I remember the exact moment my body became postpartum.
All that day it had been swollen with baby. For my entire pregnancy I had felt a kinship with my midsection and the growing person it contained; it was me and not me at the same time, and I loved that feeling because while it was complicated, I knew that no one was expecting me to wrap my brain around it. I was off the hook because the universe is big. My relationship with my baby was ethereal and complex but since she was anchored to my very (very) tangible body, I had a handle on the depth of what was happening. All I had to do was look down.
(Or crave an entire thing of cream cheese.)
On labor day, my body had its own agenda. I essentially sat back and let it do what it was engineered to do. It had grown a person that was fit for the world, and after only forty-five minutes of pushing, my body delivered her.
Time doesn’t seem powerful or big enough to contain minutes where a person can go from being a fetus to a person who’s out in the world, but it does, and in that moment that my daughter vacated my uterus I couldn’t have known what was in store for me. In the seconds before I even saw her face, I saw my pelvis. The fluorescent lights glared at rolls of loose flesh and dared me to hate them, to feel disgusted and overwhelmed at the challenge ahead of me to get rid of any indication that I had ever grown a person. My pale waxy stomach was etched with red stretch marks that had only appeared in the last month of my pregnancy. They were severe and raw and made me remember standing in a Gap fitting room when I was eleven and crying over the stretch marks that accosted my thighs. I had dreaded their arrival in those prepartum days, and they were even uglier when my body didn’t contain a baby.
I saw my body in that moment when it delivered my daughter, and I wanted to hate it. It would have been so easy to hate it. I was used to those feelings of disdain. They were what I knew.
But I didn’t have the energy or the motivation for that hate.
Seconds after I saw my body, I looked at the person it created. She was so much smaller than I expected. Her face was angry and shriveled because she had only just been pushed out of the original comfort zone. Her naked body was placed against my naked body and she started rooting for my breast, and I felt pride that my daughter knew what to do. The nonverbal exchange between us was overwhelming. How could I hate the body that created this tiny little thing that knew me?
Throughout the first year of her life, I looked at myself naked in the mirror and felt so conflicted. My fallback was to feel disgust at the overweight mass and swollen breasts. I wanted to scorn the pounds that I had gained and to resent the bags that appeared below my eyes. Some days I would reflect on my lack of motivation to put on makeup and feel sorry for myself. It’s an easy thing to do, especially when you see moms who have clearly put in more work than you have at regaining their pre-baby bodies. It’s easy to feel ashamed.
But the thing about time is that it contains moments when a person goes from being a fetus to a baby, and it also contains years where a person can go from hating their body for what it looks like to loving it for what it has created. My daughter did that for me. I look at myself now, the mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old, and I see the excess weight. I see the hair that could use a trim and I notice the stains on my teeth from all the coffee I’ve drunk just to stay awake since she’s been born. And I love it. I love that my daughter knows that this body is her mother. I love that she looks at it and beyond it every single day. I love that she calls out “Mama!” every morning from her crib – sometimes angrily – and knows exactly who she wants to see. She doesn’t see less-than. She sees me, a person who is more than the sum of her parts.
Being a mother taught me to love my body and what it can do. As the mother to a girl, it is my job to love myself and this body I have because I am my daughter’s first teacher and I want her to know that the body she has is the perfect one for her. That job is one of the most freeing ones I’ve ever had.
There will be people who try to convince her that what she is is not good enough or pretty enough. It’s my duty to make sure that she does not lead their chorus. I’ll start by always loving myself and my amazing postpartum body.
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