Thursday, April 26, 2007

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Mother Talk , the home of blog book tours, is trying a new thing-- Blog Bonanza Fridays, where everyone who wants to, blogs about a particular pre-suggested topic. I though I'd give it a try. Today's topic, in conjunction with the blog tour of Ariana Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless, is, unsurprisingly, your fearless moment.

I have a round face. I also have PCOS, and (at least partially) as a consequence of it, am fairly overweight. These three things put together mean that I rarely look good in photographs. So I learned that if I take photographs, I can't be in them. Sometimes, though, there is more than one camera on the scene. So I got very good at hiding from cameras and, failing that, at "convincing" people not to take my picture.

And then A died. Sometime in the next couple of hours I realized that I don't have that many pictures of myself pregnant with A. Actually, I don't think *I* have any. I am pretty sure somebody took a few pictures at the New Year's party that should have me in them, but I haven't yet asked if they exist. When I was pregnant with Monkey, JD took some barely dressed and some nude pictures of me. And I remember actually willingly taking some others, at parties, with friends. But I started this pregnancy 10 lbs heavier than I started the one with Monkey, and, by that day in January, I gained 30 more. I was enormous, and I didn't like the way I looked.

A couple of weeks before A died, JD took a picture of me and Monkey playing on the floor. He took it with my then new phone while I wasn't looking. The angle was all wrong, my face looked fat and swollen, and I made him erase that picture. And just now, as I was typing that I realized why it bothers me so much that I made him erase it-- that was the only picture of my two kids together.

When my water broke, I was only 2cm dilated. It was, I think, past 16 hours since the start of the induction, and I didn't know how much longer it was going to go, so I agreed to pain meds. But first, I wanted to take a shower. A hot shower makes me feel better when I am in labor-- it helps with the contractions and generally puts me in a different space. I stood there, caressing my belly, thinking of how much I loved the boy in it. He was gone, but not yet entirely. In a few short hours I would find out all I would ever know about him. But at that moment, in the shower, he was still a little bit of a mystery. And, at that moment, my pregnant self looked sadly beautiful to me. I think JD knew what I was thinking. I think he was thinking it too. But when I asked if he wanted to take a picture now, he said no. That was probably right-- the two of us will remember how that moment felt, and taking a picture would've just screwed it up. It's not like anybody else would ever see it anyway.

When I had a chance to think about my body next, and I don't mean where did it hurt-- it hurt in plenty of places,-- I mean how I felt about my body, I surprised myself. I apparently had made a decision to try to be friends with my body. It felt like a conscious decision, but it also felt like I didn't have to struggle with it, like it just came, like I didn't have a choice. I think this decision came from a place where lying to oneself is not an option, a calm, rational place, a place of hard-won wisdom. It just felt like the right thing to do. After all, it is the body that carried and birthed my two children. And it is the body that I know I will soon have to ask to do it again.

Now, me being overweight has been a fairly constant source of hurt for me, but I don't think it seriously impacted my sense of self-worth. (It might not have always been like this. In fact, I am pretty sure I was a far more insecure teenager.) Thinking about that, I realized that I differentiate myself from my body, and that my body issues have had only minimal impact on what I think of *myself*. See, I am what I do and feel. My body is where I live. That doesn't mean that I didn't have an occasional moment where I'd asked JD what he needs such a broken wife for, but it does mean I pretty much never thought that the "broken" part actually referred to me rather than my body.

We went on vacation with friends last month to try to make new memories for our new normal. I didn't hide from the camera. Several times allowing someone to take my picture was almost physically uncomfortable. And yet, I did it. Which was a victory not in the least because at the moment I was not a happy body camper. I thought I couldn't decipher the physiological cues my body was giving me, and, frankly, that to me meant my body wasn't keeping up its end of the bargain. Surprisingly, I wasn't mad at it, just seriously confused and disoriented. But, as it turns out I can decipher the cues. Hold your applause.

A friend of mine says she doesn't make a big distinction between herself and her body. Seeing as she is one of the best-adjusted people I know, it's a distinct possibility that she has it right, and I am all wrong. But for now I choose to believe that these are two decent approaches to the same issue, and that both take guts.

