Her Bad Mother

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Getting back to me

There's been some discussion in the mom/mommy/spawning women blogosphere, over the last day or two, about the personal politics of the body after children. That discussion was sparked by post by Morphing Into Mama about the obligation on the part of women to not let themselves go entirely after having children. Her original argument, as I understood it: that women have some obligation to their partners to not gain excessive amounts of weight after having children, to not allow themselves to become totally physically transformed by motherhood, because in becoming completely different physical beings they cheat (my word, I mean it in the sense of deprive) their partners of the person that their partners fell in love with/married/etc. The topic was picked up by Moxie, and others, and it very quickly developed into a full-blown debate about what is expected of mothers, and what mothers expect of themselves, with regards to their bodies. It is, obviously, a highly contentious issue, in part because it is so deeply personal. What woman is not, after having children, profoundly sensitive about her changed body? What woman does not worry about what her partner thinks of her changed self?

I'm not going to recount the debate here; you can read what was and is being said by following the links above. Again, it's a controversial topic, and so best followed in its original threads - I can't claim to have given the clearest account of MIM's argument, and I'm not interested in trying to summarize the responses.

What I want to add to the debate - and my purpose here is really to sort out my own thoughts on this issue - is this: I think that the question of how women deal with the dramatic changes that they undergo in becoming mothers runs far further and deeper than the body (although the body does, I would say, stand front and centre in that question because it becomes, for women, emblematic of the whole repertoire of changes that they undergo. And, because we are so deeply sensitive about our bodies.) This was touched upon by some contributers to the discussion, but I think that it bears further consideration. It does, at least, for me.

As I noted in a comment that I made to Moxie's contribution to the discussion, I've been very lucky in the following respect: my husband loves the physically transformed me. And not just in the 'I'll-love-you-no-matter-what' way of loving me. He tells me - and I believe him - that the physical changes I have undergone are wonderful; he tells me that he loves my new womanly, motherly form. He tells me that my motherly-ness is extremely sexy to him. He tells me that he's not interested in seeing me lose the 30-some-odd pounds that I've yet to shed from my 60-plus-pound pregnancy weight gain. This is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

The thing is, I'm not totally blissed out by it. I am blissed out by having such an extraordinary husband, but when it comes to how I feel about my body, his feelings on the subject really only infuence maybe a third, maybe less, of those feelings. The rest is entirely about me. And I'm not 100% comfortable with my new body. Maybe it takes some getting used to - and I think that I am getting used to it, in some respects - but for the most part it still feels alien to me. Prior to pregnancy, and for all of my life leading up to motherhood, I was a skinny girl. Boyish hips, modest-ish chest, small ass. And - I know that this is an un-PC thing to say - I liked being a skinny girl. This is terrible, but when my bigger-boned sister developed an eating disorder while we were in our teens, my honest ongoing thought was 'thank god I don't have to work at being skinny.' I totally understood her compulsion to be thin. There but for the grace of the ectomorph gods, I told myself, go I. If I were ever to get big, I thought, I'd quaff the Ex-Lax too.

Then I got pregnant. And I loved the pregnancy bigness. I felt healthy, earthy, lush. I had a big, round (taut - let's not forget taut) belly, bursting with the life growing within it. I had booty. I had boobs! I ate cookies and ice cream and onion rings with abandon. But 65 pounds later, Wonderbaby arrived, and she only took about fifteen of those pounds (what with her 8 and half pound self, the placenta and other assorted ick) out with her. Even discounting the 10-odd pounds of boob, there was a lot of bigness remaining. Welcome to fat, Bad Mother!

But I dealt. I reconciled myself, however temporarily, to the big, and gradually trimmed up a bit (I'm still only 4 months in). No Ex-Lax was involved. And I learned to love some of the big. I think. Just a little bit. But I still feel that I'm not my old self, and I'm struggling with that.

And what I've realized, over the past months, is that that struggle actually has less to do with coming to terms with my new body than it does with coming to terms with my new self more generally. I'm not just living in a different body, I'm a different person. And my husband isn't just living with a physically transformed wife, he's living with a new wife. He'll say, of course, that he loves all that is new about me, and I'll believe him. But do I love all that is new about me? That's the tougher question. I think that I do. But it still feels so strange sometimes, and often I'm not sure whether I'm in my right mind about loving the new me. After all, didn't I say, before Baby, that I wouldn't give up my ambitions, my professional plans, my urban/academic/adventurous self? That I would never leave the house in yoga pants? That I would jump right back into lecturing and writing and Thinking Big Thoughts and that I would do it all wearing heels? That I wouldn't be happy otherwise?

