The Same, But Rearranged
Last week, ten months postpartum, I got back to my pre-baby weight. And suddenly, I was having a hard time.
I put on almost half my body weight in pregnancy. Each prenatal doctors appointment would have a moment of tension. The stress didn’t come when I got on the scale, because what the hell? I was pregnant; I was supposed to be gaining weight. It was the moment when they’d tally my weight gain. “Hum.” They’d say. “You’re not on target for a thirty pound weight gain.” Which was a nice way of putting it, since I’d put on thirty pounds by twenty weeks, so no shit. It was all healthy (I had a ten pound baby that would hit twenty pounds in six months, so my body knew what it was doing), but the medical establishment doesn’t allow for a ton of flexibility around pregnant bodies. Which is, now that I think of it, something of a harbinger of things to come.
But all of that weight gain made the postpartum process easier for me. My body didn’t look anything like it normally did, and I considered myself on a journey back. And the thing about taking a journey is that you just go step by step, imagining what the destination will look like. When I’d complain about my stomach, David would offer to do crunches with me, if I wanted. And while I never took him up on it, the idea was that if I didn’t like my situation, I could just do something to change it, or that it would slowly change over time.
And then I hit my normal weight. And in the moment I grabbed the golden ring that everyone (plus US Weekly) really wants you to grab, I realized that what I didn’t have was my pre-baby body back, and I never will. My boobs are not the same. My stomach is not the same. And while I’m the same weight, everything is oddly rearranged: smaller feet, broader hips, and all that hair that fell out is now growing in like a pixie cut underneath my long hair. But all of this is really just physical manifestation of the bigger picture: I’m the same as I ever was, but not. I’m me, but rearranged.
No Toys On The Floor/Motherhood Contains The Secret Of Life
David and I will celebrate our ninth (non-wedding) anniversary as a couple in a month. When we got together we were shiny young twenty-somethings with the world on a string. Sure, we were broke (in my case very broke) and confused about what on earth we were going to do with our lives. But we were bright and had nothing but hope. The charm of getting together at twenty-three and twenty-four is that on some level, that remains at the core of your relationship. Things move and shift, but together, you’re still the two kids that stayed out till three in the morning flirting with the world and talking theatre and politics.
This week, as I’ve started to return to myself, I’ve had to realize that things have rearranged. I don’t have twenty-four-year-old boobs anymore. I also don’t have my favorite bar down the block. Instead I have toys spread out on my living room floor, a family and staff to provide for, and a husband who has to meet a billable hours requirement of seven and a half hours a day for his job. I also have a fantastic kid, the money to buy a really nice bra, a career I love, an excellent liquor collection, and nine happy years under my belt. And I’m a little confused about all of it, because quite honestly, the description I just typed sounds nothing like me (other than the bit about the booze).
Women seem to fall into two camps about prospective motherhood: “I won’t change, I’ll just be me with a baby” and “Everything will change. Everything.” I fell into the former camp, but the heart of the problem is that neither statement has a chance of being accurate. You’re always going to just be you, but if having a kid doesn’t change you a little, you’re really taking your eye off the ball.
The changes that come with motherhood mean that I may never fit into my pre-baby jeans again (the bone structure of my hips is too wide). But it also means I don’t have a core group of people I fit in with anymore. I can’t meet the expectations of the friends who want me to not have toys on the floor and always get a babysitter when we go out to eat. And there is no way I’m going to join other friends at baby playgroups at 9am on a Saturday to sing “The Wheels on The Bus.” (Why can’t I just sing Queen to the baby over a scotch at home?)
There are days that I feel like I’ve rearranged into a person that fits in nowhere: the mom who really wants to hang out with her kid, who works full time as a creative, and who feels more comfortable in skinny jeans than in business casual or mommy-and-me clothes. The advice for new mothers is always to “find your pod,” but the reality is that my pod is a messy mix of friends with no kids and no patience for nap time, friends who parent totally differently than me, friends who get it but are not going to have kids for years, and friends who parent exactly like me and live way too far away. As for doing a lot of work to find the exactly right pod of mothers for me, right here, right now? Well. I am a terrible misfit at mothers groups, I like the friends I have, and I would rather use my limited spare time having a drink with my husband or going to the damn gym to have time to myself. If that mythical pod of parents is out there, they’re doing Queen sing-alongs without me. (Call me, maybe?)
It’s Okay To Be A Hater?
It seems like the cool way to be a mom these days it to proudly admit that motherhood is a messy pain in the ass, and make sure everyone knows that having a clean house, a kid you enjoy, and a career you love is a myth. Which makes it tough if you, you know, enjoy your kid and your career and your relatively tidy house. I mean, motherhood is a pain in the ass, don’t get me wrong, but life is a pain in the ass too. Nobody particularly enjoys being thrown-up on, but nobody really digs cleaning the toilet either. Luckily, both situations are improved by changing your clothes directly thereafter.
Someone in my social network recently shared “To My Post-Partum Self: Things I Wished I’d Known.” I bit, because hey, I remember postpartum like it was yesterday (it was). It was one of those articles that was clearly supposed to speak to me, the no-bullshit modern mother. And then I got to this part, “Be a hater. And those moms who appear to have it all together? The size six supermoms who appear perky and well-rested? The ones who haul big designer diaper bags brimming with healthy snacks and water and sunscreen and extra outfits and hand sanitizer? It is okay to wish them small misfortunes, like fecal incontinence or eye herpes.”
Well fuck me.
Even if we ignore the angst that hit when my jeans fit, and the fact that my designer diaper bag is the best gift I’ve ever been given—even ignoring that, I’m apparently still not in the club. My bag is currently packed with organic baby puree (simply because it turns out that we are disappointedly too lazy to make our own), extra outfits, and two hand sanitizers. I’m lazy but organized, and apparently doing it wrong.
It turns out, in motherhood, someone is always ready to point out that you’re doing it wrong. You’re working too much, or have given up your career and ambition. You’re a disorganized mess, or you’re a perky asshole. You’re finding motherhood too hard, or too easy. You’ve changed too much, or you haven’t changed enough. And meanwhile, you’re circling and circling around your twenty-four-year-old self, trying to figure out how you’ve grown and rearranged, and how to balance in this slightly new body.
Eyes On The Prize
My early months of motherhood were spent trying to keep up appearances. The toys were picked up religiously, so you wouldn’t think a baby lived here. I dutifully hired a sitter, even when I really didn’t want to. I worked hard to say the right things around the other new mothers, even when I didn’t have a clue what the right things were.
And then I realized it didn’t have to be so hard. Or maybe I just ended up with less energy for bullshitting. My job is simply this, in no particular order: keep myself happy, do what’s right for my kid, take care of my partner, and do the best job I can do at work. And if I’m hitting those marks, I need to try to do the best I can for my community. Everyday I get the balancing act a little wrong, in this new body. But I try to smoosh and cuddle that kid as I go, and to not be embarrassed about my damn diaper bag.
And hey, we bought a greatest hits of Sesame Street record this weekend, which seems like progress. While it’s no “Wheels on the Bus,” Ernie sings some pretty complex music, just like me.
Photo: Me at twenty-three weeks. Personal for APW.