Mom Body

IMG_0431It’s a thing. We all know it. Whether that thing is, “How will my body change after a baby?” or “I’m trying to get back into pre-pregnancy jeans,” or “My body is lumpy but it’s amazing and I have so much respect for it!” or “What’s YOUR excuse?” from the hard-ab’ed woman surrounded by toddlers. (Don’t even ask me how I feel about that last one.) We all know the many iterations of the Mom Body conversation. We have it with friends, sisters, people at the gym, people on the playground or in the PTA. If you’re a doula or childbirth educator, you have it with clients and students.

But here’s what I want to say about Mom Body: all of that is true. Yes, it changes. Yes, that will make it hard to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes again. Yes, it’s lumpy and amazing and totally deserving of respect. No, Mom Body needs no excuse (and there ends my rant about THAT meme).

But also—Mom Body can be what you want it to be. By the time you’re old enough to have a Mom Body (because it doesn’t necessarily strike in your thirties, even if you’re done having kids by then), you are old enough to know who you are and refuse to be affected by peer pressure. Yes, I know: we live in a culture where women are judged by their appearances, held to unrealistic standards, must look good to get ahead, blah blah blah. But if you have a Mom Body and you have done the work of being a mom—of setting limits on others’ behavior only to realize that they get some of those behaviors from you, so then learning to set limits for yourself—then you can also do the work of setting your own standards. If that means you work out ‘til you look like Wonder Woman, great—if that’s what feels good to YOU. If it means you accept your body as it is and learn to work with its quirks—maybe you change your style to jeans and sweaters or to long flowered dresses or to tailored pants and tunic tops—that’s great too.

My Mom Body looks radically different than I thought it would. I was a ballerina in high school and maintained that physique—albeit a bit curvier—through college and most of my twenties. My first career as a non-profit fundraiser was stressful, and dancing helped alleviate that stress even though I only did it at home in my living room. When I went back to grad school, waiting tables took its place; just try walking, bending, and carrying heavy trays six hours a night and you’ll see how easy it is to keep the pounds off.  By the time I was forty, I’d had three babies and added about ten pounds for each of them; I was jiggly in places the dancer me would have been extremely disconcerted by, but I didn’t mind. My body was soft and comfortable, perfect for snuggling my children, and it was flexible and strong, perfect for supporting laboring women in any position. With well-fitting clothes that emphasized the figure I still had while hiding the muffin top and the floppy upper arm skin my grandmother had called her “batwings,” I looked and felt good.

I had enough ownership of and connection with my body that, after going through a particularly rough six months as a doula, when something my midwife said sank into my soul like a stone into a still pond, I knew I wanted it written on me. So I got my first tattoo–two curving oak leaves in honor of my brother and my own strength, along with HippieScientist’s words of affirmation: “I open my arms wide and hold you as you walk the path you choose.”

My kids were curious. My husband was first annoyed, then enamored. My dad was neutral. My mother was horrified. I could almost hear her thinking, “This was NOT how I raised you.”

It wasn’t. But I wasn’t a kid anymore, either, and my body was my own to claim and inscribe as I wished. No one had pressured me to do it; I wasn’t trying to be cool; it wasn’t a condition of being in some club or sorority; and yes, I had done my research on the possible medical implications (none as long as it was cared for appropriately while still open).

When SweetBaby’s anomaly was discovered and diagnosed, I knew instantly that I wanted to get a tattoo to honor him. I went back and forth on location and the exact image before finally meeting with my tattoo artist, CoolInkDad. The husband of my own two-time doula, and the father of several babies they never got to hold, he had sent a message to me through his wife that I didn’t need to worry about getting on his schedule; whenever I was ready, he’d make time. He took tracings of my body and made sketches, and after a few minor adjustments, a dear friend and I met him after hours in his shop.

I had decided I wanted to include some of SweetBaby’s ashes in the black ink; CoolInkDad helped me mix them in and then he set to work. Over two hours that I can honestly say were more painful than childbirth, he traced the myth of my baby onto the hip where (I can now say) I have carried all the children I’ve birthed. And that became part of my Mom Body—a part that is intentional, that I chose and that speaks of part of my soul as a mother.

Our Mom Bodies are what we make of them. Mentally, we can choose what meanings and significance we ascribe to their poofs and jiggles and the low-hanging parts we don’t like to show; physically, we can pierce them, tattoo them, do whatever we want to make them into art if we wish. We don’t have to make them fit others’ rules or standards; we can make our own standards, just as we did with our children. Some experiences, just like some words, write themselves on our souls—and motherhood inscribes itself on soul AND body.

Own it. Claim it. Let it speak.

You deserve it.

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