What Does A Body Good

March 3, 2009

This is me, nine and half months post-partum:

In which I reveal my muffin-top, my inability to properly clean mirrors, and the fact that my personal trainer is a Siamese cat.

I’m okay with how I look. Sort of. I think. Some days are better than others. Some days, I look down at the plush landscape of my body – the belly with its rippled hillocks, the mountainous breasts under snowy swaths of cotton – and I think, well, it’s a mother’s body. It’s a new mother’s body. It’s the body of a nursing mother, a mother who is run ragged by a preschooler and has no time or energy for focused exercise, a mother who has learned the hard and disappointing way that preschooler-wrangling and baby-hoisting do not, contrary to expectation, tone the muscles. It’s the body of a mother who is in her thirties, and who does not have personal trainers or dietitians on call. It’s not the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, dammit. Wanna make something of it?

Some days, I am accepting of my body; some days, I get defensive. Some days, the line between forgiving myself for not having the body that I had four years ago and berating myself for same gets blurred beyond recognition, for the simple reason that the very idea of needing to ask forgiveness of myself for something that is in no wise a wrongdoing confounds any effort on my part to accept myself, my body, as good. (The very idea is toxic, is it not? That I have transgressed myself for allowing my body to become matronly, for having put my energies into nourishing my baby and raising my little girl instead of shredding my body back to pre-maternal form? That I need to forgive myself for something that I should celebrate, something for which I – I believe this, I do – deserve praise?) I need to move past this idea that the reality of my body is something that I need to explain/justify/forgive. I need to allow myself to just be the physical being that I am – lumpy, imperfect. And to do that I need, maybe, to find ways of thinking and speaking (and writing) about myself that are a little less accusatory (lumpy, imperfect) and a little more celebratory (soft, strong, life-giving, perfectly suited to nourishing babies and cradling children.)

(I have a nearly perfect sense-memory, from childhood, of my own mother’s body: the soft curve of flesh on her back, between her breast and her shoulder blade, just under her upper arm, where my hand would rest when I snuggled against her, and the plush pillow of her belly, where I would sometimes rest my head, and the sweet-smelling skin – part Diorissimo, part flour-and-sugar, part soap – at the back of her neck, where I would bury my face to sob over some childish disaster or another, or to rest, or just to feel at peace. It was always soft and fragrant and reassuring – there were no hard edges, no unyielding surfaces – and it enveloped me and comforted me. It still does, when I think of it, of her. I want my children to remember me this way – as a space/place/body of comfort and safety and love.)

And yet… I do want this body, my body, to be my own. I want to return, in some significant way, to the relationship that I had with my body when it was all mine, when I regarded it selfishly and proudly, when I vainly primped it and polished it and when I casually disregarded it and – yes, sometimes – misused and abused it. (The days of subjecting it to diet Coke and cigarettes and all-night clubbing and all the petty and not-so-petty abuses that all-night clubbing entails are long behind me – thank god – but I do long, sometimes, to not pass on that third glass of wine, to not put my body’s status as a life-giving, child-nurturing organism first in any consideration of whether to drink more or stay up later or have that fourth espresso.)

So here I am, stuck between wanting to love my body as it is, and wanting to change it, and it’s so tempting to throw my hands in the air and wander off in search of another cupcake, or, alternatively, to berate myself for wanting the cupcake and then to drop to the floor and do two or three sit-ups before deciding that it’s not worth the effort and getting up and looking for that cupcake anyway, after which I will just feel alternately guilty and self-satisfied. And this is the problem, right? That however much I love my body the way that it is, there’s still that part of me that wants to love it more. Rightly or wrongly, I want more from my body – not for my children, not for my husband, not for my shred-happy friends (who I enthusiastically support, by the way) – but for me. Just for me.

Which, translated into a course of action, means this: a cupcake, some coffee and some gentle Sun Salutations. And then, maybe, when it gets warmer, a run around the block, or a bike-ride with my girl. And if I ever get around to shredding, great, but if not? I’ll just enjoy the fact that my belly is soft, comforting place on which tired little heads can rest. I’ll just celebrate being strong and soft. And then I’ll have another cupcake.

