So, I am getting some exercise! A little. A few things have helped prod me from my postpartum inertia. The weather is warmer. My back is doing poorly, and I know that if I don't start taking better care of my mid-section muscles it will only get worse. And also, we've got about twenty-seven weddings to go to this summer and I want...what?
Here's the kicker, friends. I kinda want to look as though I did not just have a baby.
Now. I know that I had just been sorting through some ambivalence about parenthood. That's true. But it's also true that my pregnancy and labor are on the very short list of things in my life that I am really proud of: I just did my best, and I did pretty well. I paid attention to myself, did a good job of taking care of myself while also being open to the newness of it all. I wanted to feel, as Sharon Olds has written, that I was accomplishing an "exceptional act." And I did feel that way.
And yet, here I am on the other side, with a vague sense that my job now is to erase the experience of pregnancy from my body. The softness, the excess: that all needs to go. I was thinking about this while I was jogging today, and about how I wouldn't really be comfortable outside in just a sports top, now. I have these little rolls that seem inappropriate to display. I still have my linea negra. Who wants to see that? Who wants to show it?
It strikes me also that women, postpartum, are stuck in a weird double-bind. We still feel the pressures of beauty that effect all women. I think there's an attitude--I know I felt this, earlier in life--that if a woman changed too much during pregnancy, it was somehow her fault, like she was lazy or something. Why didn't she avoid those stretch marks? Those extra pounds? As though either of those things, at base, could be avoided: stretch marks particularly, I've learned, are basically genetics, and there's not much you can do about them.
But at the same time, we live in a world (at least, I do) that looks down a bit on mothers who spend too much time worrying about appearance. I myself have taken part in many a conversation making fun of Evanston (an affluent suburb where I go to school) "jogging stroller moms," and the way their jogging displays their privilege (what a gift! to have a baby, and also have the time and energy to jog) and also, somehow, their superficiality (they have a baby! Why should they be worrying so much about their appearance?). It's like they're all some new "Desperate Housewives" characters we can love to hate.
So here I am. I'm not saying that the lesson to learn is that women should not exercise, or not feel entitled and encouraged to reclaim a sense of their own beauty, or not feel attached to a vision of themselves in their prematernal form.
But I guess I do think it's a shame that the solution to the double-bind of post-partum life that most women take is to cover up. If our bodies have changed, we hide them. We throw away the bikinis, and we look at our stretch marks in the mirror, and--I suspect--we spend a lot of time feeling ashamed, and embarrassed.
I don't know if it's totally reasonable to hope for us to feel proud of these changes, though I like that idea: I like the idea that we could see our postpartum bodies as bearing tattoos, or battlescars, or tribal markings. As signs of the fact that we have done something good, rather than signs of our failure--our imagined physical neglect.
But I would like it if at least if we could all realize that we were normal. And to that end, I would like to recommend the photos and experiences captured here:
It's a little shocking, and then, it's a little shocking that it's so shocking. It's like women's bodies all around us have been living these secret lives.
I still totally want to look hot around all my college friends at all these weddings. It is true. But I guess I also hope that, at least secretly, I can get to a place where, when I look at the mirror, I honestly feel more accomplished than ashamed.
(with thanks to whitney who sent me this website several months ago, while we were discussing our movement into what she described as a "lumpy but loving" tribe.)