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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    { 60 comments }

    Don Mills Diva July 7, 2008 at 12:43 am

    You will Catherine, you will.

    I just wrote about being proud of my body and that piece was just as much a reflection of my mood as this piece is of yours – you are tired and struggling with so much but you ARE beautiful and you WILL see that again. Trust.

    Backpacking Dad July 7, 2008 at 12:48 am

    I don’t think there’s a card for this one.

    So: I’m sorry that you’re, womanly stature, is low in your eyes’ esteem. Perhaps some candy, followed by brandy, will show you that seeming just seems.

    There. My bad poetry must, in comparison, raise everything else to the level of sheer, blinding, beauty.

    flutter July 7, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Oh babe, don’t you see that it’s not your package that makes you beautiful?

    Even though it’s beautiful too?

    JA July 7, 2008 at 1:06 am

    http://www.theshapeofamother.com

    =)

    I don’t think it’s un-feminist to want to feel not… so… squishy. I sometimes think of my postpartum (6 months) state as the embodiment of my current stressed out self (home with baby and a very spirited 2.7 yr old) and my thinner self as the one that was carefree-ish with only one kid to take care of.

    The really thin self was the one that went out and had fun and did whatever. Maybe if I had been chubby when I was young and free, I’d idealize flabbiness and be ok with myself.

    bloggymommer July 7, 2008 at 1:08 am

    seven weeks!? stop torturing yourself! it took you 40 weeks to get the body you have, it’s going to take at least that to get some semblance of the body you had.

    Janine July 7, 2008 at 1:19 am

    I’ve never had a great relationship with my body. Even though I’ve always been skinny, I still look at myself and hate the spongy bits. Now that I’m a mom 3 times over, there are more spongy bits than skinny and I hate it. I also veer between not caring and then thinking, ‘ugh’.
    Great post – very well written.

    Lady M July 7, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Totally understand your thoughts, especially hard to take when a small person is nursing and making one’s body *hurt* so much.

    Seven weeks isn’t the time to think too hard about one’s body though. Give yourself a break for a while – I don’t think I really looked at a mirror for a good stretch.

    Jan July 7, 2008 at 2:01 am

    What a nice husband you have!

    ewe are here July 7, 2008 at 3:41 am

    I had both my boys in my late 30s, so I knew I wasn’t going to bounce back. And I was kind of ok with that, because, after all, I’m not 20 anymore where getting fit doesn’t take much effort and our bodies still work with us instead of against us. But at the same time, I was kind of not ok with it at the same time, because I see all the pressure put on women to look 20 something forever… which is completely unrealistic and stupid and unfair.

    I sigh a little when I look at my not so flat anymore tummy. And I grumble when some lovely old clothes don’t quite fit anymore But then I look at my boys. And I wouldn’t trade the two for the world.

    Nina July 7, 2008 at 3:47 am

    I feel you.

    I’m nine weeks post my second baby’s birth and I look down at my belly and sagging boobs and think, UGH. ICK, even.

    I know that I need to give myself time, but in the meantime, I feel completely unattractive and just…worn.

    Your words, however, are breathtaking.

    Black Hockey Jesus July 7, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Would it be construed as sexist and opprssive if I were to write “I’d tap that ass.”?

    You know what? I’m not going to write “I’d tap that ass” because that would connote a closeness that we don’t (yet) possess, Her Bad Mother.

    But when my wife’s shape clashes with her concept of her shape, I always mutter something dirty and do her like a frantic drunk college boy.

    It helps.

    Mama P July 7, 2008 at 5:12 am

    There’s a lot of this going around the internet now. Let me just remind you that there are many women out there with perfect bodies and not the perfect baby to go with it. Not that I don’t get where you are coming from. Believe me, I do… right there with ya. But I often have to remind myself that with my full legs comes a full life that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    Okay, go ahead. Virtually bitch slap me. You know I’m right.

    And congrats on the baby!

    Jezer July 7, 2008 at 8:16 am

    I’m not sure where I’d be exactly if I had just had another baby. But 2.5 years after the first one, I also stopped loving my lumps and began a resculpting journey of sorts. As the boy needed my body less, I began reclaiming it. I wonder if because your boy needs your body so much right now, you’re feeling a little disenchanted?

    Either way, the fact remains that our bodies do not equal ourselves. Thank goodness.

    Also? Your Bad Husband is a beaut.

    karrie July 7, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Yes, go visit SOAM for a naked reality check.

    JA: I’ve always been overweight, but the postpartum flappentits and flabdomen still shocked. I think it might be easier as a larger woman to accept the changes long term, but in the beginning I also felt completely disgusted and disassociated physically.

