Before having children, parenthood was a romantic concept. Sure, I knew I’d get bigger (but that’s ok when you’re gorgeous and trim to begin with…it’s ALL baby and disappears immediately!) and possibly develop a few stray stretch marks (the horror!), but I don’t think I fully anticipated the extent of the havoc pregnancy would wreak on my body. Of course, I am incredibly thankful for my children and wouldn’t change having them for anything. I just wish I could have prepared myself a little better.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about how unrealistic the Hollywood portrayal of childbirth is, and that’s certainly true. Labor is not always so easy to identify as “Oh look, my water broke. It’s time to go to the hospital!”, and sometimes you have to waddle the pregnancy walk of shame back out of the hospital when they tell you it’s not quite time yet (even though you timed those contractions to 3 minutes apart like a champ). We could talk more about how you might poop when you push, or how your lady bits become a peep show for a room full of people (and, somehow, you really can’t bring yourself to care), but that’s not my purpose today. Today, I want to talk about the shattered dream.
After carefully extracting myself from the sleeping preschooler, I went into the bathroom and, as I stood there brushing my teeth, observed what had become of what I’d once felt was a strong and capable body. I noted the saggy breasts that had failed to nourish a child for longer than 6 weeks, then moved on to the two square inches (cumulatively, not consecutively) not covered by a mix of angry red and pale silvery-purple stretch marks left behind when my children vacated their first home. Interspersed with those were surgical scars from an appendectomy, a cholecystectomy (fancy medical term for yanking my gallbladder) and, most recently, hysterectomy.
I was disgusted with what I saw, because what I saw was weakness. There’s the obvious: my inability to breastfeed, which I’ve mentioned before. A failure worsened by the fact that my breasts had produced milk just fine. It had been my brain, one of my most precious assets, that hadn’t been able to solve the riddle of food allergies or overcome the assault of postpartum depression and anxiety. Then, my skin had failed the elasticity test and, after Thing 1, my appendix had succumbed to whatever it is that makes an appendix go bad. Not to be outdone, my gallbladder had jumped in during my pregnancy with Thing 2 and failed spectacularly in a year-long debacle of managing mischief while somehow passing all of its tests with flying colors. And, just when I thought I was done with surgeries, I went in for my annual exam to discover that the reason for my pain and pesky tendency of wetting myself (oh yeah, THAT was a part of my glamorous dream) was uterine prolapse. Apparently, I had weak connective tissue, so my uterus was, as my OB/GYN put it, “hanging a little low”. It had also failed to shrink back down sufficiently. A few other organs had decided to join in the prolapse fun train as well because, hey, go big or go home, right? On a positive note, my ovaries were “beautiful”. Way to carry the team, ovaries!
The logical part of me knows that none of this is actual failure and that it doesn’t make me a lesser woman. The emotional part of me, however, hasn’t fallen in line. Rather than accepting the changes in my body as a normal part of life and embracing the example of all the other women out there in the same boat as me, the emotional part of me insists on comparing myself to all those lucky ladies who bounce back beautifully (hello again, Hollywood). I know that everyone is fighting their own secret battle. I know this. Yet still I struggle.
I’m hoping that, someday soon, I can participate in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, which is a beautiful campaign celebrating the fact that the squishy, stretchmarked mama and the trim flat-bellied mama are both beautiful. That we all have our insecurities, whether others see them or not. And that, regardless of the marks left behind, on our bodies or otherwise, we have created life, and that’s a beautiful thing.
So, to all of you other mamas out there like me, here’s another story for you to not console yourself with. Perhaps, one day, we’ll really start listening to one another?