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.)

 

It’s no wonder mothers are tired

“That which is to give light must endure burning.” — Viktor Frankl

“That which is to give life must endure burning out.” — me

As I’ve repeatedly tried to explain to my wife, I’m tired — but not the kind that a good night’s sleep would fix right up.

For starters, I’ve had MS for 8 years now. I’m no stranger to fatigue. 136_image

There’s the muscle fatigue, where repeated movements make me weaker, not stronger. There’s also the overall sense of waking up drained of all energy, of living on a planet with 10x the gravity of earth, best described as lassitude.

And of course there’s the fatigue of “managing” a chronic illness — which really means running herd on your medical team, your insurance company, emerging science, pharmaceutical advances, public policy, fundraising, and the shreds of your family and social and sex lives — day after day after goddamn day, forever and ever, amen.

So me and tired go way back, and I work hard every day to fight it back and haul my aching ass off the couch, to keep participating in life.

But a couple of years ago, I participated in MAKING LIFE, and discovered a whole slew of new ways to be tired.Twin ultrasound at six weeks gestation

We live in a society that loooves to tell women how to live; indeed, entire fetishistic industries and economies depend on it [and should die quick and painful deaths, but that’s another post for another day].

So when a woman becomes pregnant? Those omnipresent, authoritative, prescriptive voices double down, coming out of the woodwork to tell her the best, or at least the newest, ways to “manage” a pregnancy.

Do this, don’t do that! Eat this, don’t eat that! This is how you should sleep, dress, shop, and clean and work and screw. Or not – maybe it’s this other way! Nobody’s ever tested this advice! Do as we say!

A week after our first positive pregnancy test, Jezebel ran “How to Have the Best Pregnancy Ever,” a masterpiece that neatly sums up the conflicting cacophony. Dare anyone to read it and not feel like you need a nap afterward. Or a stiff drink, but that would kill your baby, unless it’s actually totally fine…

Now, read it again, with the sober understanding that not 1, not 2, but 3 lives hang in the balance of your every decision. The clock is ticking. Cells are dividing. Tiny organs are forming (or not! dear god). You’ve never done this before. You won’t get any do-overs. It’s all on you. I bet now you feel like you need a nap yet can never sleep again, lest you fall down on this all-important job that everybody but you seems to know how to do.

If you’re newly pregnant, this is the time to curl into the fetal position — while you still can.

In fields like medicine, the defense against this din is called alert fatigue. When providers receive too many computerized alerts (about drug interactions, say), or conflicting alerts that don’t take into account the specific nuances and contexts of individualized patient care, the providers start tuning out the alerts. They become indifferent, override it, close the window, click the X.

And they are likely to start ignoring all alerts, even ones that might be helpful or lifesaving.

Wheat and chaff. Signal and noise. Baby and bathwater.

Day after day after day.

It’s no wonder mothers are tired.

Tune in next week eventually for a look at the types of fatigue that show up once the babies are actually born! That’s right — there’s more!