years ago, i read many scathing takedowns of the postpartum body image issue. probably on jezebel, and probably around the maria kang "what's your excuse?" era. a bronzed, grinning mother of three clad in lycra and triumph, daring fellow moms to justify their own soft tummies and wobbly thighs. an endless cyclical shuffle of women's magazines all featuring the exact same cover story- how i got my body back! 109 tabloid headlines about jessica simpson's baby weight.
i was no closer to being a mother than i was to being a wombat at that point in my life, but it became clear to me that no woman- least of all, new moms- would ever be spared from this microscopic social gaze. and it occurred to me that the postpartum vocabulary might contain more pervasive terminology beyond clinical and pediatric concerns. colloquialisms like getting your body back, bounce back, baby weight, mom bod.
i swore i wouldn't write this entry. all throughout my pregnancy, i fought off the urge to dig deep into my fear of the scale or grapple with my body image issues. ain't nobody wanna hear about how you keep checking your belly for stretch marks, mimo. just throw up one of them grainy ultrasounds and talk about you're woefully unfit for parenthood.
and afterwards- on that first day back home, when i peeled off my disposable mesh panties with the postpartum pad that was roughly the size of a continent- i looked at my swollen, unrecognizable body and cried. i needed ian's help to shower, but i couldn't bear for him to look at me.
despite all evidence to the contrary, i am not a particularly stupid person. i knew- and have always known- that cooking up a full human being, excavating it from your body, and nourishing it would be a challenging feat for even a relatively fit physique- let alone a garbage reservoir of bloody mary mix like mine. but somehow, in the back of my mind, i filed away a vague possibility that my body would bear witness to childbirth only with a handful of rapidly fading stretch marks and a slightly softer belly. i thought of my coworker, the indefatigable brazilian barbie who left the hospital in her size 4 jeans, imbued with all of her pregnancy glow and with none of the motherhood exhaustion. maybe that'll be me, i thought hopefully. maybe i'll bounce back.
and i tried hard to cling to that foolish optimism. even on that first day back home- doubled over in pain on the toilet, breasts engorged to boulders and leaking down my puffy, bloated torso, abs searing in post-caesarean agony, when i felt barely human and completely dissociated from my own body- i thought, maybe it just takes a few weeks.
and through the challenging first few months of hospitalization, breastfeeding, pumping, and work, when my body lived for dual primal needs for sleep and milk production, i still harbored the hope that i would soon be able to recognize myself in the mirror. even as i packed foot after foot of sterile strips into a pitted, gaping scar at my bikini line. even as i poured my body into waist binders and shapewear that pinched and tattooed me with seams and sweat. even as two seasons passed and my pre-pregnancy wardrobe remained out of reach. breastfeeding burns calories, right? maybe it just takes a few months.
and when it became clear that the number on the scale wouldn't budge, and my waist gripped those additional inches with enduring tenacity, and i continued to look like a loaf of a bread, i genuinely despaired. i felt like i had traded my totally average but still hard-won appearance for this bright-eyed little baby. maybe this is just the deal. guess we're both 96th percentile for weight, mr. james. i tried hard not to resent it. sometimes i failed.
and these are the thoughts i felt too embarrassed to really write, because what new mother should be weighing her self-esteem against an unrelenting 20 lbs when she has a beautiful and healthy baby to be thankful for? every neurotransmitter in my brain should be reserved for the love and adoration of chubbo little james, every thought process must lead back to gratitude. how could i possibly find room to wallow in my old stomping grounds of body image issues, when i've taken on such a significant new responsibility?
is it really possible, that after a fucking decade and motherhood, i am still actually just a teenager on livejournal just fretting about how round my face looks in photos?
i guess the answer to that is yes and will probably always be yes and i have made my peace with that. but i wish i had understood earlier that to birth this glorious little dude with the wild hair and fondness for cheese, i swapped my body for a year and a half. that the reins i tightened over the years to wrest control over my life through a tape measure and a calorie count had to be loosened to make way for anatomy and biochemistry. and that this idea of getting your body back wasn't necessarily about reverting to your pre-pregnancy measurements and looking like you've never even met a guy, let alone made a baby with one- but about reclaiming ownership once pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding have all taken their turn in spotlight.
if i had focused more on waiting patiently for my physical autonomy and less on those 15 lbs, i might have felt less panic when the weight didn't readily fall off, might not have tried and test those old zippers so hard. i wouldn't have been so hard on myself for this estimable cost. i might have even put that scale up, to be retread when the time was right.
dr. katyal crows damn, mimi- bounce back! when he sees me walk down the hallway, back in my own size 4 jeans, and i want to tell him that it wasn't a trick of genetic fortitude or lucky resilience. it was- as it always was- a dull, practiced grind of appetite and caloric reduction, of intermittent fasting, of working through lunch and eating a light dinner early, of cooking my meals instead of ordering them, of sharing my food with james, of restriction and careful choices and the control that came back when i finished breastfeeding and reclaimed my body. and that my body still bears witness to these accomplishments we've taken on with slightly more scarring and exhausted breasts- but not much worse for the wear on this other side of nine months. and most crucially, i finally recognize myself- not for my weight or waistline- but for moving past the despair and guilt, replacing them with focus and patience.
- but then i realize he's just quoting that big sean song and literally no one is interested in my postpartum body. not even james, who has recently only been enthusiastic about biting it.