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.

An Ode to George

 

Dear George, you don't know much about me, other than my name is Hillary, I have two little kids, and recently I've developed this embarrassing habit of crying in your store.  

Last week I took both kids grocery shopping and spent the entire trip telling Grady he couldn't have any treats, and then listening to Grady whine about how he "never" gets any treats (oh child, you don't want to play that game with me. I'll show you never.).  By the time I made it through the checkout with my whiny kid and my screamy baby, I was a strung-out bundle of raw mama nerves. The cashier asked if I wanted help taking my groceries to my car and I gratefully accepted. 

You're the manager of the store, George, but you grabbed my cart and happily chatted with Grady and then loaded my bags into my car. As I thanked you, you hesitated for a second and then kindly asked if I was okay.  

I was not okay. I was having a tough day. Your genuine kindness hit me in a soft spot and I started to cry. I thought I probably scared you a little, what with the parking lot blubbering and all, but you were kind and encouraging and I drove away feeling uplifted.  

Today was another tough day. I say that a lot lately. I wish I didn't. It's almost like my default setting. When I say sorry to Shawn and Grady for being snippy snappy, or when I'm fumbling to apologize for another dropped ball / missed email / scatterbrained moment, or I'm trying to explain why everything feels so chaotic and beyond my control, I say: "it's been a tough day." It sounds like an excuse but that doesn't make it any less true. 

I lost my patience with Grady over lunch (IwillnotfightaboutfoodIwillnotfightaboutfoodIwillnotfightaboutfood) and then when Shawn stepped in to help, I felt unsupported and frustrated and hopeless. I drove to the grocery store and cried angry, hot tears the whole way there. 

I was torturing myself in the greeting card section, reading Mother's Day cards full of beautiful sentiments that I do not deserve, when you walked by. You greeted me with a friendly hello and a big smile. I wasn't sure if you were just being store manager friendly or if you recognized me as the woman who became unravelled in your parking lot. "How are you doing? Are you feeling better?" You asked, answering my question.  

You told me you'd been worried. You'd told your wife about our "conversation" as you so tactfully called my breakdown, and you'd reminisced about how hard it is to live with small children. You told me you thought maybe I struck a nerve with you because you have a daughter my age (bless you, George, for telling me that and then telling me she's 24 years old). I'm not great with the talking. I'm awkward and anxious and given a choice, I'll take written communication over spoken all day, every day. But speaking to you wasn't weird or uncomfortable, even though we were two strangers talking about an intensely personal subject. 

George, I have been struggling. Last week and today, you saw my struggle. You saw me. You said hey, this is really hard, how can I help you? and I believe you genuinely meant it. You reached out with sincerity and kindness, and I appreciate the gesture. Thank you for refusing to live in the bubble, ignoring everyone outside. Thank you for connecting. I promise (I PROMISE) the next time I'm in your store, there'll be no tears from me. 

Said to Me by My Almost-Four-Year Old

As I got out of the shower: "Why you got all that butt?"

As I skewered meat and veg for shish kebabs: "Those chiska bops smell good!"

As I put him to bed: "I think when we kiss each other it's yucky."

As he tried to convince me he needed another cupcake: "I'm not hungry for healthy food, I'm hungry for chocolate icing." (I feel ya, buds.)

As we ate breakfast: "Hot milk and cold milk and chocolate milk are different milks!" 

As he tried to stall bedtime: "Why can my arms move? Because skeleton!" 

Mothering Grady is a wild ride; sometimes I grit my teeth and count the seconds to bedtime and take deep breaths and raid my secret chocolate stash. And sometimes I laugh so hard I can't breathe and hug so hard I can't breathe and love so hard I can't breathe. My almost-four-year-old is amazing and frustrating and brilliant and sensitive and maddening and mine. I'm so lucky.

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