When Your Body Breaks Your Heart

6 years ago

When I started The Shape of a Mother in 2006, I had expected posts full of pictures of bellies, pregnant and postpartum, lined with joy and growth, wrinkled with love. Stories of women who learned to love themselves despite looking so different from the airbrushed models of magazines, stories of women who loved themselves because they looked so different.

What I didn't expect were the stories of heartbreak. The stories of women who miscarried, or who had stillborn children, or whose children died after birth for one reason or another. Or those who found themselves unable to conceive at all.

The thing about heartbreak is that you can't compare it to anyone else's. Heartbreak is heartbreak. Period. One woman's experience isn't more than or less than another's just because her baby lived longer. And this isn't specific only to bearing children –- any way our bodies fail us can feel like a slap in the face. Cancer, chronic pain, life-threatening allergies, thyroid issues, and an endless list of other concerns create a need for emotional healing. When your body isn't doing its job, it feels like betrayal.

While my own health issues have been minuscule compared to the loss of a child, I think I can understand just a tiny bit how it feels to be so frustrated with your body on an emotional level. After my son was born in 2005, my hormones weren't able to bounce back they way they should, and I had some relatively minor, yet difficult-to-live-with, health and emotional issues because of this. It is very hard to learn to love your body when it's not working right. When it fails in nourishing your child, or when it fails to birth your child the way you wanted it to. It's one thing to have to make peace with your body shape and a whole other thing to have to make peace when your body is failing you in some way.

Last year Amy shared on SOAM how she took out her anger and grief on her body, loosing too much weight too quickly. I imagine this happens far more often than most people talk about. Your body fails you in some massive (or less) way and you abuse it somehow. It makes sense -- after all, we need somewhere to direct our anger and your body is the one who betrayed you in this case. You become even more critical of your appearance, perhaps with some vague thought that the very least your body could do after all this is to look decent, perhaps you feel that anything less than conventionally beautiful is just another failure.

Of course, in my time working at SOAM, I've come to believe that body image issues are just a symbol of what's inside. In the case of body-related heartbreak, it's reflecting your grief inside.

I don't know how to heal from a heartbreak as large as the loss of a child, or a terminal illness, or chronic pain. But when I've had to heal other heartbreaks in my life, I've found that looking it directly in the eye and respecting it have helped it move on more quickly. There is nothing good in burying feelings, we must allow them to be if we want to work through them. And once you have worked through the grief (which in many cases may be a job you have to revisit throughout your life) you may find that you have forgiven your body.

We must respond to our fellow women in times of loss with care, making sure we are lifting them up without saying anything unintentionally hurtful. Recently Jill and her readers from The Unnecesearean came up with a list of things not to say to a mother dealing with the loss of her ideal birth. You can also find lists about what not to say in times of infertility, miscarriage, child loss, cancer or any general time of grief.

I've seen far too much heartbreak in the history of SOAM. I've seen joy, too, and personal emotional growth that makes me glow inside. But the heartbreak caught me unprepared. It was my first experience in hearing from women who've lost a child or were unable to conceive a child, in knowing there were women who'd do anything to have a stomach like mine, if only it meant they could have a baby of their own.

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The Shape of a Mother

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