People lied to me a lot when I was pregnant. Mothers of my middle school students were the worst culprits. “Pineapple will get contractions going for sure,” one said. “Your adrenaline will take care of the pain if you skip the medications!” claimed another. And one of my personal favorites: “You really do get used to smelling like sour milk and poop, eventually.” Lies, lies, and more lies. Oh, I know they meant well, but that doesn’t make it right.
In my ninth month, when my belly was at its biggest and the swelling and water retention were at the max, women started feeding me this line left and right: “Don’t worry–You’ll get your body back!”
Of all the whoppers I’ve been told, this was the worst.
I’ve been suspicious for a while, but a pre-summer swimsuit trial run last night confirmed it: I’ve got a body back, all right, but it’s certainly not mine. My hips don’t go out to there, do they? My body doesn’t have those stretch marks, or that tummy, and it’s about fifteen pounds smaller, overall.
Perhaps I misunderstood. See, when they told me I’d get my body back, I thought they were saying everything would return to the way it was before. Maybe they were just telling me that someday I’d see my feet again. People don’t always say precisely what they mean.
It’s hard, because I’m so used to thinking of my body as a direct extension of myself. If my body is in good shape, then I must be in good shape. If my figure isn’t looking great, then, by extension, there is something wrong with me. I acknowledge that this isn’t a particularly mature or healthy way of thinking, but it’s what I’m accustomed to. I’m used used to being more attractive then I am at present and—trivial, vain, and ridiculous though it may be–I miss how I used to look. I tried to explain this to my husband yesterday, but I don’t think I succeeded. Maybe men don’t make such a strong connection between appearance and identity. Is this an exclusively feminine mindset?
There is another dimension to the lie about getting your body back. Your size diminishes, certainly, but any mother who nurses her baby knows that you lose even more autonomy after the birth. Sam is nearly twice as big now as he was when he was born and all of his nourishment and substance has come from me. If my body is an extension of myself, this little guy is still, in some senses,a direct extension of my body (save a few ounces of formula and some chromosomes from his dad). He needs me just as much now as he did before.
And, looking at Sam sleeping next to me–chubby little arms stretched above his head—I wonder if I really want my body back after all.
I might complain that I can’t be away from him for more than 3 hours…but, truthfully, I miss him long before I get home. I will cry and cry and cry when he stops nursing. Goodness, I can’t even think about it. Autonomy isn’t all its cracked up to be. Some kinds of independence aren’t worth celebrating with fireworks.
Maybe there’s something to the appearance/identity connection after all; maybe the physical changes that come with having children are a reflection of some personal growth that hasn’t quite caught up yet. If my body is dedicated to serving my family first, maybe my spirit will follow.
People told me a lot of lies while I was pregnant, but this is the platitude I heard most often: “Becoming a mother shows you just how selfish you are.”
And that one is definitely true.