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?



World Maternal Mental Health Day

Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. It is a worldwide effort to raise awareness for maternal mental health issues so that more women will get treatment and fewer will suffer.

Why does maternal mental health deserve its own day and campaign? It's estimated that perinatal mood or anxiety disorders affect 15-20% of women during pregnancy or after the birth of their child. 

Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.

Mental health is still a taboo subject. When we talk about our own experiences, and share our stories, we start to break down the barriers. Mental health should be a part of our general well-being. We should feel secure enough to visit a therapist for our mental health the same way we visit a dentist for our dental health. 

I want my kids to grow up knowing that asking for mental health support is a sign of strength. It's a difficult thing to admit you're struggling and need help. I want to do my part to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues so I'll continue to share my story, support campaigns like WMMHD, and provide help and direction to anyone in need of mental health resources. 

Today, on World Maternal Mental Health Day, will you commit to doing the same?

Angry Bees

I don't sleep much but when I do, I wake up and my face hurts from clenching my teeth. There's no separation between my mental turmoil and the physical pain that radiates down my jaw. Awake or asleep, my head is in a constant state of angry bees. I am volatile and capricious and perpetually buzzing.

* * *

Poppy has (what we suspect is) an allergic reaction to peanuts. I question our decision to follow her doctor's advice to introduce peanuts at a young age. I berate myself for giving her peanuts so soon after an extended illness when her immune system is already taxed. I watch her breathe as she sleeps, instead of sleeping myself, for two nights. I cry on the phone when the allergist calls to set up her allergy test. "You didn't do this to your baby," he tells me. I don't believe him.

* * *

I commit myself to good sleep habits. I cut down on caffeine and sugar and alcohol. I limit my screen time in the evening. I meditate and take a bath with lavender bubbles and drink a mug of chamomile tea. I crawl between the sheets before 10pm. I dream about forgetting to pick Grady up from school; accidentally leaving Poppy in the bath by herself with the water running; going to work and forgetting to arrange childcare; Shawn being in a car wreck; falling down the stairs; falling from the balcony; falling off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic; always falling.

* * * 

Grady needs an echocardiogram. His cardiologist is reassuring and kind. She is checking on how his heart has grown but she is not concerned. There is no reason to be afraid or anxious but I torture myself for weeks, wondering at what point his aorta arched the wrong way. What did I do to cause it? How will it affect him? The results are the best possible results but I still feel like I broke my baby.

* * *

Before Grady was born, I thought postpartum depression was moms hurting their babies or moms hurting themselves. I didn't know there was a spectrum of different mood disorders that can manifest during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. I think it's important for us to talk about this stuff so women feel less alone in a period of their life that can't help but be vulnerable. Hormones spike and crash. There is no sleep. Pregnancy, giving birth, and life with a baby require stamina and tenacity that can be difficult to find. Talking to other women who have been there before, or who are there with me right now, has been my saving grace. I don't feel like a monster because I have a running montage of all the terrible things that could potentially happen to my kids looping through my mind; I feel like someone whose hormones are out of whack, who needs a good night's sleep, and who is struggling but is not broken. For me, for right now, postpartum depression looks like chaos and worst-case scenarios. For others, it may look like sadness or apathy or rage. And that's okay. Feeling sad or mad or frustrated or devastated doesn't mean you don't love your baby or you're ungrateful or flawed. It means you're a human feeling messy, human emotions.

If you're struggling during pregnancy or postpartum, there are different places you can reach out to find support. Taking the first step can feel overwhelming but it's important to know you're not alone, you're not the first person to feel this way, and you absolutely deserve to be helped and to feel better.

If you need help, start here:

Postpartum Support International
Perinatal Mood Disorder Awareness
Suicide Prevention Lifeline