“I want my body back”

4 September 2009 at 1:55 am Leave a comment

In new mother circles, I hear this comment often. One woman says it in answer to a raised eyebrow after she asks about weaning her seven-month-old from the breast. Another says it to explain–even defend–her decision not to try for another baby when her first is only a year old. 

It’s a strange thing to say, really: obviously, the mother saying this has her body–is in her body–but metaphorically, the implication is clear. The baby has her body–she, the mother, is not the one in control of her very self.

When you think about it that way, of course, despite the strangeness, it’s absolutely accurate: during pregnancy, what consumes many women is the thought that their body is indeed not their own, or at least not only their own, any longer.

Even before a woman “pops,” before she reveals her “baby bump” (and notice here that even the language describing her body is not centered on the woman herself, but on the baby), her midwife’s capable hands knead her belly and feel her uterus. “Good, good,” the midwife says. Is she complimenting the woman or the baby or both?

Some women revel in this ambiguity–Ann Oakley, in Taking It Like a Woman: A Personal History, writes the following:

[I]n many ways the most remarkable moment of my life was the birth of my first daughter at home. . . unhurried and in a domain that was entirely mine. ‘Look,’ said the midwife, pointing to the psychedelic sight of a baby’s head sticking out of my vagina, wet black hair falling into its eyes. . .with absolutely none of the rest of the baby in sight. I will never forget that experience of being nearly but not quite two whole people, the mother of a disembodied living head–a truly liminal state. 

Although I know that some women disagree, and may prefer clean, crisp distinctions (mother-self vs. baby-other), my experience was similar to Oakley’s–I found the alien experience of pregnancy fascinating and mystical, and touching my baby’s head during labor was for me, as Oakley says, an unforgettable experience. Breastfeeding, too, for me, continues the connection between me and my baby: we nurse on demand in two directions, sometimes my baby searching out my breasts, and sometimes my breasts aching for my baby. 

This feeling complicates things for me, and when I hear women say they want their body back, I don’t know what to think. Imagine the absurdity of someone saying, “You know, I’m done with this whole walking thing. It’s too much. I want my feet back.” Feet are made to walk. My body is made for my baby. So no, my body isn’t my own–my womb held my baby, my breasts nurse him, my arms comfort him–but my body is doing what it’s supposed to do. Yes, my belly is looser now, and my breasts are bigger and softer now, but that’s how they’re supposed to be.

–Christina

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Quick link: Henci Goer on induction of labor Activism in the birth world

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