Bodies and Stuff
I might as well confess that I am a recovering academic. What that means is that, from the time I was 18 years old, I was going to be a university professor. Well, more specifically, it means that I decided, in my first year, second semester of undergrad, that I was going to pursue my doctorate and become a PhD. What I didn't know at the time is that meant I was supposed to be a university professor because Wal-Mart is not generally in the practice of hiring someone who has a specialization in critical feminist deconstructionism and new media embodied practice. To be fair, Wal-Mart has not yet rejected me, but only because I haven't given them the chance. What I mean to say is that doing a PhD in Sociology leaves you with limited options in the same way that only liking movies with lead characters who are all women limits your options. But I digress.
All this to say that I have ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS been interested in bodies. I chose gender and sexuality as a specialization before I even went to grad school. I was unbelievably swept up in the musings of all the feminist and deconstructionists and postmodernists that wrote beautifully about materiality and corporeality - the words still make me shiver with excitement. I am a theory junkie and translating theory into practice became my work once I decided I didn't want the Ivory Tower and the heaps of criticism and self-loathing that a life within it inevitably contains.
As a woman, feminist, and now, a mother, bodies - and their painful realities - are laid bare in the political debates over autonomy often lead by men, in protestations about what school children should and should not wear to school, and in the ongoing struggle every woman I know has with her very own corporeal self - that is to say, her body. Suffice to say, I've always been interested in bodies, but motherhood take this to a whole new level.
I've long been involved in the body acceptance movement which calls on all people to critically analyze their own fat phobia, to de-centre weight as a marker of health or overall wellness, and to embrace their bodies with self-compassion and kindness. So when I recently posted this article urging moms to celebrate their postpartum bodies, I was surprised when I got caught up on the idea of "accepting" my postpartum body or asking anyone to do likewise. I don't want to get all green goddess or mother earth here, but I think there is something different about the postpartum body which makes acceptance of weight and changes to it trickier to swallow.
I did the cliche thing this new year and joined a gym which I no longer go to because I hate the gym and I shouldn't have signed up for it because I know I hate the gym. I just hope my three-month membership expires soon so that I can stop feeling so goddamn guilty. In any case, I was going to whip my body back into shape and be like those other mamas who glow and radiate as they run through town with their jogging strollers (I also hate running but that's another post). My conflicted relationship to/with my body is different from when I have been dissatisfied in the past and it's hard to put it into words why.
First, I resent the idea that my body should "bounce back." I mean, I also resent that it didn't, let's be real, but my annoying assumption that it would just "bounce back" was connected to my ideas about how birth and motherhood and life would go on completely the same once my daughter was born. So I resent that I've internalized my failure to "bounce back" alongside my failure to do other things connected to what it looks like to have a "normal," postpartum free experience of motherhood. Oh yeah, and I also resent that I "failed" to have a "normal," postpartum free experience of motherhood. So there's that.
Also, interestingly enough, I am the kind of postpartumly depressed person who eats, which is no surprise to you given my post on poutine as self-care. So basically, taking food away from me right now, or any time in the past two years, would have been tantamount to telling me that I couldn't have any pleasure in my life in addition to having a life turned upside down.
But dissatisfaction with bodies is not just about eating + weight gain; it is also about having this fundamentally altered idea about what your body does, can do, and, ultimately, what it can both survive and create. I had the kind of labour and delivery experience where I was convinced that it was not a six pound baby girl emerging from my loins but rather a freight train going at the speed of light trying to exit my body. Labour was supposed to be calm and soothing. I was going to zen out on brain-produced chemicals because birth is so "natural" and "normal." (For the record there is nothing normal about giving birth insofar as you go into this coma - lovingly referred to as "labourland," but more accurately like, why-won't-this-f-ing-pain-cycle-stop-land). Feeling like a failure as a mother can start with an unexpected birth scenario and haunt all the other things you do once your life is upended and you don't know where to go for relief.
If you had the zen-like experience I so desperately wanted, good on you! I am, only mostly, completely, and totally jealous. If you had hiccups and multiple de-railings, and feelings of disempowerment like I did, may your poutine taste as delicious as mine.
Point is, I'm not a university professor, poutine is life, and perfect bodies don't exist. But you are superhuman for having a baby no matter how it came out of your body (or for that matter, even if it came out of someone else's body and you've lovingly nurtured it with your own) and no matter how many hiccups or scar tissue you are left with.
You're a mother. And now I know that that is that strongest thing on earth you can be.