    Assertagirl July 7, 2008 at 9:00 am

    When I saw you the other day I wanted to tell you that I thought you looked wonderful, but in my head it sounded really cliche and like lip service, so I didn’t say it. I should have.

    You looked beautiful.

    Kelly July 7, 2008 at 9:01 am

    My first succubus was very preemie so my body didn’t have as much change to it. I was younger, and it bounced back faster than I’d expected. “Yay!” I thought, “I’m *great* at this!”. HA. The 2nd succubus was full-term and I also have a belief that each baby takes that much more out of you. My body is a wreck now, and though I’m damned proud of what it’s done I’m so tired of looking like this. It’s not so bad. It’s roughly the same size, but the shape is… well, you know.

    I’m sure part of it, too, is that I’m just so damned tired all the time. More kids means less sleeping and more stress and less taking care of me.

    Bless your husband for saying what he does. “It’s done amazing things” is something I can think about my body, and maybe feel better.

    Tracey July 7, 2008 at 9:10 am

    It’s amazing how your perception will change with a few weeks of consistent sleep. I can’t promise anything, but just remember that you are wearing the hazy glasses of a new mother. Everything is still shifting around. Weight is still being lost and gained (milk, ya know). And hormones are still in extreme overdrive.

    You are SO entitled to feel frumpy and lumpy. I can’t honestly think of any new mom that doesn’t! But try to remember that, after the haze, there will come a time that you will see clearly. Your body image will adjust again.

    Hugs.

    Vicki July 7, 2008 at 9:41 am

    HBM, you are exquisite. Think of how much that little man loves that body. He has something warm and soft to cling to instead of something pointy. I think we are all squishy after babies get here for just that reason. They need you to be soft because being sharp just isn’t conductive to as close of a relationship as they require.

    You will reclaim that body of yours one day and when you do, it will be glorious in all its wonders.

    YOU ARE WOMAN!! HEAR YOU ROAR!!!

    The Other Laura July 7, 2008 at 10:39 am

    You’ll get to that place again – really, you will. I think you’re just exhausted. That’s what I hear like an undercurrent behind every word of this post, just a long slow sigh of exhaustion.

    Diane July 7, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Thank you for this post. You are speaking for so many of us. So many will say, don’t worry you will feel better, blah, blah, blah. Of course you will, but it’s OK to mourn for your smooth, tight skin. Your body has been through so much. Battle scars, when you’re ready, show them proudly.

    b July 7, 2008 at 10:58 am

    I am 66. I will not give you all the cliches you have heard already. I will just say that you will be fine…take a fast walk around the living room, eat a banana snuggle up to that wonderful supportive husband. If we felt wonderful every day, how could be appreciate what it feels like to feel wonderful. Even the “lumpy” feeling has it’s purpose!

    Smile!

    b

    lavandula July 7, 2008 at 11:13 am

    sending you a great big hug catherine.its ok to feel uncomfortable with your post baby body.just know that you can work on its imperfections in time when done nursing that sweet little baby boy you’ve been blessed with.and your husband is a gem.heck you might even be comfortable with yourself after those new baby hormones settle down.XO

    gorillabuns July 7, 2008 at 11:29 am

    The only way I seem to forget about my sad, droopy and stretched out body is to drink beautiful cocktails. Only then can I look into my beer-goggled mirror and think, “Damn, I’m fine!”

    Jenn July 7, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I don’t look in the mirror and I refuse to get in pictures, I had my older three in my early 20′s and was skinny the next week but this one not so much,in fact ..not at all . I wish I could lose it I won’t go anywhere ever since I don’t want anyone to see me. This doesn’t make for a happy family who wants to go do things. Just remember you are not alone in your feelings!

    Beck July 7, 2008 at 11:46 am

    It’s hard. It really is. You spend all of your adult life looking more or less one way and then you have kids and suddenly your body looks different and I think it’s hooey to say that we should instantly be OKAY with that.
    But you probably will be okay with it, in time. A baby is worth any number of saggy boobs.

    Ali July 7, 2008 at 11:57 am

    it’s SO very hard. a woman coming to terms with her body. i spend a lot of my time poking and pulling at things and showing my husband…”hey where did this come from??”

    but all in all, it doesn’t matter…because i KNOW that ali as a package is HOT and AWESOME…so it doesn’t matter that i can pinch an inch or EIGHT on my stomach.

    you are awesome. 100%. it doesn’t matter what your postpartum body looks like.

    hopealso of hippie dippie bébé July 7, 2008 at 11:58 am

    My belly is rolling as I laugh at your hillarity! Great article, you are one wordsmith. When I had my first baby over a decade ago, I was all like “Venus the goddess.” A year after breastfeeding I was the smallest size I have ever been since high school.

