Metamorphosis (Or: Apparently My Body is Missing?!)

My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes…
~ Ovid, The Metamorphoses
 
 
My abdomen is probably the only part of my body I’ve never felt insecure about. Everything else has, at one time or another, been overrun by pudge, pimples, stretch marks, or, the most likely culprit in my case, unwanted body hair. When I gain weight, I tend to pack it on around the hips, thighs, chest, but, thanks to the crapshoot of genetics, I have never really had a flabby stomach.

That, however, is no longer the case. My abdomen is a fleshy pillow now. I can sink my fingers into it like bread dough.

My body has gone through many permutations over the past ten months, but this one is the most engrossing to me so far, because, well, I kind of like it. It’s just so soft. If I were a baby, I’d much rather curl up on my fleshy belly pillow than, say, a washboard.

This fascination with my post-partum belly started literally right after labor. I kept my eyes covered with a washcloth while I was pushing, because my senses were so overloaded I couldn’t process visual stimuli, but at the moment of Julian’s birth my mom pulled the cloth away and the first thing I saw was my rounded belly, free now of baby and jiggling like a unstable tower of Jell-O. And then Julian was there, warm and perfect and covered in goo, and I welcomed him onto the soft cushion of my torso, an ideal place to land when first entering the world.

Sure, my shallow, neurotic, appearance-conscious self loathes the Belly Pillow, but part of me feels affection and protectiveness toward it, similar to the way I get defensive of my obese cat, Little Tubbers, when people comment on her girth. (I prefer to think she’s just “fluffy.”)

As recounted in a previous post, my breasts have undergone the biggest changes (emphasis on “biggest”). When I look in the mirror, I still can’t help but think, “Geez, whose breasts are these?” I didn’t get many stretch marks on my belly, just a few purple commas around my hips, but my breasts, on the other hand, with their deep blue veins and violet squiggles pinwheeling out from the aereola, have bloomed into something almost otherworldly.

Sometimes I look at this new body of mine and feeling a twinge of despair, thinking of the suitcase stashed in the attic that I masochistically labeled “skinny clothes,” a suitcase filled with the trappings of my former body, including one beloved pair of jeans that I hope to be reunited with one day.

Other times I look at myself and just feel raw fascination. Our bodies are constantly undergoing minute changes, but the processes of pregnancy and childbirth wreak such hurried transformations – it’s like watching one of those time lapse nature videos of seeds sprouting and flowering, while the sun skims repeatedly across the sky, marking days like seconds. Only instead of a seed, it’s my own body expanding and unfurling before my eyes.

The moments when I feel love (or at least not-hate) toward this new body of mine are healthy moments, I think – but they are too few and fleeting. I would guess most, if not all, women in our culture feel some level of anxiety about their bodies at any given moment; it’s like a constant hum in the background, a white noise we’ve grown so used to hearing that we live by its rhythm.

This body anxiety, and body awareness in general, was certainly amplified for me during pregnancy. I gained forty pounds – maybe even more, because my final pregnancy weigh-in at the hospital flashed up in kilograms, and I told the nurse not to translate that into pounds for me. I had enough to worry about without that last little blow. By that time I was fed up with being weighed regularly at the midwife’s office, watching the numbers climb at a rate often exceeding the “pound per week” rule. (I once mentioned to a male colleague over lunch that I’d gained almost five pounds in the previous two-week period and he responded by gaping at me in disbelief and horror – not cool, bro.) Thanks to Google and those pastel pamphlets from the doctor’s office, I had it burned in my brain that the optimal pregnancy weight gain is between 25-35 pounds – and to go beyond that range surely meant that I was a careless fatty with no self-control.

