How To Get Your Body Back

I am newly postpartum, not quite awake, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, shush-shushing a 4-litre jug of milk and rocking it back and forth, soothingly, the same way I've been rocking a screamy baby for what feels like a week straight. Through bleary eyes, I read the headlines jumping out at me from the glossy magazine covers featuring impossibly beautiful women.

"How to Get Your Body Back!" Like I've disappeared so far into motherhood that I am no longer here. My body grew a tiny, furious human. It laboured for two days and birthed nine and a half pounds of gumption and tenacity. But now, as my belly is no longer satisfyingly rotund but instead soft and sagging, I have ceased to exist. How to Get Your Body Back. How to Erase the Parts of You We Don't Want to See. How to Look More Visually Appealing so We'll Acknowledge Your Existence. 

I'm in the shower. The temperature of the water is one degree below skin melting but still my bones feel cold. It's as though my body is so tired from lack of sleep and operating at Threat Level Eleven for so long, it lacks the ability to warm itself. Itself, not myself, because who am I and how did I end up in this vessel? I bend over to shave my legs (in some sort of bizarre act of defiance like "you can take my freedom, but you'll never take my smooth legs") and my deflated midsection droops forward. Without the pucker of my belly button, I think my middle may actually pool around my knees and the thought makes me laugh until I'm crying, laugh/sobbing mirthlessly while I scoop up handfuls of skin and attempt to mold it back in place. 

I'm introduced to a new group of parents. I'm not Hillary, I'm "Grady's mom and this is Poppy, how old is she now, is she walking yet?" I go out for an afternoon and when I'm reunited with the baby she hugs me close and I melt as I think "she really missed me!" And then she sticks her hands down my shirt while saying "num num num" as she searches for her prize. I remember to slather the baby twice a day with two different lotions to try to combat her eczema, I remember to sign permission slips and send a dollar to school for the frozen treat fundraiser and can recite the names and alter-egos of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, but I cannot remember to refill the prescription of the pill I take every day to literally keep me alive. I am reminded daily of the many different ways I've disappeared. 

I can count calories and do squats and give up sugar completely and probably, maybe, society would view me as having my body back. I could do all that if it mattered to me, I mean. I could erase the evidence that my body grew actual human beings and then delivered them into the world, full of rage and possibility. But I don't want to. My pendulous breasts and flaccid flank and hips that have been admired by more than one medical professional as "birthing hips" are my mementos, my babies my ultimate prize. To wish away the proof of how they came to be feels treacherous. 

I don't want to get my body back. At least, not in the way the glossy magazines tell me I should. I want to feel strong again. I want to feel confident and well-rested and clear-headed. I want to stop prefacing every suggestion I make with "this might be stupid but I got no sleep last night so it's the best I could come up with." I want to stop apologizing for being a disaster. I want to stop feeling like a disaster. I do not want to get my pre-baby body back. I want to get my self back.

Another Wild and Crazy Saturday Night

Shawn is a talented musician. Is that gauche of me to say? Am I supposed to be humble on his behalf? I don't even care. The guy has worked at honing his musical craft for decades and is extremely good at what he does.  

Recently, opportunities have presented themselves to him and all of a sudden he's playing for multiple bands.

Which is great. Dude likes to play. But it's also challenging for me, the person stuck with the dinner grind and bedtime routine and the whole "not having the time or energy to even remember what her hobbies are, let alone pursue any" thing.  

Look. I know how lucky I am. I am endlessly, unbearably grateful for the life I have. I'm at home with my babies. There's a roof over our heads, we are fed, we are safe.

It's just, when someone asks me on Friday what we're up to this weekend, I want to be excited about my response. I don't want to make some vague comment about "kid stuff" and quickly change the subject. I also don't want to answer honestly (because somehow I don't think they want to hear "eating leftover Easter candy while watching Bones season one on Netflix and going through my camera roll to sort pictures into my "Penelope Rash" photo album."). 

I'm happy Shawn is pursuing his passion. I'm thrilled his hard work and commitment are paying off. I'm so glad he has this creative outlet and the privilege to accept these opportunities as they come.

I'm also seething with envy. It's petty and unattractive, I know. I can't help it, though. I don't want to be up on stage, performing. I'm not jealous of his specific situation. I just wish I had the time/energy/freedom/space to do my own thing sometimes. Whatever that thing may be. 

