In the midst of all the joy and exhaustion and discovery, I have been visited by some familiar unwelcome thoughts about my body. I guess it boils down to fear. I am afraid certain parts will never look the way they used to. Afraid of how much work it might take to even approach the old way. I’m even afraid I might not be willing to do that work! I resent the c-section stitches for limiting me, when I should really be marveling at how well I’m recovering. I even resent my son for depriving me of the time to exercise, when in my heart I know I have my whole life to worry about that s***, and just the briefest window of time to surround myself entirely in motherhood. I can more or less talk myself out of the illogic of these thoughts, but I have not managed to banish them.
Almost exactly nine years ago, I put my body through a very different sort of test. I solo-backpacked across northern Michigan, sometimes covering a marathon-distance in a single day. I was incredibly proud of my body at that time, and grateful for what it did for me. Armed with my pack, I felt a sense of purpose. Every stranger I encountered knew exactly what I was doing, I was “the backpacker.” Every day I stacked up more and more miles, so when I was finished, I had accomplished the most, yet being done with the trip meant I no longer had the external shield of a clear purpose or the internal validation of my worth. When I should have been most proud of what I’d done and most grateful for what my body did for me, I felt empty. It was as though I woke up each morning at zero. None of the credits transferred. In fact, they just set a new unreachable standard for what I thought I should accomplish every day. This is when I started to deeply understand the folly of setting my self worth on a numerical metric, or of defining my identity on my “job” or “what I do.” But knowing something is flawed didn’t afford me the ability to override those pesky thoughts. I still struggled with my identity until I found new adjectives to wrap myself up in.
Now, as then, I have just come out of a powerful physical test. In pregnancy, I wore my baby bump on my belly with the same pride and sense of purpose I once had with my pack. I’ve gone my entire post-adolescent life fearing excess pounds, but pregnancy gave me an opportunity to gain and gain without shame. After all, it was our body, our weight. And now, it is gone, and my body is back to being mine alone. Instead of taking pride all it has done, I am impatient with it. Apparently my world view doesn’t account for the denouement. I expect my stories to have a beginning, a middle, and a period. But my body still carries the memory of everything I’ve put it through, even if I forget. I am still blessed with a body that does a million incredible things for me every day: it feeds my baby, it allows me to navigate the world, it performs every essential function I ask of it despite recently undergoing major surgery. Certainly after all this, my body deserves a period of recovery for all it has so generously given to me. This I know, this I believe, but only rarely is this the thought that occupies my mind. I may be eager to flatten and tone, but today, the best exercise I can give myself is remember the truth that my body is a gift.