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    { 105 comments }

    No Mother Earth March 4, 2009 at 12:12 am

    You are brave AND beautiful!

    I do think there is something to be said, though, for mothers feeling like they have the time and the right to do something for themselves. It’s really easy to get caught up in subverting ourselves to the needs of our children. Me, for example. I haven’t done a show in four years, eventhough I know how important doing theatre is for my soul (cheesy, much…? blech). But I thought I coudn’t risk the time away from the children. Now that I’m doing a show? I still miss them while I’m away. But wow, in the past few months I have been so much happier with myself, and that time away to be myself, to do something for myself, is the reason.

    the weirdgirl March 4, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I’ll trade you my thyroid disorder for those great knockers of yours.

    (Hour glass is so hot!)

    Mandy March 4, 2009 at 1:17 am

    Wish I knew how to send a wolf whistle via the comment section.

    ;)

    roo March 4, 2009 at 1:44 am

    You’re a tall, leggy blonde, with a body that’s better after two kids than the one I had throughout my twenties.

    You’re doing all right.
    Save a cupcake for me.

    Mel March 4, 2009 at 2:09 am

    *jaw drops* DAMN! That is one hot picture.

    I’m 15 months postpartum. I miss my big nursing boobs. :)

    I would eat the cupcake. Then chastise myself in the morning and work out twice as hard.

    Magpie March 4, 2009 at 11:02 am

    I think you look great. And I think this a lovely and clear-eyed post. Thanks.

    (Love the cat. I need two Siamese.)

    Momo Fali March 4, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I have time for focused exercise and have WAY more muffin than you do. I think you look fabulous. I know that’s not why you posted this, but that’s what I think.

    In my opinion, most women always want more from their bodies. Even my bean-pole, skinniest friends hate something about themselves.

    Must Be Motherhood March 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    The thing I love most about this post is the way you remember your mother’s body. What a beautiful thing. Arguably, our children are the only ones for whom our bodies are irreplacable–and loved without caution or deep thought. Husbands, lovers, ourselves…we’re all critical in one way or another.
    (And damn it if I don’t WANT WANT WANT a night of dancing with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth anyway sometimes too.)

    Trenches of Mommyhood March 4, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Love this. And kudos to you for snapping that pic – I don’t think I would dare. I think you look fab.

    k_sra March 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    It hurts my soul a little that you write so well and so clearly on topics that resonate with me. I think I need to put your writings on a drawing table and trace them. I need to copy your “lines” and be an apprentice for a while. And then I need to master the voice of my own reflections and ordeals. Keep striving, struggling and inspiring! : )

    Shredding is optional; living healthy is not. That’s my only motto.

    Natasha (@somethinggirl) March 4, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Okay, so that’s a little more… visible.

    I was already planning on putting up some MUCH more naked photos than that, to motivate me back to skinniness. And before people get all on my back about that, listen: I can’t afford a new wardrobe right now. I only have one option. I just absolutely cannot stand being 30 lbs overweight and in such a short amount of time. UGH.

    C, at least you have BOOBS to hide your belly when your shirt is pulled out by your boobs. Nice boobs.

    Kami March 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I did it last week….I am 4 and half years postpartum and have been working like crazy to make mine more firm :)

    http://wer4.blogspot.com/2009/02/little-less-is-little-more.html

    Ms. Moon March 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I have often thought that if a man was wise, he would kiss the belly of the mother of his children at least once a day- lovingly, reverently, sweetly.
    It is where his babies grew. It is where his life was made immortal. It is the most vulnerable and deserving of worship part of a woman.

    Emily March 4, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Damn girl! You look great – you look better than I did before I got pregnant (now I get to blame it all on the pregnancy!) I hope I look as good as you 9.5 months out!

    mommymae March 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm
    Beth B. March 4, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I posted my prego belly which you can image led to a prego-nastic muffin top on Petroville’s online baby shower for Surburban Turmoil:

    http://www.petroville.com/2007/03/02/belly-hoppin/

    Here is my orig. post:
    http://svmomblog.typepad.com/silicon_valley_moms_blog/2007/03/virtual_baby_sh.html

    Angella March 4, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    I have always admired your general confidence, Catherine, and your confidence in your body just inspires me more.