This sounds like a criticism of Shawn but it's not meant to be. I am sincerely happy music plays a role in his life. I'm also glad he feels secure enough in himself, and in us, to protect that part of himself.  Shawn would sacrifice sleep before he'd give up music. I want to learn how to be like that. To acknowledge that I enjoy / need something and just do it instead of doing a million other things all the while complaining about not having the time to do the thing I actually want to do. There will always be more laundry. Th dishes will never be done. If I'm waiting for the house to be completely clean before I pursue my interests, I'm going to be waiting a very long time. 

If you're a parent, what's your strategy for being present for your family but also preserving your hobbies?  Or is this one of those "seasons of life" moments where I just need to buck up and realize that I have a baby and anything beyond "keep the baby fed" is beyond the scope of possibility right now?



This Body of Mine

This thirty-something-year-old body of mine is 25 pounds heavier than my twenty-something-year-old body of the past. That is not hyperbole.  

This body of mine sags where it used to be perky and ripples where it used to be taut. It is crisscrossed with scars and stretchmarks. It has been cut open and sewn back together. Electricity crackles through its bones and settles in joints with a malicious hum. 

It has hiked Irish hills and explored the British countryside and once it got lost in a sleepy Italian town because maps are confusing and north always feels like it should be right in front of me, no matter which direction I'm facing. It has danced and swam and loved and wandered. It has endured.

This body of mine has become bulbous both with new life and with cancer, stretched beyond what I thought was possible. It's grown and birthed two babies, and grown tumours that overtook an embryo that never stood a chance. 

My babies and my cancer have fed off this body of mine.   

This body of mine is not perfect but it is full. Full with baby giggles and shared jokes and mountain air. Full of 3am pizza and sloppy kisses and travel dreams and homemade birthday cake. This body of mine is not perfect but it has lived. It lives. Twenty-five pounds heavier than ten years ago, self-conscious but not self-loathing, stronger(ish), this body of mine lives. I won't take it for granted. 


My House

When you come to my house, you should probably wear socks. You see, the vacuum has steadily made its way down my list of priorities and has settled just under "shaving my legs" and above "scrubbing the oven." Crumbs and sand and fluff abound, is what I'm saying.  

When you come to my house, you should never use the first tissue, especially if you have to reach into the box to retrieve it. A certain preschooler puts tissues back into the box if he hasn't "used it up" completely. We're trying to break him of this habit. Unsuccessfully.  

When you come to my house, you should suit up before you ask for baby snuggles. The baby is the leakiest baby. At the very least, you should make sure there's a receiving blanket between your clothes and her mouth. She  will spit up on you and it's best for everyone's sanity if the spit up doesn't land directly on your clothes. 

When you come to my house, you should turn a blind eye to the piles of papers, books, kids' toys, unread mail, and other assorted tat that collects and multiplies on every available surface. I would love to have counters clear of clutter but this season of my life is not an uncluttered one. I've made my peace with it. You should too. 

When you come to my house, you should not expect witty conversation or riveting discourse on current events. My brain is oatmeal. Thick and glue-like. My sleep is broken and fleeting. My thoughts are basic and fragmented (when did Poppy last eat? did she feed on both breasts or just one? which one? take a quick peek under the shirt, when will my boobs be normal again? when will I be normal again? when was the last time I felt normal? what is normal?). Welcome to fifteen seconds in my head. Lather, rinse, repeat. All day. 

When you come to my house, you should wipe the toilet seat before you sit down. Someone is asserting his right to stand when he pees. That someone is short enough that he can't point his plumbing down into the toilet bowl; he sort of shoots right across the surface of the seat and leaves puddles and chaos in his wake. 

When you come to my house, you should try not to be scared of the wild-eyed, sleep-deprived woman babbling at you about the weather (the extent of my current conversation skills,) or the preschooler who is vibrating with joy at the prospect of someone to play with instead of the crazy lady who used to be fun but now spends her days with a screaming infant attached to her chest, or the tiny bundle of rage who should be cooing adorably if diaper commercials are to be believed but instead is spewing spit up and fierce cries from her adorable little Cupid's bow mouth. 

But you should come to my house.  

You should come to my house and pretend that your feet aren't sticking to an unidentifiable substance on the floor. You should make me feel like a brilliant conversationalist. You should hold the baby and dodge her spit up and fury. You should make us feel normal again, just with the magic of your presence. The days are long and seemingly unending. Your visit is a bright spot in the sea of dirty diapers and hour-long negotiation-filled meals and sore boobs and one more episode of Paw Patrol and "watch this, mommy!"s. You should sit on the (sticky) couch and drink a mug of lukewarm tea and make me feel like a human being. Because one day I'll do it for you.