Christine: When I had my first baby, a friend advised me to trust my instincts. She told me that I was my son’s mother and that I knew what was best for him—that all the books or advice in the world would pale in comparison to what my own heart cried. At the time, it was a liberating insight. I can do this! There are no rules! My body knows how to feed a baby! I know how to listen and respond to a baby’s cries! The scariness, the foreignness of being a mother was softened by the reassurance that the ability to care for him was already coded in my body. This made sense. Those early days of motherhood, I felt powerful and competent. I was made for pregnancy and childbirth, all strong legs and sturdy hips and full breasts.
As my son aged, however, and then when a daughter joined our family, this liberation morphed into a sacred responsibility. You mean there are no rules? I alone am responsible for figuring this out? The instinct that was so strong when it came to physical care like giving birth and breastfeeding was useless in navigating my kids’ emotional terrain. I felt crushed by the weight of it, by the knowledge that their childhood experiences were shaping their lifelong mental health. Loving them seemed not to be enough as I dealt with intense temper tantrums, aggression, and an utter lack of reason. Babies were simple; these young people defeated me daily with their indecipherable needs and emotions.
And then the third baby arrived, eight days late but right on time, after less than an hour of labor. We locked eyes immediately, she and I, and as I put her on my breast I felt again that surge of yes yes yes I am a mother. I imagined how perfectly the baby would complement our family, how seamlessly she would mix into our rhythm.
But then, the five-year-old was suddenly exploding in fits of rage that were terrifying and mystifying. My thoughts spun in a thousand directions, speculating on disorders and allergies and wondering what I had done wrong. What had happened to my sweet, albeit intense, child? Surely this was not a reaction to the new baby, so easy and quiet and undemanding. I felt blindsided by the ripple effects on the entire family. My husband and I struggled to cooperate in dealing with the stress. We faltered as we looked for a way to connect amidst constant conflict. The three-year-old became preternaturally well-behaved and docile, but would dissolve into an hour of body-racking sobs for no discernible reason.
Clearly we were all a bit messed up.
Rocked by the domestic turbulence that arrived with my third baby, I scarcely gave a thought to my post-partum body. Looking at these photos, I see the familiar pooch, the swollen breasts, and I find, to my surprise, that I don’t mind. I shrug my shoulders. That’s me.Is it possible I have finally gotten over the requisite angst over baby weight? If so, it’s not “because my daughters are watching” or anything noble like that. If I have made any progress, it’s because I realize how fucking boring it is to continue resenting my imperfections. It’s because I am 36 and motherhood is a beast and there is so much more to occupy my mind. It’s because I have books to read and books to write and babies to rock and oceans to swim and I just cannot spare any more minutes worrying about who’s judging my ass in a bikini. That’s it.
Perhaps I’ve simply decided to approach body love as I do other relationships—to strive to be my highest self, to act with love even when I do not feel love, to fake it, to always, always be kind.