“Are you showing yet?” A friend asked.
I paused. It’s hard to tell where the old first pregnancy paunch ends and the burgeoning one begins. So much for getting back into shape before the next pregnancy! Parts of me are thinner and feel worn away, while other parts have remained stubbornly and weirdly flabby, like the excess skin has nowhere to go. Never, ever, as a young woman in my twenties, would I have guessed that my taut, moderately fit and springy body would ever be so suddenly changed, within the next decade. I am not as elastic as I may have once believed, and all that inflation and deflation of various body parts has loosened things. The few times that I’ve looked down at myself (and I certainly don’t do this intentionally), I’ve been slightly taken aback, as if I’m not really looking at myself but at my own mother’s body superimposed onto mine. Motherhood is apparently all radiance and glowing fecundity, but it is also…the exact opposite sometimes.
There is no fallow period for the young-but-not-so-young woman bent on having multiple children. You just put your head down and plummet forward with grim determination – promising yourself that the horror is best suffered all at once, while one has momentum, while one’s eggs are still fresh, while one’s body is still able to do battle and win. Childbirth is not for the old. It is wrenchingly, awesomely physical. As my friend once put, “the toughest workout I’ve experienced in my life”. Not to mention the after birth: nights (and days) spent lifting and rocking a large, larger, larger baby. I’m not sure if that keeps us fit or wears us down. It’s as if manipulating a heavy baby develops hidden muscles deep within our bodies, while leaving the other more obvious muscles untouched. Certain joints feel more vulnerable than ever. We are careful with our backs, because we’ve all injured ourselves at some point within the first year of our child’s life. It just takes one bad lift out of the crib, or one careless lunge towards our baby as he topples off the couch. I feel approximately five years – ten? – older than I should be.
The battle with postnatal weight is actually the least of it. There is the other stuff that can’t be fixed by diet or exercise. Stuff that’s a little less obvious, involving vaginas and rectums and pelvic floors and breasts. Speaking of which, I told my friend that I am seriously considering a boob job when my breasts are done and ready to retire. It’s weird but I feel like I owe them this after all that good work that they’ve done.
And what a work. All those body parts graciously shifting, changing, straining, for the growth of another person. My body simultaneously awes and mildly horrifies me at the same time, like a badly wounded soldier returning home after his tour of duty. Here are your medals, I’m so proud of you, (no really, I’m so proud of you) and now it’s World War Two and we’re in for another round, so gear up.
It goes without saying, of course, that it’s worth it. For all my griping, I know this. So what if glorious motherhood comes with a side of hemorrhoids, incontinence and droopy breasts? (Although, how I wish it didn’t.) If I had to choose youth and fitness on one hand and a baby on the other, I would make the same choice again. I am, above all, incredibly grateful to this body which in all its former glory I never suspected would in fact be this strong and able. This persevering and tenacious. There may be cracks but I am still standing, healthy and strong enough to sign on again.
In the meantime, I’ve started to tell myself that my body is not my identity. (Ah, a stay-at-home mother’s crisis of identity. Surely, that deserves its own post.) I try to ride the wave of gratitude, and cherish the scars as reminders of what was accomplished. I shelve my vanity as best I can, and attempt to fix the parts which are supposedly fixable. I’ve just started using an anti ageing serum (Biotherm, Blue Therapy by the way) and it’s doing wonders for my skin which is usually a mess during pregnancy. My hair is still falling out, thanks to sheer neglect or something more insidious, I have no idea, but the new shampoo and treatment seem to be working somewhat. I do my Kegels when I remember (I really need to start sticking up reminders around the house), haul myself into the occasional painful plank before dinner. Finally, I reach for that revelation in the middle of the night just before I fall asleep: my youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. I shall run and not grow weary. I will walk and not be faint. Renew me, Lord, there is no one else who can.