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 labored 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.