It's probably a bit cliched to note that pregnancy and childbirth take one's body from oneself. I mean, pregnancy features months upon months of symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to insomnia to epic flatulence to insane jimmy leg syndrome, not to mention the fact that you've gone from Jana, Party of One to Incubator of Tiny Human. Then you spend anywhere from a few hours to (gulp) days expelling that tiny parasite, and it goes without saying that they typically don't leave the premises unscathed. No housing deposit for you, infant!
But I have found with both of my pregnancies and immediate postpartum periods that it is, in fact, the second full year post-birth that is most difficult physically.
Let me explain.
Year one, you've got a free pass. "Oh, don't worry about it," people say as your saggy, pizza-dough-textured muffin-top* flows unencumbered over the top of your largest pair of stretchy pants. "You just had a baby!" They look past your frighteningly massive, lumpy lactating chest-twins to the sweet, cooing child drooling in your arms.
It happened post-Charlotte, and again post-Sam: I get the "You Just Had a Baby" line right up until about the first birthday, and then, somehow, that line no longer becomes legitimate. The side and back-flab is no longer postpartum extra and is now just muffin-top. The strangely robust yet sadly gravity-stricken bosom is now just...well, matronly.
And yet my body still belongs so much to my child, as much at thirteen months as at one month. My son dictates my wardrobe. Going to be spending a period of time with Sam? Don't plan on accessorizing, unless you want to test the strength of that necklace against your neck flesh, or those earrings against your earlobes! And unless you want your sweater festively bedecked with epaulets of half-masticated graham cracker and snot, I'd suggest maybe wearing that same old ratty sweatshirt you always change into when you walk in the door.
And then, of course, there are the undergarments.
Poet Beth Ann Fennelly has an amazing book, Tender Hooks, that is, in part, about mothering. In it is her poem "After Weaning, My Breasts Resume Their Lives as Glamour Girls," in which she likens the breasts of a nursing woman to the Rosie the Riveter women who worked in factories during the war:
Initially hesitant, yes,
but once called into duty,
they never looked back.
they never dreamed they'd have so much to say.
They swelled with purpose...
Fennelly likens nursing bras to "Ace bandages / thick-strapped, trap-doored, / too busy for beauty—" while the bras housing the Glamour Girls are "tissue-thin and decorative," ultimately rendering the breasts "seen and not heard."
Her description of that divide that separates the nursing bras from the lacy lovelies is so wonderful that I can add little to it, except to say that the phrase "too busy for beauty" is such an apt description of parenting the one year old. I often feel as if I am outfitting myself for an expedition into Toddlerland: comfortable stretch pants and t-shirt that I don't mind staining, backless slippers that can be unshod at a moment's notice in case I need to run to retrieve a still-unsteady boy from harm's way, unaccessorized except for my daughter's hello kitty barrette keeping my hair from Sam's grasp. My bra: sports. My face: make-up free. My nails: unpolished, uneven. My legs: be-stubbled. My life: unglamorous.
And yet I no longer have that "Oh, You Just Had a Baby" free pass out of schlubbville thing going for me. Instead, I just look frumpy, rumpled, befuddled and frazzled.
I remember there was a brief window of time when Charlotte was almost two and I wasn't yet pregnant with Sam (at least not pregnant and constantly nauseated and/or showing) when I could wear whatever I wanted without living in fear that I would be covered by my offspring's bodily fluids and/or lovingly smeared foodstuffs, when I could shod my unmentionables in delicate lacy underthings without having to worry about having to air said body parts to be used as a food source, when I had the time (where? WHERE did I find it? And WILL I find it again?) to exercise regularly so that my body, while still a far cry (waaaaah) from my before-kids physique looked more like a loaf of bread post-baking than pre-.**
And I know that it's rather silly to be simultaneously looking back at the last year and crying "where did the time go!" and thinking "I'll never have my body to myself again! WOE!" but I never claimed to be unsilly. But I am tired of edging out (sideways, crab-like) of photos of my darling children because I don't want to be be caught, furtive and lurking like a frumpy, saggy Gollum, on the edge of the frame, like a creepy ogre behind two golden angels.
Someday, hopefully soon, I want to feel photogenic again, to feel strong and confident and not like I'm wearing the lingerie version of a Sherman tank under my utilitarian t-shirt. Until then, I'll be the one crouching behind the sofa while you snap pictures of my children.
*What is up with comparing body parts to food items?