    I do work out, and am fit, but I still have days where I am not happy with mine…

    CheekySweetie March 4, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Catherine…I did it too!
    http://cheekysweetie.com/?p=174

    The Mad White Woman March 4, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Sigh, you look great 9.5 months post-partum girl…I don’t think they make a camera with a wide enough angled lense to capture mine…

    JCK March 4, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    What a delicious, thoughtful post.

    It is a constant struggle between the two desires, and you wrote about it so well.

    I loved your sense memory of your mom.

    Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) March 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I also realize the point of the post is not that you look so good after having a babies… but it IS true.

    That being said… I love what you’ve written here.

    I feel exactly the same way!!!

    My girls think my soft belly is hilarious — especially my baby.. who pokes and pulls at it and laughs like crazy.

    But I am 17 months or more postpartum and I do think for me it is time to fit in more exercise so that I am healthier and stronger. I can feel my body craving it.

    Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com March 4, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    If you are comfortable with your body and happy in your skin and healthy, I think that’s all that matters. I’m happy you can accept yourself – give or take. Isn’t that where we all want to be: accepting, happy, give or take?

    Anonymous March 4, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    I will be sixty next year. No matter how critical I have been of my body (and I have been way critical) ten years, twenty years, thirty years, forty years have not improved it. On the other hand, I am the grandmother that my grandson can burrow into like a feather bed. Man alive, that makes it totally worth it to be right here in this body.
    Gillian

    Mary G March 4, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    What the grandma commenting just above me said!
    Also,
    No way in hell!
    You look great. I look like a marshmallow.

    DD March 4, 2009 at 10:04 pm
    ChefSara March 4, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    I have a 7-month old son, and just yesterday, i told my husband that i feared my boobs would never again be aesthetically pleasing. he said he liked them. at which point i acknowledged that i realize that i shouldn’t give in to the societal norms that hold an ideal of female beauty that is diametrically opposed to what the female body is supposed to do…bear children and feed and sustain them. but it’s still hard…

    Her Bad Mother March 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    You guys leaving your links – you guys rock (well, all of you rock, but I am so grooving on the flashers among you)

    Am so totally going to post these links!

    Bronnie March 4, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    You look fantastic (in your next post too).
    I also have days when I’d rather have the lean six-pack I had prior to pregnancy number one. But I think, apart from surgery, I’m never going to get it back, no matter how much I diet and exercise. Yes, I don’t feel as sexy, but I feel more powerful because this body nurtured and produced two fantastic kids. So I wouldn’t change things for the world. Even though, sometimes, my vanity gets the better of me and I wish I could have a flat tum and bum again!

    Meritt March 4, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Eh – I look a little bit like that 9 1/2 years postpartum. :)

    Genetics in my family are not kind.

    When skin is stretched out with pregnancy it’s left with a road map of stretch marks and never goes back. Some (are blessed!) to have skin that does… some doesn’t. So really it’s how you feel.

    I think you look great. :)

    Eva March 5, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Well, I read your follow up post to this one, and did post a pic on my own blog in response (http://dogwooddiarist.blogspot.com), though I’m not sure you’ll think it so courageous. Thanks for some lovely thoughts in this post.

    Shonda Little March 5, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Every single time I come here, I just sit around and I wish I was fucking you. Not only do you look oh-so-rockin’ hot, but you are also all ballsy in showing the world your past 20, much sexier because you actually know how to do things 20 year old girls don’t know how to do but, moreover, because you are totally owning it on the internet.

    Cassi March 5, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Thanks for being honest and reminding us what’s important at the same time. If it’s any consolation, I’ve lost all but a couple pounds of my preggo weight and yet my toddler finds it enormously humorous to poke, jiggle, grab and otherwise manipulate the mound of loose flesh that is my belly – just as a daily reminder that things aint the way they used to be.

