I don’t want my pre-baby body back.
As a child, I learned my body was uncoordinated. In a fourth grade unit on bicycle safety, I was the only student off to the side with the P.E. coach, attempting to learn to ride without training wheels. (Unsuccessfully, I’ll add.) As a seventh grader, I tried out for the middle school volleyball team and just barely made the cut, only to see my serving skills actually diminish as the season wore on, despite almost daily team practices.
In high school, I learned my body made me a target. During back to school shopping, my mom and I looked for the most modest clothing (some of which my dad still deemed not quite modest enough.) Even that wasn’t enough to shield me from unwanted advances, snide remarks, and uncomfortable attention. In my sophomore year history class, a boy threw small bits of paper down my shirt while we sat working on a group project. I looked to the teacher as if to say, “What should I do about this?” He looked at me and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself, young lady.” I wasn’t sure what to be ashamed of besides my body.
In college, I learned my body was confusing. My scoliosis continued to worsen for no apparent reason—“idiopathic,” the orthopedic surgeon called it—and while my peers spent the summer after sophomore year interning and studying abroad, I spent it on my parent’s couch recovering from spinal fusion. A few years later, I began having trouble eating certain foods; my bite was askew, and my retainer no longer fit. X-rays and MRIs showed deteriorating joints in my jaw, but follow-up tests revealed no cause. To this day, my jaw hangs open awkwardly, but with none of the TMJ or headaches I was told to expect.
All along, I have felt as though, perhaps, my body couldn’t be trusted.
As a lifelong perfectionist, my tendency is to ignore and avoid that which doesn’t come naturally, or anything about which I don’t feel confident. I’ve never tried to learn to ride a bike. I didn’t show up to my AP Calculus exam. I shelved my book writing project for over a year. Similarly, I’ve mostly ignored my body. It didn’t perform or behave as I expected, and I’ve never been comfortable with the unreliability and supposed failures. If I could ignore my body, I did: I pushed through pain and worked past tired, I acquiesced to cravings and avoided doctors, walking through the world like a disembodied mind and heart.
But then, when the time finally came for my second son to be born, my doctor stood at the foot of the bed with a nurse by her side and doctors-in-training behind them. I breathed. I counted. My body created and sustained a rhythm all its own. The time came, and I bared down.
“She’s a good pusher,” my doctor said.
She said it to the nurse in a quiet voice; I don’t even think it was meant for me to hear.
I remember very little from that day because the clouds of postpartum depression that eventually descended drove out many of my memories of Leo’s first year of life. I remember the boldly-patterned glasses of the medical resident, a nurse laying my husband onto a couch after he passed out, another nurse counting the minutes between my contractions, and that: my doctor saying I’m a good pusher.
For so many years, I lacked the strength, the coordination, the stamina required for any physical task that came my way. Each of the two times it became clear that my labor would need to be induced, it seemed to confirm for me that somehow, my body didn’t know what it was doing. And yet, there, in that most crucial moment—my body knew what to do?
My body knew what to do.
A few months before, I sat in my first pre-natal yoga class—my first yoga class of any kind. The yoga instructor asked us to set an intention for the class, and I chose “joy,” with my hands prayerfully at my heart. She asked us to move onto all fours, like a baby about to crawl. As we shifted between cat pose and cow pose, arching and rounding our backs in time with our breathing and the barely-perceptible music, the instructor asked us to connect with our bodies. “Feel the ground beneath you. Can you feel it beneath each finger? Beneath your palms? Beneath your knees?” She encouraged us to feel the ground beneath each toe, beneath our heels, and the balls of our feet.
It is was so simple and so revelatory, like a newborn’s first smile: simple, commonplace, reflexive, and yet wonderful. I pressed into my mat with each extremity, and my body and the world met each other, perhaps for the first time. Had I ever paid such attention to my breathing? Had I ever asked the whole of my body’s movements to come into rhythm with one another, as if dancing? Could I stop to feel the ground beneath me, connecting my soul and my heart and body?
Carrying and delivering my children brought me in tune with my own body. It’s only in recent years that I have learned to track my mood and up my Vitamin D when necessary, noticed coffee after 4 p.m. makes me jittery and unable to sleep, realized my knee swells with alarming regularity once a month.
When it was just me to consider, ignoring potential problems and ailments was easier than addressing them. But ignoring my body during pregnancy meant ignoring the needs of another person, to whom I was responsible for nourishment and sustenance. I’ve heard it said that a pregnancy is the surest way to drastically change a person’s bad habits—whether drinking or smoking or just plain negligence—and I believe it. What is permissible in isolation is no longer acceptable in relationship.
My oldest is now in kindergarten. I am still not keen on exercising, and I have not become an athlete. When our family received a complimentary gym membership last year, I took advantage of the free childcare but spent most of the time sipping coffee and reading in the lobby. And yet, I feel at home in my body; I am more dedicated to listening to her cues, and I trust her to carry me through.
My pre-baby body was good too, of course. She was not at all unreliable or untrustworthy—that was my fear and insecurity talking. And she would have been wholly good and whole even if I had never conceived or carried or delivered a baby. This is just the means by which I learned what I needed to know.
Motherhood gave me my body for the first time. The power of connection with my unborn children and the challenge and fulfillment of delivering them into the world—the intermingling of body and heartbeat, breath and blood—transformed my body and gave her new life, as she did the same for another. I’ve learned to love her—my pre-baby and post-baby body, too. There is no going back.
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Featured image by Lindsey Cornett
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.