    This time around I went into pregnancy having gained about 3 or 4 sizes in the “hip” as it were. These days the jelly roll does tell when the shirt’s up — there’s nothing to hide all that inner beauty.

    Why not just revel in hating your body for awhile? Gee it seems kind of lofty to always have to love your body, to always be a proud goddess. I guess since you’re herbadmother you know more than me about bad being the new good. Why not let ugly be the new pretty for awhile. In my largest, squattest pregnancy moments I had the most fun doing the disco duck dance and waddling around the neighborhood.

    Enjoy, and thanks for the laugh! I needed that!

    Syko July 7, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Even when I had a good body, I wasn’t crazy about my body. Too lush, too rounded. Now, at 65, it’s so horrible I can’t look at it in the mirror. I catch glimpses in store windows sometimes and am shocked to think it’s me. There are rolls that don’t leave even when I am thin. The boobs, always huge but perky and forward facing, now look disconsolately at the floor. But most of the time I don’t think about it, because I love what’s inside my body.

    I also love Her Bad Husband. What a darling!

    LD July 7, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    And it’s so much harder when the weekly glossies in supermarket aisles show us that every celebrity has dropped all their baby weight in 2 and a half days, their thighs perfect with nary a stretch mark in site. And they tell us that we can, we should do it too. Without starving ourselves (not possible) without 6 hours a day to devote to the gym, without a nanny to take care of the child, without any of that– that it’s possible to be back to the best shape in your life, when all you want to do is nurse your sore body back to health and get 5- maybe 6 hours of sleep in one stretch.
    I often look at the young girls at the local pool, who are probably trying to starve themselves even thinner than their bikini-bare bodies already are, and I always think, why didn’t I appreciate that when I had it? And then I think, maybe I should just appreciate this now. But that’s hard when your thighs are striped with stretch marks and your belly pouches out 2 years later.

    lainey July 7, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I think it’s so wrong that 6 -weeks post partum is supposed to be the magic cut-off date when you’re supposed to feel like yourself again (and feel like having sex!). I didn’t feel like myself for at least 6 weeks!
    Great post, I can very must relate.

    lainey July 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Sorry, I meant I didn’t feel myself for at least 6 months.

    Neil July 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    That was a very powerful post. I think what you are feeling is related to our body-hating culture in America today. One of the few times women are given a “free pass” from having to worry about their appearance is when they are pregnant, when somehow all women become magically “glowing” and beautiful. However, immediately after the pregnancy, if the woman doesn’t immediately bounce back to size 2 within three days, like anchorwomen on TV, they lose much of the cache they had when they were pregnant and glowing. I think the feelings that you have are shared by a lot of women, big and small, including those who didn’t just give birth, and a surprising number of men as well. I think that as plastic surgery, etc. becomes as common as going to the dentist, imperfections with our bodies will make us even more insecure with ourselves. You have to be a strong and confident person nowadays to accept yourself the way you are.

    kittenpie July 7, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    That soon postpartum, it’s extra hard. Things are still softer than they will be, still repairing and recovering and maybe even still hurting. Muscles aren’t ready to hold anything in, uterus may not be back to smaller size, and the tired. Oh, the tired. How can you expect to stand straight and tall and proud when you can hardly hold your own head up? A few months more, and it’ll come along. You’ll see some changes, they will inspire a bit more confidence, a bit more trying to keep going, and it will come together. Right now? You can only trust in later, if you ask me.

    Mimi July 7, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Dood. You’re very very tired. And sore, and battered, and scattered. It’s okay to feel crappy–chipper and self-accepting will come. You be as cranky as you need to be: you’ve earned the right to feel whatever you want, even if what you’re feeling is lumpy.

    :-)

    daysgoby July 7, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I think I love HBF.

    mothergoosemouse July 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I’m working on coming to terms yet again myself. Focusing on strength and endurance and what my body can do and has done.

    Anonymous July 7, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Oh, girl, I hear you. I’m three weeks out of my second child’s birth and look at my stomach (which was never bikini model material anyway) and its squishy bulges punctuated by stretch marks and think “someone shoot me”.

    AND, to boot, I caught my husband looking at soft porn on FMG of a redhead in lingerie two weeks after I gave birth to his son. I hope he realizes he just blew his last shot at EVER seeing me naked again.

    carrie July 7, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Perhaps all the celebrities, running around a week after a c-section and subsequent “mommy tuck” have something to do with why we aren’t loving ourselves at this very moment. Perhaps?

