Friday, November 13, 2009

My Mother Body

My body is not my own.

Until three years ago, I had a very different relationship with my body. It was my body. In my view, it was the body I was forced to have. I didn't really appreciate it. Actually, I hated it. I abused it. I drank and smoked (socially) and did drugs and took too much Advil. I never cared for my body or exercised properly. I ate poorly. I threw up for years and then yo-yo dieted. I associated who I was with my body. I was my body. And I hated me, so I hated my body.

Then, I got pregnant. And suddenly, my body was not my own. Someone else had taken up residence inside my body. Someone else, who I loved, already, far more than I loved myself, was relying on me for sustenance and protection. Somehow, I thought this experience would turn me into this earth mother, body-loving, fully-embracing person. I thought all my self-hatred would just evaporate and that I would love my growing belly and breasts. I really thought I would LOVE being pregnant. Turns out, that didn't happen. I was miserable. Rather than embracing and loving my body for what it was capable of doing, I felt hijacked and trapped and frustrated.

Then, I gave birth. I thought this would give me some relief. I thought, despite all my preceding fears, that I would fully embrace breastfeeding. I thought, this would be the thing that turned me into the earth woman I wanted to be. All my fears and hangups would leave and I would develop this beautiful nursing relationship with my daughter. That didn't happen either. Maya never latched on, and I HATED it. I didn't say that, of course, because what mother hates feeding her child? I complained about the complications, and I forced myself to stick out the attempts at breastfeeding and then the pumping. I struggled with two long bouts of horribly painful yeast. I somehow felt like I was doing penance for being such a terrible mother, for being so bad at being pregnant and for hating pregnancy and breastfeeding. I truly felt like I was being punished, that I deserved to have a difficult time because I was such a selfish person with my body, because I didn't like sharing my body with my baby. I felt guilty and wanted people to think of me as a "good" mother. I thrived on the compliments when people would say, "I can't believe you've done all this for her. I can't believe you stuck it out for six months." I somehow thought that all this approval from other people would soak in and make me feel okay. But it doesn't really work that way. And when I finally weened Maya I went through this depression. I didn't realize how much I was relying on the fact that I was providing for her to give me a sense of usefulness and pride in myself for being that good mother. And when it was over I felt like I was admitting defeat. I was terrible at being pregnant, and I was terrible at breastfeeding. Basically, I just sucked at motherhood. I was a selfish woman with a fat body who just happened to have a baby, but I wasn't really a MOTHER.

Somehow, despite all of this, I thought I'd have a different experience the second time around. I was still looking for vindication. I was determined to embrace it all and love myself more, etc. I had lost weight prior to getting pregnant the second time and entered it feeling slightly better about myself and my body. I was sure I could overcome my fears and actually breastfeed the second child. I was terrified, knowing how I'd felt before, but I was hopeful. And then I found out I was having twins. SERIOUSLY!?? It felt like a cruel joke. Rather than getting to have the experience I thought I was supposed to have, I was going to have a totally unique experience all over again. It felt like I was starting from scratch. Depression set in. Why? Why me? I sucked so much at this the first time that I'm getting two this time. What?? It just didn't seem fair. I didn't say that because I didn't want to appear ungrateful. And I was, sometimes. It's truly amazing the breadth of emotions one can hold in a single moment. I struggled to force myself to enjoy being pregnant this time. And I was blessed with not being as sick or in as much pain as I was the first time. And, as time went by, I started to feel more distanced from my body. I began to feel that my body was just my earth suit and that I was sharing my earth suit with the people inside. Maybe it was because there were two in there. How can you feel like you are your body when you're walking around as a group of three? I still didn't love it, don't get me wrong. But gradually some of the feelings of guilt began to disappear. I began to give myself permission to not love being pregnant. It didn't mean I didn't love being a mother. It was just a means to an end. I was using the body I'd been given to grow some new humans. It didn't really matter whether they grew in me or in someone else. When they arrived, that's when I became their mother. I began to let go of the notion that pregnancy was fundamental to motherhood. I could suck at being pregnant and hate it and still be a "good" mother. Well, that remained to be seen.

I attempted to breastfeed this time as well. I even met with a Lactation Consultant beforehand to talk about how to nurse two babies. I was scared shitless until a few weeks before delivery when I finally just let go and decided it just HAD to go well. And it did, at first, go well...much better than the first time. I was determined to make it work. I had to, isn't that what a "good" mother would do? Breast is best, right? So I struggled to get them to latch on and let them nurse for what felt like eternity. And I barely slept. I began to, once again, live on the compliments from other people. "I can't believe you're breastfeeding both of them." Yes, I am awesome. I am a strong earth-mother, boob-loving, sacrificial MOTHER. But secretly I was longing for it to end. I was praying my milk wouldn't come in or that something would go terrible wrong and I would be forced to stop, no choice of my own. I wanted someone to give me permission to stop. I absolutely LOATH having my nipples stimulated all the time. So, when they began to crack and bleed and it was apparent that the actual breastfeeding was taking too long and keeping me from Maya, I felt relieved. Yeah, I can pump again. That wasn't so bad, was it?