    'cuz I'm the mommy, that's why! March 5, 2009 at 3:09 am

    At almost 3 months post-partum, I still have 50 lbs on my pre-pregnancy weight. I’ll get to a place where I can love my body and feel sexy, and then SOMEONE will knock the block out from under me by telling me how out of shape I am (he’s not wrong) and that he doesn’t find me attractive this way. I have no time for exercise (full time nursing student, 50 hr/week job on midnight shift). I diet and diet. I’ve lost 10 pounds and kept it off for almost a month. I wouldn’t trade anything for my son, but I can’t get right with my shape, no matter how hard I try. I cried reading this post because I have always felt like I had to look a certain way. I still feel that way. I just can’t help it.
    Good on you for getting in shape and loving yourself in the meantime.

    'cuz I'm the mommy, that's why! March 5, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Correction to my comment: I am 3 Years post-partum. 5′ tall, 150 lbs. Morbidly obese. Still Depressed.

    Avonlea March 5, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Soft and strong — Amen! I’ve been overweight (to varying degrees) since about junior high. But my feeling the best was when I was very regularly dancing, belly dancing to be exact. So I was still rounded and soft, but underneath were strong, capable muscles. I miss that. I’ve not danced regularly in awhile. I need to get back to it. I may lose some weight while doing it, but the main thing will to feel strong and capable again.

    (I love the description of how you remember your mother’s body when you were a child.)

    layla2376 March 5, 2009 at 11:37 am

    I love your belly, it looks just like mine and like you I revel in the fact that it is the way it is because it nurtured my daughter and provided a safe place until she was born. My daughter takes great delight in not only the fact that its a nice “squelchy” place to rest her beautiful head but also that she made it that way xx I raise a cupcake to you and all squelchy bellies xx

    Her Bad Mother March 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Shonda: You’re trying to make me blush, aren’t you?

    Sarcastic Mom March 5, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Rock on, lady!

    I showed my beloved flaps off some time back on ye olde blawg:

    Self Portrait Truthiness – Alternate Title: At Least You Can’t Smell My Breath

    I’ll cram that muffin top into the flickr group you mentioned on your follow up post, too, now.

    :-D

    Paula March 5, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    You are awesome and look terrific! What a great post.
    And the Belly Project…so cool! So if anyone… (or someone like me) decides to post their (my) mommy tummy, we should drop you a line to come check it out? You never know. I might just have to do it…

    Her Bad Mother March 5, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Paula – I acutally set up a Flickr group – http://www.flickr.com/groups/1021659@N20/ – for anyone who wants to post there. Or at Belly Project, wherever ;)

    Michaela March 5, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Go check out http://theshapeofamother.com/
    It’s a great project. Apologies if someone has already mentioned the site – didn’t have time to read all the comments.

    Belinda March 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    OK, forget for a moment that I’d give my eye teeth to look like you all over, and let’s just talk bellies:

    IF the rest of me looked like the rest of you, I’d be totally on board with exposing my fat belly. Given the state of the rest of my body, however…I just ain’t there yet.

    This is the same reason that I will never, ever apply to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

    Loralee Choate March 5, 2009 at 5:56 pm
    Krishna March 5, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Let me just say that the other day my 9.5 month old crawled over to me while I was on hands and knees picking up toys and tried to nurse on my mommy muffin.

    I know I’m beautiful, and like you, I am so grateful for this live-giving body, but I’m still recovering from that.

    pandorican March 5, 2009 at 6:58 pm
    Amelia Sprout March 5, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Well, I did it for the shredheads, but I did. Apparently I’m brave for doing it while weighing what Biggest Loser contestants do, but I figure true will help me stick to it.

    Anonymous March 5, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Nice rack, hot tamale Mama. I’m drinking a king can of beer right now after finally weaning this week (22 months!). Screw the baby belly. I’m going for a beer gut now.

    God Bless the Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanx!

    Mac and Cheese March 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    You are beautiful, and I am beautiful, but no f-ing way am I posting my muffin top!

    Elda - Peace in the Storm March 6, 2009 at 12:05 am

    I’m going through the exact same thing, except I’m 11 months post-partum. I have yet to wean the baby and am stuck in a limbo between dieting and trying to get my body back, or eating those cookies that are staring at me from the counter and love the body I’m in.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my struggles.

    Cassi March 6, 2009 at 4:59 pm

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