In the mirror

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you may remember old posts I’ve written about my own body image and how I struggled in college with unhealthy, shall-we-say…habits, and how I go through some moments of dysmorphia every now and again.

Well, I think that it makes sense to bring the topic up again since there’s no better time to wax poetic about body image than after you’ve just had a baby.

It’s something I don’t see a lot of other bloggers discussing, because trust me: I’ve searched for posts. I guess I wanted some outside validation that the way I feel about my body now is normal and common and while I’m sure it must be—no one really seems to be bringing it up. Uh oh! Verboten! But if no one else is really going there, I’m sure there are other people like me trying to find someone willing to say it….so I’ll say it instead.

Deep breath! In a lot of ways, I have never felt more disconnected from my body than I do right now.

Sometimes I don’t recognize my own body. It was a vessel, used for something amazing and wonderful, and now only the shell remains. Growing up in Virginia, my best friend and I used to hunt for cicada shells left clinging to the bark of trees during the summer. They were both fascinating and disgusting. Insect-like, but not an insect.

Woman-like, but not the same woman.

When I look at Isobel, I’m shocked that she—a person—was once inside me. While I was pregnant, I would compare the feet and hands moving under my skin to having an alien growing inside me. How else can you wrap your mind around what’s happening to your body? Yes, it is truly miraculous that such a thing is possible, and initially after Isobel’s birth, I finally grasped the full extent of how functional and capable my body was at completing such a marathon of change and growth. I had a moment of clarify that was very much like, “So THIS is what it was meant to do.”

But, still. I had spent years prior controlling my body. Want caffeine? Lots of it? Sure! Want a glass of wine? Why not? How about some soft cheese? Yep! Load them on! If I was gaining weight, I increased my work outs or changed my diet. If I wanted to run a mile, I could. My body and I were more or less synchronized. I knew what I wanted or needed and I had choices available to me to better serve my body—choices I could take or leave.

But, the instant you find out you are pregnant—the very moment—you feel that things will be different. Your body isn’t really yours anymore, and what’s more, you have no idea what to expect of it. Yes, you can read every book and every blog and have a general sense of what’s coming down the pike, but that in no way prepares you emotionally. I know that some women probably fully embrace every change and have a go-with-flow motto, but I would get angry, frustrated, and even horrified at myself when the simplest of tasks (tying my shoes, reaching into the bottom cabinets in our kitchen, scrubbing the shower) became impossible or nearly so.

And then—after Isobel was born, I thought, “I remember how this works! I remember what it’s like to be able to pick things off the ground, to walk for miles without aches and pains jutting through my lower back. Sleeping on my BACK! What a treat!” You have a few weeks where you are so occupied with being a mother, with discovering mundane tasks are once again feasible, that you don’t notice so much of what else your body is up to. (The one exception, of course, being breastfeeding, which is an entirely different blog post altogether.)

When this initial high (“oh, it’s my body again! nice to see you!”) plateaus, there is a very memorable moment of shock. Who is that in the mirror? It CANNOT be me. I didn’t have stretch marks. I think I remember some kind of waistline. Wait, is that really my stomach? ARE YOU SURE.

There are little moments that allow you to feel more at home in your new-old body. Like, fitting into an old pair of pants again. I thought, “Well, this is more like it.” Until you try on something else, maybe a dress, and you find it won’t even fit over your chest, let alone the rest of you. Confirmation that body is not quite what it was, captain! Alert, alert!

I feel like I need to wrap this up by pointing out that I am still (despite what I wrote above) SO PROUD of my body for being pregnant and giving me a beautiful daughter, but I think you all KNOW I feel that and to complete this long post with a trite little wrap-up essentially dismissing all that came before doesn’t feel fair to you.

Instead, I’ll say this:

It’s not easy. It’s hard. It’s all new and no one can prepare you for the moment you realize that things might not be the same again, or go back to the same places. Some days you’ll feel really ugly. The word “grotesque” has occurred to me more than once. Even though the people around you may reassure you, no one knows better than you that while the compliments may be nice, they are only truly meaningful if you know in your heart they are right. And, it’s hard to feel that they are right. “Aren’t they seeing what I’m seeing?” No, they’re not. It’s hard to explain just how strange it is to not recognize yourself. I spent years with my body and memorized every detail of how it worked with me or against me, and then there’s a RESET button pushed that means I’m having to learn it all over again from scratch (the scratchiest scratch that was ever scratched).

I don’t want to be too melodramatic or scare you off. Clearly I have bigger priorities in my life than if a dress doesn’t fit, but in that singular moment—the moment I am trying it on—it’s really, REALLY damn hard.

There are many days you’ll feel beautiful, powerful, invincible. (I am a mother! I’m doing okay! Look at me go!)

And then there are the other days. (It has to be a trick mirror, right?)

Those other days are going to suck, but I hope that you refer back to this post and take some comfort in the fact that you are not the only one.

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60 Notes

  1. humblemusings reblogged this from jaclynday
  2. georgiegirlnyc said: Did I already tell you this ? Can’t remember. It took me a solid 9 mths to lose all the weight. A long time! But it did come off. Yours will too.
  3. withperspective said: I’m still in expandable waistbands and not even attempting anything else yet. One day….
  4. fivepoundnote said: Yes! Thank you for saying this. I think back on the pre-preg days and wonder what happened to that body - I almost don’t remember it anymore.
  5. maryanne said: This is important. Thank you for writing this. So many times on Tumblr you see people give birth and 2 seconds later they’re in the skinniest of jeans looking like they didn’t even give birth. That is not real life.
  6. everyday-k said: I know body image is something that comments from other people can’t always change, but I want to let you know I think you look absolutely fabulous. You’re gorgeous!
  7. sdotmarymartha said: A full year later my body is still changing. Pretty sure it will be another year before it settles. Also, I think breastfeeding exacerbates that my body is not my own feeling