A Gentler Look at Postpartum Bodies

The intimacy I experienced with my body and my developing baby during pregnancy ….became, in a way, a metaphor for how I feel about parenthood—a striking awareness of loss of control, simultaneity of surrendering to change on a moment-to-moment basis while experiencing more joy and more fear than the heart can contain. Pregnancy and parenthood invoke an unprecedented heightening of anxiety—excruciating awareness of vulnerability, altering one’s perspective on the fragility of life, as well as a depth of love that redefines the concept. Why would we erase all of this complexity—the physical and psychological makings and markings of pregnancy and parenthood?

[via Smaller Than Before: The Politics Of Postpartum Bodies | Role Reboot]

Sixteen months postpartum, I thought that I haven’t been driven to “erase all of the complexity” (ie lose 20 pounds, or 60, Spanx up the twin skin belly, and so on) because even before kids, I didn’t have the standard sexy Barbie body.

I didn’t have even a healthy body before.

And I’ve been a radical feminist since forever, and to hell with the male gaze.

And frankly, I’m just too tired to take on the project of improving my projection.

Today I was reminded that while those ARE all reasons, they’re not ALL the reasons. Zucker’s post, quoted above, struck a gentle chord. It reminded me that the body-and-soul pregnancy experience I lived in and through — in and around and with my children’s bodies — was an Experience. Capital E, and it deserves to be remembered and revered as such.

Carrying and birthing the twins truly was the most carnal and sacred Experience of my life. Never before have I participated in a miracle, at once so engineered and so wild, and I never will again. I treasure it.

I’d never let anyone take the Experience away from me, and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to brush it off, minimize it, or forget about it. So yeah.

Classic monuments get chiseled from granite, cast in bronze, erected in steel, encased in glass.

My mama-ment is flesh and blood, muscle and sweat. It wiggles when I walk or laugh or work. It wraps my babies up in hugs, squeezes and shushes and sways. It’s mere mortal meat, an ephemeral expression of one genetic milemarker in human history. It’s just one of the latest in a line of mama-ments stretching back forever, and forward farther than I can fathom.

Erase THAT?!

I don’t share C.S. Lewis faith, but I return again and again to his apt living house metaphor from Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. Уоu thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

Monuments are purposely built big, hard to miss, and impossible to forget. Why should mine be any different?  I’ll be proud to rear my children in a “decent little cottage,” but they deserve to remember that they came from a palace.

2013.10.05 EJ at 37 weeks pregnant
37 weeks. Like that’s NOT going to leave a mark?! (For scale, my boobs were H+ cups.)

 

Working it out

Benefits of moving to another county

KK will be able to second-parent-adopt the babies, so they’ll have the two legally-recognized parents that they deserve. That we deserve.

Closer to friends and family

Closer to all my healthcare providers and the hospital we’ll deliver at

Closer to friends and family

Opportunity to find a house/apartment without stairs, so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about my future mobility or lack thereof

Closer to the farmer’s markets

Closer to the airport

Closer to friends and family

Potential for using public transport at least occasionally

Closer to a few bakeries that offer gluten-free goodies

Closer to more alternative families (there are some everywhere, I know, but there’s a greater concentration intown)

Closer to free/lowcost cultural events and field trips

Closer to friends and family

 

Benefits of staying where we are

…uh…

Not having to come up with a $20,000 cash ransom before we’ll be allowed to leave?

We get to continue working on our cooperation skills by sharing a single bathroom sink? Even though KK sticks her elbows out like Peter Pan when she’s brushing her teeth?

 

This makes my head hurt.

A quotation (NHBPM 2)

There is a whole pack of cliches that get lobbed at you when you get sick. Most are intended to empathize, support, or inspire, like:

I’m so sorry.
Let us know if there’s anything we can do.
Everything’s going to be okay.

Thank you, thank you, and I hope so.

Some though, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, really rubbed me the wrong way:

It’s always darkest before the dawn.
But anyone who’s died in their sleep can tell you, sometimes it’s just dark, and the dawn never comes.

You’re such a trooper.
Does this look like a kiddy scout camp-out to you?

God never closes a door without opening a window.
Good! Go stand in front of that window so I can push your smug self out of it.

I do not believe that god has anything to do with whether I get sick, get well, or get down tonight. (And I recognize, of course, that your belief system may vary.) But could god be a general contractor and nobody ever told me?

I came across this passage during the first year of my illness, when my brain and body were finding new ways to surprise and fail me on a daily basis:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.  (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Clive, you suave devil, when you put it that way, I’m intrigued.

I had expected to have decades before I had to contend with the “normal” declines and disappointments of aging. I had no framework for thinking of my adult body as a thing in flux. But things were hurting abominably and not making any sense now, and this quotation gave me a new perspective — a peaceful one —  from which to consider  my experiences.

I loved the gentle reminder that change can be for the better and that destruction of (at the very least) the status quo is necessary to make room for creation. My suddenly uncertain prognosis might, just maybe, not have to be all doom and gloom in every imaginable way. The Unknown didn’t automatically have to be The Unbearable.

Maybe this experience of crumbling myelin and faulty nerve signaling could in some way be leading toward something better. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that naturally you’d have to give up the flower garden to make room for the swimming pool. But wouldn’t you rather float in the sun than prune roses?

In a shift that I liked to think Anne Lamott would pat me on the back for, I began to consider it a gift to get to become someone else — a new me, a learning me, a remodeled me. Because honestly, my old me wasn’t such a hot property most of the time. Maybe I could walk better, but I was impatient and fearful and lazy. I lacked perspective. I — well, I could go on and on.

I’m still impatient and fearful and lazy, of course, and my perspective needs regular filter changes. But Lewis’s metaphor sticks with me and reminds me to stay open to the possibility that I don’t know all the possibilities.