Well, I blew past those markers fairly early into my third trimester, much to my dismay and puzzlement. I wasn’t sure where all that weight was coming from or going. After all, I vomited almost daily for the first twenty-two weeks of my pregnancy and didn’t get a healthy appetite back until the seventh month or so. I had also gone off sweets almost entirely and had delusions of making that change permanent (sweets are a weak spot of mine); I thought I’d finally broken the stranglehold of cupcakes and hot tamales over my life. But, of course, when my appetite didreturn, so did my hankering for all things baked and sugared. Still, I didn’t go totally overboard. Most days.

As it turns out, most of my pregnancy weight was fluid retention, and it was distributed so evenly all over my body that it was hard to tell it was happening. My mom bought me a nice pair of zip up boots during my third trimester, and I had to struggle to zip them up over my calves. I remember railing against the boot makers in my mind, cursing their obvious prejudice for model-types with unrealistically skinny legs – but lo and behold, those boots zip up easily now, with room to spare. Toward the very end of the pregnancy, I even began to suspect that my nose was getting wider. When I asked Michael to verify this, he said I was just being paranoid, but he has since confessed that yes, my nose did indeed flatten out, but he wasn’t about to admit that to my (distended) face.

So everywhere from my calves, to my nose, to my eyeballs, my body was absorbing enough fluid to make my weight skyrocket, but distributing the fluid so seamlessly all over that I was starting to worry I’d have a elephantine infant, or that my pregnant belly was creating some optical illusion that somehow slimmed the rest of my body in comparison – and after labor I’d suddenly realize that, shit, I had totally porked out.

Now I realize that all that anxiety, all that weight-watching, was for naught. One midwife told me early on that, as long as I ate well and don’t become a total slug, my body would gain however much weight it needed to. Even though I didn’t really listen to her at the time, I now know she was right, and I’m a little embarrassed about how much worry I wasted over those weigh-ins. I gained 40+ pounds without trying and a week after giving birth I’d lost 30 of them – again, without trying, because my body is just gonna do its thang.

And that “thang” is actually astonishing. When I think about what I have endured physically over the last ten months, I am awed by what my body has been up to. It’s infuriating to me that women who’ve just given birth are exhorted to “get our bodies back” – as if our bodies have disappeared somewhere, as if they’re on the run and we have to track them down like Dog the Bounty Hunter and wrangle them into submission.

Our bodies haven’t absconded; they’ve been here all along, accomplishing miraculous feats of nature. The maternal body is capable of incredible metamorphosis, wondrous creation. Give me a little genetic material and, in under a year, I will grow you a human being, and my body will split itself open to bring that being into the world and then make milk for it, ex nihilo.

Yet our distorting culture wants to hide the wonder of metamorphosis, instead demanding that the female body be static and plastic and ornamental, demanding that we conceal our changeability, our capacity for creation, growth, transformation.

I had worried, prior to giving birth, about what my body would look like afterwards, and contemplated the maneuvers I could take to erase all physical traces of pregnancy and childbirth – but now that feels wrong, like a betrayal. My abdomen is doughy because it grew and housed my son, keeping him warm and cushioned in his water world. Scrambling to maintain the illusion that life does not etch itself into our cells and skin – this seems not only futile but disrespectful to me now.

In reality, I will never “get my body back.” Maybe I’ll get back into those beloved jeans, maybe I won’t, but either way, my body will remain permanently marked, physically and emotionally, by motherhood. And I want to love this incredible, life-giving flesh I inhabit  even the pillowy bits. I want to love it whole.

(And, every once in awhile, I do.)

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129 comments

  1. kirstye92

    I have to say, I am not a mother but your post is so inspiring! I have suffered with body dysmorphia for years and although I hope to have a family and kids of my own one day one of my main fear is the change my body will be subjected to. If anything, the thought of what I will look like after pregnancy puts off more than anything else. But reading your post has helped me understand that the change in my body would be a sign of something amazing I had accomplished! Thank you.