    Oh, and those smiles plastered on their faces, courtesy of good drugs, a nanny, chef and personal trainer don’t help my self-esteem either.

    Sorry, just crabby.

    But oh, this rings oh so true.

    'That Girl' July 7, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    I think the best way I’ve heard it described was on tv once..they compared the new mommy body to a Dr. Seuss character. And that’s exactly how most of us look for a good while after a baby.

    You’ve got a sweet husband!

    Maybe you need a spa day or something? You know a little paint and polish and girlie crap to make you feel pretty?

    Ilina July 7, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    A pedicure will help. I promise.

    My thighs met after the birth of my first son five years ago. Now they’re practically Siamese twins. I’m finally OK with it. Despite the thighs and back fat that I got from two pregnancies, my eyesight did get better so goodbye glasses and contacts! Sometimes you just gotta hunt and peck for the silver lining.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. Seven weeks is nothing!

    Aimee Greeblemonkey July 7, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    My baby came 6 years ago and I am still fighting it.

    Hugs. You are beautiful.

    Stacey July 7, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I think it is entirely unfair that post partum hormones hit when you are feeling physically & emotionally at your worst already. To say I hated my body for almost a year because of how it looked and felt after my second child was born would be be an understatement.

    But time passed & it got better. It will get better for you.

    Ms Picket To You July 7, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    embrace it.

    that’s all.

    Canuckedup mama July 7, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I hope there will be a time when Western culture doesn’t make us want a mostly unattainable standard of beauty. Or we rise up and give that standard of beauty the collective finger *waves fist in the air*

    I have no wise words – I know I’ll feel exactly the same way in four more months after I give birth to my second. Hell, I feel that way now (though much less eloquently).

    I know you’ll get the body love back. It may just take a while. In the meantime, I always take comfort in the fact that even the most revered models/actresses/whatevers have to be photoshopped ’cause there’s something that “needs fixing” with all of us.

    Mom101 July 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I think about this a lot – how I wish instead of being forced to “love our bodies” that we could accept that maybe the time has come that there are other things that are more important. Still, that’s hard.

    After nine months, it sucks having to suck in again.

    the weirdgirl July 8, 2008 at 1:37 am

    No one loves their body right after childbirth. At four months after my stomach still looked like jello. Give yourself time… the hormones, the jiggling body, the exhaustion, those will all ease and you’ll feel like a beautiful mother again.

    Because you are.

    Laura July 8, 2008 at 2:45 am

    yeah, well, please do let me know how and when you fall back in love. after kid #4, my relationship with my body has been on life support. I, too, thought I reached a “yeah, well, fuck it I am a mom of four and I am fine” mentality…and then I went to Nordstroms and tried on bathing suits. freakin nightmare.

    To be fair, I have never been at ease with my body. I have never loved it. And I am in constant battle with it. Drives me nuts, really. I try to not focus on it…to look at the bigger picture….only problem is,my ass is in the way.

    chin up…(literally..keep your eyes looking UP!)…you are a VERY new just gave birth kind of mom….do what I do and try to find people who look worse, and hang out with them(just kidding)…..and put that freakin picture of G. Paltrow AWAY! (damn, her legs piss me off)

    mrsmogul July 8, 2008 at 9:22 am

    I am 27 weeks now and already thinking about losing all the baby weight after birth! Damn I’m Vain! 7 weeks and blogging and speaking at Blogher? Kudos!!

    Kelly July 8, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Perhaps it’s too soon? You’re exhausted, and maybe you’re seeing through that lens. It took me a while to start seeing my body differently, and still, still, I have trouble with my c-section scars and the fold of skin that hangs above it. It’s hard to embrace that.

    I’m betting in a few months you’ll start to feel more like a warrior and less like a weary soldier.

    Anissa Mayhew July 8, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Well, I guess all I have is more of the same as everyone else. There is no way to embrace the nuclear wasteland that childbirth leaves in its wake….the stretch marks, the eggs-in-gym-socks appearance of your breasts, the way your tummy now needs it’s own “space” in bed because when you lay on your side it sort of flops out there and stretches out comfortably.

    But when you get through the post partum and you feel the inspiration and motivation, I know that getting active in a workout of some sort, even a nice walk in the evening, will leave you feeling like you’re in more control of this out of control body.

    Although i’ve never seen you naked, I bet it looks familiar and it is something you definitely earned and the payoff is spectacular.

    http://www.hope4peyton.org

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