So why am I happy now, with all of those things marginalized or abandoned (hello, yoga pants and running shoes!)? Who is this new person who is happy having given up - even temporarily - those things that she thought defined her and determined her happiness? Am I happy? Or am I just confused, blinded by the fog of sleep-deprivation and hormones and LOVE that is new motherhood?

There's a new girl in town - a softer, rounder, Mommyfied girl - and the Husband loves this new girl. He hasn't been cheated or deprived of anything. In fact, he'd say that he won the Lotto with all the new goodness that abounds in his life - and a bigger ass on wifey is part of that goodness. But do I love this new girl?

I don't know. I'm learning to, I think. But it's gonna take some work.

I love this new girl. No question.

Now if I could just stick to HAND sandwiches like WonderBaby, maybe there wouldn't be so, so much of the booty...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the best take on this damn topic yet.

I like how you said it's not the acceptance of the new body moreso than the acceptance of the new self (of course, they are both connected).

It's not so much an issue for me anymore - I'm up about 10lbs than I'd like to be due to the two miscarriages. I just want to be able to fit into something comfortably. It seems like I can't find anything.

My husband - not so fond of the new body - but that's his issue, not mine. I think it will help when I stop complaining and start feeling good.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! What an eloquent post...
love the gratuitous baby photos.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I think you hit the nail right on the head. It's often about our entire new self, not just the body. It actually goes along with Mrs. Chicky's post on seeing her mother in the mirror. It's a little scary to look at yourself and see someone different than you were.

My husband is far more OK with the physical changes than I am. But for me it's because I worked hard before baby to lose a lot of weight, and now I see myself starting all over again.

4:50 PM  
Blogger scarbie doll said...

Good post.

I went through two major hormonal freak outs with my body and wardrobe. Once when I was preggers, I Goodwilled a big bag of clothes while crying that I would never fit into them again. The second time, when my milk came in and I looked like I had implants. Suddenly all my flat-chest-friendly tops made me look fat. So I cried and threw out another bag of clothes. ( also bought some Spanx. A recovering preggy's best friend)

Now I am going back to work and I have nothing to wear. :( But at least I can finally afford that bikini wax...)

5:00 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

What a great post! Well said.

It took me more than a year after my son was born to look in the mirror and recognize myself. For even when I lost the weight, what was left had all shifted and nothing has fit the same again. The post-breast feeding boobs have been the most difficult thing to accept I'll admit.

But looking at it as part of a new "self" is much healthier. It is really all not too step of a price to pay for the dividends reaped from being a mom and so I've come to make peace with it. What is most important is how you see your self and not how your husband or anyone else sees you.

11:38 PM  
Blogger ninepounddictator said...

Well, I was one of those who didn't like my pregnacy body...I cried too when I looked at all my old clothes. I gained 47 pounds, which was a ton on my 5'2 frame...

I only regret going pyscho losing the weight after. I feel like I was an obsessed woman, which I don't think is entirely my fault. Hey, if all those celebs could do it, why couldn't I, right?

Then I went overboard and lost too much weight, even lower than I was before. And I looked gross. Really. The fiance thought I looked way worse being so skinny than when I had gained the 47 pounds.

It's stupid for women to worry, but it's hard to stop it. I do know one thing - the weight does come off - especially once you're running around with your kids.

I think I've always had body image problems - always thought I was too fat....But I think it took being pregnant, then losing to much, then getting back up, to finally realize it's such a stupid thing to worry about.

It's been two years since I've given birth, and for the first time I'm happy with where I'm at...

For all women trying to lose their baby weight, it really does come down to exercise and eating reasonably...it's so basic...

But, priorities change once you have a baby, right? You realize that you have such a wonderful thing in your life, and that somehow makes you happy, even in the bad days, doesn't it?

I do feel more happy now that I don't worry so much over those things. Now I work out only because I know it helps me sleep better.

Loved this post. Might have to steal it too!

1:39 AM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Great post. Really insightful and lovely and thanks for your post on mine. xx.

3:48 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

I just want to say that I have read several of your comments today and was wowed by your perspective. I am indeed a badladies fan. You suckered my ass in, indeed.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

This is phenomenal - I'm with ggc. With so many ill-conceived, hastily written troll comments all over the MIM posts, it's delightful to be reminded that there are still critical thinkers in the blogosphere. And hell yeah, your husband sounds extraextraordinary.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Thanks for all of the support on these still-incoherent thoughts on the issue.

One thing that I am clear on: writing through these things helps immensely. And having super-smart women (who are, not incidentally, also mothers) respond and react and give virtual back-pats helps even more. Because it helps affirm this tremendously important part of my new identity as a mom/mommy/shameless breeder - the thinking mother with thinking mother peers.

And Scarbiedoll? Thanks for Spanx tip! Cuz again, that ass...

11:25 PM  

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