  2. cksinfl

    I love the article and as a Salon owner I find this to be the case with most of the women who come in for hair services. Therefore I have been offering my clients the It Works Body Wraps that tone, tighten and firm in 45 min. The It Works Body Wraps are 100% natural and can be used in the convenience of your own home. It Works Body Wraps can be purchased on my web site at http://www.skinnywrappro.com Yes we love our bodies after babies but we also want a little help toning tightening and firming that tummy and other body areas. It Works Body Wraps do just that.

  3. zebratoast

    “I would guess most, if not all, women in our culture feel some level of anxiety about their bodies at any given moment; it’s like a constant hum in the background, a white noise we’ve grown so used to hearing that we live by its rhythm.”

    You articulated this so perfectly. I wonder if anything would change if men understood what you said just there? Because, in my opinion, we don’t try to look like skinny super models for our own sake. We do it for social acceptance, most of that stemming from what men perceive as “a perfect body”. If men understood the absolute torment they inadvertently cause us to put ourselves through, do you think anything would change? I don’t…but it’s a nice thought.

    • Abigail

      I wonder if that ideal really does come from men, though, or if they internalize the message “this is what you should want” from our culture as well. I think a more pernicious cause is how image-obsessed and visually-driven and consumerist our culture has become. We are bombarded with images constantly, and the images of women typically don’t represent ACTUAL women, with real bodies and lives, but computer-generated fantasies. The magazines and websites and ads WANT to make us feel inadequate, so they can make money, so they can sell us some product that will supposedly make us finally feel beautiful (shampoo! soap! makeup! tummy tuck! Or, in the comment above yours, a body wrap!!!). So I suppose I’m more inclined to lay the blame there, rather than with individual men — and, anecdotally, I’ve found that the men I know are actually more accepting of women’s supposed bodily imperfections than their wives/girlfriends are. But maybe that says more about what kinds of men I hang around than men in general… Anyway, great thoughts. Important, complicated issue!

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  6. Meghan J. Ward

    Hi Abigail,
    My daughter is 6 weeks old now. I’ve been working on a similar post in my brain these days – thanks for the inspiration! I will reference your post when I finally have mine written. I appreciate your candor and wonderful reminders of how we need not compare to before, only embrace the amazing beings that we are! Thank you.

  7. Peter Gouws

    Abigail, I find your post touching, full of love and self-discovery, very sincere and more importantly, full of curiosity about the future, rather than fear, which is fantastic. And very brave you to come out in the open with your thoughts! One thing you might consider about ‘us’ men is, that for many, there is nothing more attractive, than a pregnant woman! For the females of the species, it would seem to be the babies with big goo-goo eyes that ‘do’ it for them forever, but I could never get over the magnetic attraction and the sheer beauty and sweeping lines of a woman ‘bearing’! Your life will never be the same again…so what do you want you ‘old’ body for?? It will be filled with love and feelings that you cannot possibly have conceived (no pun actually intended, but there you have it!) before the pitter-patter of tiny feet and getting your old body back will pale to insignificance…quite apart from the fact that you will be too ‘busy’ to worry about – at least with the first one! Next time, if you want to help yourself regarding stretch-marks and giving your body the best chance to ‘return to normal’ after childbirth, try getting a taste for Avocados. If you can, eat at least one a day (disguised with chicken or whatever if you get tired of them after a while…), raw and ripe with a little sea salt (not the iodised rubbish from supermarkets). Funny how nature gives us optical clues as to what is good for you, isn’t it? Look at the shape of an Avocado. Cut one open along its length… Looks just like a womb, bearing its seed. Curious is also that it takes nine months to ripen from first bud! Avocado contains not only a massive amount of oils essential for the elasticity of your skin and membranes, but is an amazing source of Oestrogen, too! Elasticity is one thing, stretch is quite another – your body will probably stretch, but elasticity is what brings it back! Use moisturising oils with an Avocado base, or even better, buy pure Avocado oil online or at your health-store (more expensive!) and add your own fragrances from essential oils (NOT tea tree when you are pregnant). Rub it all over, you will feel fantastic! Oh, no! This was going to be a two-liner, but sort of stretched a bit, sorry! :-) Peter

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  9. jumeirajames

    Only a woman can truly understand the pressure that women are under to conform to a body shape that is almost impossible to achieve. Even women with ‘normal’ bodies think they’re obese.
    It’s madness.

