My Body, No Wonderland

July 6, 2008

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.

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    Mrs. Flinger July 8, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve struggled endlessly with this. But it’s a struggle I had before children. A struggle I try to put aside because I’ve created life. It’s something that takes time.

    Go easy on yourself. It takes time.

    And you ARE a wonderland. Even if you don’t believe it yet.

    jen July 8, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Yes, why do we go through the ultimate sacrifice and create the ultimate beauty only to feel so ugly afterward? I can only think that it is opposition in all things in its most infinite state.

    Roz July 8, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Right with ya’. But I was out recently with my hubs and said to him, ‘I can’t stop looking at other women’s thin bodies and feeling jealous.’ To which he replied, ‘They’re probably looking at your new baby and feeling jealous.’ Touché.

    Anonymous July 9, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Have you all ever heard that old saying about if you want to know what lies ahead on your journey, ask someone coming back? (Loose translation.I’m not very-zenish, really.) Well, the injuries (and yes, darlin’, they are injuries and scars from the difigurement (yes, it is a form of disfigurement like many other life-changing events such as automobile accidents, fires, lightening strikes, near-death experiences) can cause trauma that last much longer than the baby-toddler years. As the babies grow and you long yearn for your old self to return the wounds and scars can become glaring. Really. I wouldn’t trade my two sons for ANYTHING but lord, I wish they’d left much smaller “footprints” upon my once pretty, slender, flexible, adorable little body. (Not bragging, just quoting old boyfriends, especially my last one, the one that made those boys, my husband.)

    It’s hard, it’s much like learning to live after a body-crunching surgery. The body is pretty amazing but it can do a lot of damage to learn that some things are never going to come back or go away. Actually, I know of several therapists that are working with these issues, feminist or not.

    Unless one has excellent DNA or as many of my rich cousins do, excellent plastic surgeons, dealing with wreckage of our bodies is a slow gradual process. And it hurts, it’s slow and somedays, when the little ones are high-school age or entering university, it really really hurts. Even if you are not vain or a total feminist, believe me. It’s hard, it feels strange a sort of reverse from puberty when hey, this is sort of cool…my body is pretty nice and ohhhh, look, breasts!

    I miss pertness mostly.

    Take care,

    Mrs. Mustard July 9, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Oy vey. I am with you on this one. E cup breasts that go to my navel? That’s a sight I never wanted to see in the mirror.

    Janet July 9, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    It’s so hard to embrace the squishy. It just is.

    I saw a woman walking yesterday morning. She looked to be about 70, with appropriate sags and wrinkles. But she had this spring in her step, this confidence about her. I think at some point, we move away from thinking so much about how we look and focus on how we feel. At least, I hope that’s what happens.

    Lydia July 9, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    I agree!
    My 2.5 month post-partum body amazes me, and not in a good way.

    Yeah, yeah, miracle of life.
    how about miracle of my size 10′s back? (and not my feet!)

    we’ll get there…

    Avonlea July 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I’m amazed at the amount of writing you’ve been able to do with a pre-schooler and a newborn. I’ve just recently discovered your site, and I’ve added you to my blogroll. I am awed by your strength to post how you feel, to eloquently describe what many of us feel.

    At first, after my son was born, I didn’t even bother looking at my body much or in the mirror. I was just surviving. Later, I got where I could appreciate the stretchmarks on my lower stomach as a badge of my motherhood. Hey, they kinda look like flames. Neat. I didn’t even have to get a tattoo. Though lately, I’ve been a bit taken aback by the squishiness. Time for me to get back into shape for my health and to feel strong.

    Give yourself time.

    HeatherPride July 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    I feel ya. I just had my second one 13 weeks ago and oh. my. god. There is no eye contact in the mirror on the way to the shower. I don’t even look at the mirror’s direction until I am FULLY dressed. At least your husband is sweet about it. Mine hops on the scale and happily announces his weight to anyone who happens to be around. And it’s 15 pounds LESS than what I weigh.

    horror, horror, horror.

    Kaza July 10, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I get this. I found I could love it, or not care, or whatever, for a time after my baby was born. If I was still attached to her, I had the reason not to care so much. But once she walked on her own, that was a turning point for me.

    This is an important post, a conversation we should continue, because I think so much of it lies in a dialectic of sorts between our selves and the society in which we are embedded. In the cocoon of the first days with a newborn we are removed from it, but we are too soon drawn back in.

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