“You don’t even look like you had a baby!” Well meaning strangers — in the grocery store, on the street, at the doctor’s office — give my body the once over, voices tinged with admiration and a hint of envy. It is intended as a compliment, this denial of what is: That I had a baby, that the “soft animal” of my body is just that, an animal that grew an embryo the size of a poppy seed into an eight pound, six ounce fetus who is now my beautiful son.
There was a time when my body was all angles and lines, whittled down to sharp points and jutting bones. I thought that contouring my body would make me somehow good enough. Pregnancy profoundly changed that notion, as well as that body. My belly slowly rounded, first soft and then hard, hard as a rock as my womb filled with fluid and nutrients and became a safe space for my child to begin his life. My face became rosy and round, the hollowness between my thighs filled in, my breasts swelled and prepared to nurture my baby.
For someone recovering from a battle with an eating disorder lasting over a decade, this process was not easy. The comments bothered me, well-intentioned or not. Too big, and I’ve let myself go, I’m overdoing it, gained “too much”. Too small, and I’m not taking care of my baby, already not being a “good enough” mother. “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting”: Yet in our culture, we do. Magazines are full of articles scrutinizing the bodies of pregnant celebrities and extolling the starvation diets stars engage in to lose the baby weight. Where is the article that describes the miraculous act of giving birth in all its unglamorous glory? Where is the article that describes the trauma your body has gone through, the battering and bleeding and convulsing that leads to a new life being placed in your arms? Where is the article that describes the overpowering love a mother feels for her newborn baby? Aren’t those things more meaningful, more important, than an exercise regime designed to give you flat abs and “banish the baby belly”?
I won’t lie and say I don’t get caught up in the idea that my body should immediately bounce back, that my hips should narrow and my belly flatten and my boobs perk up in the coming weeks. The world expects it, right? Much in the same way that they expect me to be back at work as soon as I can walk without looking like I just went horseback riding, to keep a perfectly organized home, to exclusively breastfeed, to wake up early to go to the gym, to make a home-cooked dinner every night at 5pm, and to remain sweet and accommodating despite living on no sleep for the past two months. It’s just not reality. The reality is that you will be pooped on, peed on, and spit up on multiple times a day. The reality is you will never style or blow dry your hair again, and you might even have to cut it all off because it just gets in your way. The reality is, your nipples might leak right through your shirt while you’re at the mall. And the reality is you won’t care because it really is all worth it.
I want to spend these precious first few weeks of my baby’s life with him, not sweating away the extra few pounds at the gym. When I look in the mirror, I want to be amazed and inspired by what my body has created rather than frustrated and ashamed of the ways in which it has changed. My body does not look the way it once did, my clothes do not fit in the same way. I no longer have a child’s body; I have a child. And I would not trade that for anything in the world.