But my damn nipples kept hurting. And I mean HURTING. The pump is supposed to not hurt, and I was clenching my teeth through every pumping, every three hours. And there is nothing like waking in the middle of the night to have your nipples painfully tweaked for 30 minutes while simultaneously bottle-feeding a baby. Let me just tell you, it sucks (no pun intended). Turns out I had yeast. So, I figured I could stick it out and see how I felt after the course of Diflucan. But I did drop down to pumping only four times a day. My milk supply dropped from 36 to 30 oz. a day. So, I got myself the Fenugreek to try and boost the supply, secretly hoping that, even though I was doing so much to increase it, it would dry up on its own and release me from the bonds of milk production. I mean, there are just so many things that go along with this boob business they don't tell you. First of all, the hormones decrease your vaginal moisture. Boo. And your milk lets down any time your baby cries or your nipples are stimulated. And because my poor nips are so tender from the damn yeast, my milk lets down just from the water falling on them in the shower. Wrapping a towel around me is excruciating. On top of that, the Fenugreek makes my body smell like maple syrup. And, I swear, I have WAY more body odor when I'm producing milk than any other time. So I stink like BO and maple syrup. Sexy. When I met with the NP at my Pediatric Practice, I told her how miserable I am, but she encouraged me to keep going to help protect them from H1N1. I'm thinking, "Great. I just had to have twins when there's a damn swine flu epidemic!!!" And she said that, indeed, I may just have yeast on my nipples ALL the time. So I have to treat with gentian violet every day. Have you ever encountered gentian violet. It is potent and staining. My nipples are bright purple, as are my nursing pads and bras and fingers. Hot, I know. And I am not used to having breasts, so when I go running around with Maya, my boobs bounce in unexpected ways, and, you know it, my milk lets down (ouch!). And I absolutely HATE pumping. And my breasts somehow feel like these creatures I have to care for rather than a part of my body. And I'm still feeling like I'm not a great mother. Yeah, I'm doing all these physical things that make me look like a good mother, but I am still completely self-centered and hating every minute of it.

I have heard many people say that they felt an instant bond with their baby, that they knew them right away. I did not feel this way. I remember looking at Maya and wondering how I was supposed to feel instantaneous love for this swollen, alien-like creature. I mean, I loved her and felt very protective and felt responsible. But I didn't feel instantly bonded. It scared the living daylights out of me. And it took a long time to grow and know her. I constantly wondered if the things I thought were unique about her were just normal baby things. Who was this person? And despite the fact that I have, in the last two years, really gotten to know and love her, I was still shocked when I felt this way again with Elliot and Zoe. I think I was even more scared the second time around. I thought, "Maya is my baby, who are you guys?" They just looked so unfamiliar. Even after a few weeks I still wondered when I was going to really fall in love with them. I am so grateful for my sister through all of this. She just kept reminding me, "This is normal. You will love them. You will get to know them and bond with them. It just takes time." And she was right, of course. The fetus starts to turn into a baby before your eyes and their unique characteristics start to emerge. They smell a particular way and like certain things, and, before you know it, you love that about them. And you start to feel like they are part of your family, part of your story.

I wish I could end this piece with this note about how accepting I am of myself and my body and how I truly feel like a good mother now. But I think that what I'm coming to understand, through all of this, is that there is no one thing that defines motherhood other than self-sacrifice. And self-sacrifice isn't easy. And maybe it's not supposed to be. I guess I just thought I was a nicer, less self-centered person than I am. But you don't get much choice in this mothering business to stay that way. I'm at this point right now where I've been railing against motherhood, complaining about how hard it is. I think I've rounded the corner of depression in the grief cycle, I'm plowing through some testing, and I'm coming up on acceptance. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. And I so want to get to that point of acceptance. Then maybe I can learn to care for myself, truly care for my body, knowing that the only way I'm going to be able to care for these three people is if I actually do take care of me. If I force myself to take time just for me each day, to satisfy that desire for my own space, I can come back into the mayhem with a little less anger and a lot more acceptance. Maybe, just maybe, I can begin to feel like a good mother. Maybe I am one. And it's not the purple nipples and maple-syrup smell that proves it. I don't have to love the difficulty, just get to the point of accepting it.


Tracey said...

Hi Heather,

I saw your link to this post on Katie's FB page and had to come by.

Have you ever tried probiotics for yeast? I used to have what they called "chronic yeast" and the doctor basically gave me Diflucan to take every month, it was ridiculous. My Aunt is an RN and told me to start taking Acidophilus and it would be cleared up within 2 weeks. It was and I haven't had it once since. I still take it and I give it to my kids (19 mos and 3 yrs)too. I swear by it.
Take care mama.

b.g. said...

h- this is beautiful! What a gift it is to read your frank reflections on mothering. I can relate completely to feeling so short of expectations. You're a really excellent writer. I can tell that you start out with something to say and then you put the words to it without interference.

Anonymous said...

I love reading this! I remember those feelings when my kids were babies. I didn't ever love being pregnant! I could never adjust to the new me before my body had changed again! I also didn't love breastfeeding, and I also felt guilty about the thought of not doing that for my child. Now my kid is a teenager, and he tells me daily that I am not meeting up to his expectations for me as his mom. But I have one person in my life who tells me I am a good mom through every stage they go through. And that makes a difference!I choose to believe I am a good mom because I really do care about these kids. I know I would give my physical life for them if that was required, and in ways they will never realize until they become parents themselves, I daily give my life for them.

Island Girl said...


You are such an amazing communicator. You are so normal, and you bring that normal to light when sometimes these things are glamorized. I laughed all the way through your post b/c it is so familiar and so painfully honest and I can so identify with your comments. Here's sending you a hug!

Karen Seager (Kevin's wife)

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