfort with my self that I had not so very long ago. I long to not gaze at myself so critically. I long to gaze at myself and summon words like snowy and soft and strong and battle-worn-but-beautiful.
I long to see what my mind’s eye knows is there: a beautiful new mother. I long to see this, and hope with all hope that I will see it again. But I just can’t right now. And that’s hard.