There are many things I have come to realize now that I am a parent. The chief among these is that before now, I did not understand. There’s just no way to.
Let me illustrate by sharing some examples of things I never thought I’d do (or at least, not all at once):
- Left the house in my pajamas having not brushed either my hair or teeth because we were in dire need of diapers.
- Went five days without showering.
- Remained in the same clothes for five days.
- Went any number of hours before realizing I had baby poop on my person. It might have been there all day. I have no idea.
- Been pooped on, peed on and thrown up on and not changed clothes.
- Enjoyed grocery shopping because (a) it was out of the house, (b) away from a crying baby and (c) amongst adults.
- Used baby wipes on my armpits because my own stink was so horrible and yet I did not have the energy or time to shower.
- Looked upon my saggy, jiggle, stretch-marked belly and cried.
Parenthood is hard, with0ut question. I knew to expect worrying about her, frustration when I did not know how to make her stop crying and an extreme lack of sleep. (Although, I did not understand how the extreme lack of sleep would feel.)
What I find surprising is that nobody tells you about how you’re going to feel as a woman. Or at least nobody told me. My body just did a biological triathlon. Pregnancy is a bitch. Giving birth is almost impossible to describe. But people talk (at least a little bit) about the physicality of all that. People allow you to bitch about pregnancy’s less-fun moments. People focus on the part about becoming a mother, the new baby and the joy. And these are good things to focus on. These are big-deal things. But what about the transition back to being just yourself, a woman in a world that worships stick-thin idols and Playboy bunnies who can morph back into bikini babes in the blink of an eye? What about us average gals who don’t have personal chefs, personal trainers, nannies, maids, personal assistants and the like to help us deal with the enormous new challenges in our lives?
It’s hard enough worrying about being a new mom. Am I going to fuck this up? Will she have to get therapy someday because of me? How will I afford to send her to college? What will her first word be? Am I holding her too much or letting her cry too much? Am I a bad mother because I don’t like breastfeeding? When will she sleep through the night? But on top of all that I have to somehow be fashion-forward, sexy, perky, firm in the right places and all that?!
Nobody I know likes to talk about these things but the fact is, when the baby comes out you look down at your body and it’s alien. It’s been transformed from top to bottom. There is nothing familiar about my body these days. It’s been streched beyond all stretchitude and there is a road-map of stretchmarks and folds of jiggly, slack skin to prove it. At this point I am already back to my pre-pregnancy weight (thanks to breastfeeding and its magic calorie-burning powers) but my body looks nothing like it did before. All the skin is droopy, saggy, dry. The belly still juts out enough so I look about 4-5 months pregnant. The maternity clothes are getting too big but the regular clothes can’t deal with the belly pooch situation.
I have never felt more outside the social beauty standards than right now. I see how people look at me when I’m in line at the grocery store. I understand it (and resent it). I used to be them, judging the disheveled lady in pajamas with a rats nest where hair should be. I get it. But when do I have time to go clothes shopping? And where could I go? I am well outside acceptable fashion-industry norms. I’m lumpy, bumpy, pudgy. And I want whatever I’m wearing to be comfortable and quick. I don’t have time to think about coordinating this and that when my 2-month-old is screaming. And, well, I need something where I can get my boobs out in a hurry — so my baby can eat (don’t be a perv). I would love it if somehow all that could be accomplished in a way where I look human and not like a spit-up-covered zombie. But it doesn’t seem possible. Or if it is, it’s just too damn much work these days.
The good news is that I am starting to find time to work out, which feels good. It feels good to move my body and get my strength back. It’s hard because everything is weak and stretched out of place. But it feels right to move. I can see a 5K in the distance.
What I think is wrong with all the crap put on women to snap back to sexpot immediately after giving birth (besides that in itself) is that it implies you will be back to your old self eventually. What I am discovering is that it’s a one-way door. You’re never going back. You’re never going to be who you were before — physically, emotionally. You’re going to be who you are now. It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it actually is. I have to accept that this is the body and whirlwind life I have right now. And my body has been forever changed by the act of making a baby. And just because I love my baby doesn’t mean I have to love every physical price I paid to have her. That’s okay. I’m accepting the now and I’m keeping my gaze looking forward toward the horizon. Toward what is next. I believe I will get into shape enough to run again. I believe my body will become a space I love again and can feel sexy within again. But I am also accepting that what that looks like and how that comes to be will be different than what I was before.
Until then, if you find yourself standing in line behind a woman who looks like she hasn’t bathed in days, smells a little like baby poop and whose hair is sticking up on the top of her head — be kind. It might be me. Or it might be some other new mom just trying to make it through the day. Chances are, she just realized what she looks like, too. Chances are she has to fight back tears when she thinks about how much her body has changed and how unpretty she feels. Be kind, my friends. Be kind.
PS: I haven’t forgotten about other topics, like politics and how crazy Sharron Angle is. I just have to work out time in the day to actually write things down. I promise the next post won’t be about motherhood.