I live in early motherhood. I don’t know when the last time was that I slept through the night, or visited the washroom on my own. There are Cheerios scattered on my kitchen floor and stickers in random spots on my walls. Things that I never would have imagined doing before I had children are now second nature to me – smelling a baby’s bottom to see if it’s dirty, breastfeeding my toddler while he sits on the potty, making 3 different lunches for 2 different children.
My daughter Hannah is just over five, and my son Jacob is nearing 20 months. Between the two of them I have been continuously pregnant or breastfeeding since July, 2004. That’s almost six years. In many ways, my body has not been my own. During pregnancy, I very literally shared space with my babies, and after they were born that didn’t change much. They still wanted me, they still needed me, and I did my best to be there for them.
I have deeply ambivalent feelings about this loss of control over my physical self. On the one hand, I am very grateful to have had this experience of birthing and breastfeeding my children. It is an amazing gift. They are amazing gifts. On the other hand, it hasn’t all been super-fun. I didn’t enjoy pregnancy much, between the nausea and the extreme emotions and the constant nosebleeds I got. I don’t really like its physical aftermath, either. And sometimes I really just want some time and space to myself, which isn’t always possible when you have these two little people underfoot.
My body hasn’t always worked with me on this childbearing journey, either. Hannah was born at 34 weeks, when I was suddenly thrown into labour because of an amniotic fluid infection. Following her birth, I hemorrhaged severely and required surgery and a blood transfusion. Breastfeeding was a challenge with a premature baby, and I was unable to pump enough milk while she was in the NICU. My earliest days of parenting felt like one massive betrayal on the part of my body. It was as if it could get nothing right.
Things went better the second time around. I delivered a few days before my due date, in an uneventful birth. Breastfeeding went well right from the beginning. But I didn’t bounce back as quickly after Jacob’s birth. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really will. I am older, he was bigger, and when everything’s stretched out like that it doesn’t always unstretch so well.
All the same, I am finally beginning to reclaim myself. Jacob is old enough that he’s fine when I take more time away from him. So I do. I have signed up for my first yoga class in 5 years. I am getting out to meet up with friends or to speak without my little shadow. I like the freedom, even as I lament the fact that my baby’s growing, or that I may never wear those pants again. Always, the ambivalence.
I am learning the reality of my body following its nurturing years. It is older, it is larger, and it is not quite the same shape. It likely never will be. I am not always happy about that, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. My children are worth the physical toll that they took. And so I am slowly making my peace. I am learning to embrace myself as I am now, Amber the mother of small children. I am no longer the person I was, and my body shows it. And that’s as it should be. It is OK. I am OK. Mostly.
What about you? Are you able to embrace your post-baby self, or is it a struggle for you? How has your maternal physique changed your view of yourself? I’d love to hear all about it.
The inspiration for this post came from the Body Image Carnival hosted by the super-cool Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite and Maman a Droit. I can’t wait to read all the other posts the week of April 12-18. I hear there will also be product reviews, a giveaway and links to research and resources pertaining to body image, so make sure to drop by and check it out!