By the way, a couple of pictures of me from that vacation came out very well. There is also more than a couple of pretty bad ones. But for now, I'll call this a success.


Unknown said...

Interesting - I, too, always differentiate weight issues from my sense of self. I thought it was because I had a defined reason for it - it's not that I'm lazy, or that I can't lose weight if I try, it's that hormones, thyroiditis, etc, affects my weight normally, so I have to take extraordinary measures to be the weight considered "healthy" for me. I thought it was because I didn't have weight issues until puberty, and by the time they became serious I had already had a sense of self.

Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't bad times - when I was working under all that stress and gained all the weight I'd lost in college, for example. And it does take a lot of motivation to actually say "I need to take control now" or this whole weight-loss thing fails to work. And exercise alone will never do it.

But my sense of self-worth is tied more to what I accomplish and how I aquit myself in the presence of people I like and respect.

Unknown said...

P.S.: I actually have several pictures of you pregant. You hissed at me, but I took some the day of Monkey's piano concert, and she's in one.

Clare said...

I found you through Catherine's blog. and I read your entire collection of posts just now. So many things you wrote ring true for me too. I also have PCOS, am fairly overweight, avoid cameras like the plague, have struggled with 2ndry IF, had a stillborn son, and have good days and not so good days. Your post "our bodies" really captured what I've been feeling lately about my body and the lack of trust I have in it. I am pregnant again and fearful that my body will let me down again.

and I am so sorry A is not here with you. You're in my thoughts.

Lori said...

I have one picture of my husband, two boys and I when I was pregnant with the twins. When I came across it after their deaths, I realized that I held in my hands the only "family picture" we would ever have that included the twins. I treasure it. I understand your regret at having erased the picture of you and Monkey playing on the floor. Although it sounds like Adelynne might have some other options for you! :) Sometimes it is good when people ignore us!

It sounds like you are on your way to adopting a healthier, kinder way of viewing yourself and your body. I think the separation you describe between "you" and your body is actually healthy. I think I am the same way. Even though I can look at myself in the mirror and pictures and say, "gee I'd like to lose 15 lbs." that doesn't change the way I feel about myself as a person.

Aite said...

Whatever way we find useful for processing our experience is a good way. When I was a kid my dad told me he viewed his body as an elaborate mechanism. Given how much influence his ideas had on me at that time it's almost surprising this one didn't stick.

I think of body-related problems as problems that happen *to me*, more or less like other types of problems. In the thick of dealing with IF and losses I didn't have any particular feelings directed at my body. I felt worthless - whole. Not so much because I couldn't physically do the baby thing, but because I invested all of my energy into managing this problem (reading my body's cues, researching conditions, talking to doctors, asking for tests, taking medications) and had nothing to show for it. And meanwhile I was so consumed by IF I couldn't do anything else, most notably that grad school thing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I cried through a lot of it....and thanks for visiting my blog. I'll be reading you from now on.

niobe said...

This post has given me a whole new way to try to conceptualize what "self" means. I'm struggling to understand how your "self" can be distinct from your body.

I sometimes feel my mind is separate from my body, especially when I'm concentrating on a difficult idea or drifting off to sleep. You know, the whole mind-body problem thing. Is that what you mean? Or are you saying something else altogether?

Julia said...

Thank you, everyone.

Niobe, I sort of feel that my body is where my mind/soul live. I get upset when I can't do something because my body is too weak/tired/sick/whatever, and it is depressing, but I don't feel that *I* am worthless when that happens. Interestingly, when my body does something well, like, say, ovulate, I don't necessarily feel proud of it as much as grateful. I am far more likely to be proud of being able to read my body cues than of the actual thing that happened. I am not sure how much sense it makes, but that's what it is.

Anonymous said...

An exceptionally wonderful post.

Sara said...

I've been trying to think how to respond to this for two days. I wish my self-image weren't wrapped up in my body - I've been having to work at detaching myself from it especially hard these days. I for sure dislike it.

Aurelia said...

I'm trying to join my self-image and my body, to forgive it and let go of the guilt, and therefore to forgive myself.

We women are so so hard on ourselves. I always wonder if men do this to?