  10. carmencomments

    It was fun to read your body thoughts! I had nine children and my body “bounced back” fairly quickly–I could wear my regular jeans home from the hospital altho I usually kicked them off as soon as I was home! But with pregnancy I felt like I finally had a grown up body–more definition in the hips, definitely bigger boobs, and nursing? That’s what those breasts were made for. I loved being pregnant, nursing, cuddling. I loved having soft places for the baby to nuzzle against. And my husband thought there was nothing more beautiful than pregnancy. I was lucky I didn’t get stuck in some outside idealized trap of what our body should or should not look like. Why can’t we be comfortable in the bodies we live in!

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  12. sweetwilliams

    Thank you for this! My due date is / was today. This means that very soon I will be starting to criticize my body as I go through the awkward postpartum phase (this is my third child so I have experienced this before). Painting it in this light will hopefully help me in those critical moments to just think about what an awesome body God designed for me to do such an amazing task. Thanks again!

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  15. kiki2point0

    I am still waiting for my body to go back to my pre-son years! Since he is now 22 years old, I probably should stop blaming it on baby weight. Great article. I think it take s along time to accept the changes in your body. And once you do, something else changes on it. I don’t know why I am constantly surprised by this, but I am!

  16. lavishedivygates

    I loved reading this! I am not a mother, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve projected myself into the future and been granted access to my future thoughts. I know that if I ever do have the wonderful privilege to carry a child inside of me, I will almost definitely experience of the same thought processes as you, partly because of my deeply rooted tendency to over-analyze my body. Becoming paranoid about my nose expanding is something I can also envisage myself doing ! Thanks for this great article !

  17. cheerfullyimperfect

    I loved this! I can relate to all of it. I am 6 months post partum right now and I struggle with loving/hating my body, but even deeper is the overwhelming respect I have for it.

  18. SomerEmpress

    We need more if this, us mamas! :)

    My body will never be the same since motherhood, but life will also never be the same. It is beautiful, flawed, susceptible to change, yet fully capable of love. Accepting the whole of this truth is more empowering and far more liberating than piece-mealing the savory parts which only lead to unhealthy obsessions about food and body image in general, and self-love in particular.

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  20. AntiAgeing Savantess

    you have described to a tee what all mothers go through and feel. As a mother of 3 (2 pregnancies) I have learned my most valuble beauty tricks just by having gone through this amazing rite of passage on the way to becoming the womam I am today! Embrace it, enjoy it and be proud of your dedication to have a happy healthy baby! Also know that by treating yourself well and responsibly, you will be nuturing the best enviroment for your family! By treating my body with love (being extra careful all I ate was nutritious, taking supplements, excercising and asking for help when I needed it), my body came back stronger and better than ever! Have faith in health practices and respect balace… you will be pleasantly surprised at the wonderwoman that will surface! Im so thankful for the opportunity to have had the experience of bringing the beautiful lives of my children into the world and that I now feel empowered mentally and physically for anything! cheers from barcelona!

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  22. Love Photography

    Wonderful post I really enjoyed and related to as a mother of two myself. Over the years (11+ since my last son was born) I’ve had the opportunity to see first hand how many women struggle and wish to get that pre-baby “perfection” back; myself included. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that the media sets the standards to high for the most of us. Professionally, I know that what you see in magazines is not always real, all we have to do is look at the Enquirer :) My suggestion to anyone feeling the “I’m so out of shape blah’s” is to have a professional photo-shoot done, with the works! After all, that is what we admire in magazines. Just look for someone in your area who does professional photography, glamour and boudoir! As a professional photographer myself, I have been able to give that (at least in pictures), to my clients with awesome retouching and body sculpting.