Saturday, December 12, 2009
Pregnancy and childbirth are the greatest physical experiences you can go through as a woman. They are these strange automatic processes that start without your knowledge and sometimes without even your desire. With my first pregnancy I knew that I was pregnant within days of conception. With my second I had a nagging suspicion that my period was not going to make it’s appearance.
From conception your body starts changing and doing these odd things that they have never done before, everything you have ever known about your body changes and you are dealing with this whole new creature. First my skin broke out, which it hasn’t done since high school, and then it was clearer than it ever has been. Then my breasts got huge. Then I got sick as a dog, but at the same time was so hungry and knew the only way to stop the hunger was to eat, driving me back to the fridge three times a night, after dinner. Then there was the heartburn, nine months straight of heartburn. All the while your belling is growing like something out of a science fiction movie. For all the strain that your body goes through it’s really quite amazing that you can come out looking basically the same. I didn’t get stretch marks, which I raise my glass to good genetics for that stroke of luck, at the end of my pregnancy I marveled at my still smooth skin because how could it go through all that stretching and not get destroyed?
And then you go through childbirth, which is this amazing automatic journey that your body goes down without your say, opinions, or desires taken into account. All these automatic processes begin, things are contracting and dilating as fast or as slow as they will. If all goes well you end up with a healthy baby.
Then, oh and then, your milk comes in. After having my breasts poked and prodded in the hospital, with this strange fluid coming out and attempting to suckle a child that continually falls asleep, my milk actually came in. Picture this: the power goes out in our little apartment, a friend is over holding my new baby, and I feel like someone has replaced my breasts with boulders. The first advice they give you when your milk comes in is to take a hot shower, because I had a non-waterproof dressing I could not take a hot shower. So the next option was a hot compress. So I am standing in my dark bathroom with Scott’s headlamp balanced on a shelf, a towel across my belly to protect my incision, boiled water in a bowl in the sink and two hot washcloths held against myself, I am dripping everywhere, and my breasts look like those fake bagel boobs that you see on bimbos on Dr. 90210. I think when I see this, ‘why would anyone do this to themselves on purpose?’ My head is tilted back in sobs, my poor husband keeps coming in and asking me what I need, to which I wail in reply,
“I don’t know!” Because truly I didn’t.
There you are: where your flat stomach used to be you have a flaccid gut, where your perky chest was you have these large unpredictable breasts. The strangest thing about all this is that at this point you are at the culmination of your womanhood. This is the thing that our bodies were made to do, men can’t do this. When I see women who haven’t had children yet I think,
“You don’t even know what you’re capable of, you don’t even know what your body can do.” I don’t tell them this, because understanding doesn’t occur until you have a baby. In our politically correct times it isn’t okay to tell women that child birth is a part of who we are and of what we are supposed to do. We tiptoe around the infertile and those that have chosen not to have children. In these times when we are thinking about overpopulation we have forgotten that we have an urge to propagate, that we are animals that need to further our race. With readily available birth control and in a do what you want culture we have forgotten that sex is for making babies.
As I was walking around Heathrow airport with my new baby in a sling across my achey torso, I saw all these posters of models and actresses advertising perfumes and makeup. There was Kate Moss in a black bustier promising me beauty if I bought this makeup. There was Scarlett Johansen popping the cork on a champagne bottle promising me elegance and fun if I wore this perfume. Never mind that that particular ad was ridiculous because nobody looks like that when they are popping a cork, largely all eyes are squeezed shut and faces ducked down away from the bottle because I think whenever a cork gets popped everyone in the room is a little afraid that it’s going to shoot them in the eye. Looking at all these promises and ideals of femininity I found them ridiculous and felt that I had absolutely nothing in common with these women. I felt my distended belly, my aching back, and swollen chest and thought that there was nothing more foolish than these overdone pictures. The advertising was completely lost on me, knowing that no matter what kind of perfume I put on I would still have a belly to contend with and a baby to feed.
Why is it that these women are our ideal? They don’t look like women that would be interested in child bearing, much less even physically capable of it. They don’t even look like they eat. Why is it that we have made body fat, the very thing that allows us to get pregnant and then support the baby the enemy of beauty? Here I am all belly, boobs, at the height of my womanhood, my body has done the very thing that women’s bodies are capable of doing and I am so far from what we consider beautiful in our culture that I have been avoiding mirrors that show anything below my shoulders (unless I want to check if my stomach has shrunk).
Our cultural ideals have so far removed us from what is feminine by touting images that are too thin to be healthy and denying that childbirth is a part of us so ingrained in who we are that every woman I have seen struggle with infertility has gone almost mad. I say we take the power back, the ultimate act feminism is to say that who we are and what we can do as women is so precious and so important that we are proud of it. No matter how thin models get or how many toes we try not to step on feminism is being proud of who we are as women, we are not made as men and quite frankly my big behind is never going to be anything less than that. So get pregnant, get big, we are mothers and no one else can do that.