Friday, April 24, 2015

To Whom Does Mom's Body Belong, Anyway?

OK, I admit it. I'm a sucker for click-bait, and I often give in to morbid curiosity about comments on online articles, despite more sensible people's (understandable, needed) warnings of "DON'T READ THE COMMENTS!" Heck, I even give that warning sometimes, because... well, usually because I did and became increasingly horrified and disgusted and don't want others to have the same experience.

So when pictures of moms post-baby surface online, I usually end up looking at them. I have gotten to the point that I wouldn't compare myself to any of these women, because I know no one has the same body experience during pregnancy/postpartum. I end up looking at them because I actually love the variety, the individual differences between the people who have all just performed a similar biological function... with vastly different but perfectly natural and normal results. I find all of their pictures lovely, whether the women still look similar to how they looked when pregnant or seem to have lost every pound they gained the moment they gave birth. I abhor the headlines, which are often meant either to celebrate women who have slender postpartum bodies and shame ones who don't, or to somehow tell the world that the only way to prove your body's worth after baby is to have more weight and more stretch marks... but the women themselves? All gorgeous.

What I don't understand at all is when a mom takes a picture of herself or has someone else take a picture of her pregnant/postpartum/when she has been a mom for a time, puts it "out there," and then has her body and lifestyle completely picked apart by The Photo Vultures* who can apparently gauge the character, emotions, and child-rearing skill of a woman from a mere photograph. I don't understand when she is told that she's a bad mom or bad person for sharing pictures. That she's narcissistic because of it.** That she should be keeping herself to herself because she's Now A Mommy.

Pregnant in a bikini before going swimming... 
and the only point I'm trying to make here is that
it's still my body and shouldn't be a big deal, 
but somehow to society... it is?

Put the camera down and actually spend time with your child! We don't care if she's napping or he's at Grandma's house or another parent/guardian is reading to them; you should be staring at the baby every moment of every day. ... Do you even care if your baby is sticking his finger in the electrical socket in the with a plastic bag over his head? Because obviously you put him down on the floor amid a barrage of safety hazards just out of the shot so you could take this "selfie." And put some clothes on in that picture, for goodness sake! Think of what might happen if your newborn son sees you in such skimpy clothes on the internet when he's a teenager. You have stretch marks? We applaud you, oh incredible embodiment of womanhood...  now why do we care, again? By the way, your top has a stain on it. At our house, we actually prefer to be clean. And why is your hair done? Why do you not have under-eye circles? You must not be tending to your child like the rest of us if you can look that energetic. Oh, wait, that's right; you're too busy taking pictures.***

Here's the thing, everyone: a mom's body is still very much her own when she's pregnant and after having children.****  It might nourish, carry, or soothe, but it does not actually belong to her child. If it did, there would be another name for it: the child's body. I'm not saying that for many women it doesn't feel like their bodies aren't their own, especially early on. Those are valid feelings--everyone is entitled to their own feelings about their bodies--but those feelings don't actually make her body their or anyone else's property.

In summary...

A mother's body does not belong to her children.

A mother's body does not belong to the general public even when exposed to the general public; it should be shown or covered up as she sees fit and not as strangers see fit.

A mother is not narcissistic or necessarily trying to "prove" anything when showing her body and being proud of it, whatever state it is in.**

A mother's body does not need to look a certain way to validate her motherhood.

A mother's body should never be called a source of potential embarrassment to her children as if the body she was somehow "allowed" to display on college spring break suddenly becomes unsuitable for viewing after having kids... because no bodies are shameful.*****

A mother's body is her own.

A mother's body is beautiful.

NB: I do not in any way think that women who adopt, use surrogates, foster, or otherwise have/raise children are not mothers.  And I don't think motherhood a woman makes, either.  I suspect some posts here will be geared toward women who have given or will give birth, but please know that they are never meant to be "othering" to women who can't, haven't, or won't, and I hope those women can take something from the posts as well.  

*Copyright TACN, 2015. 
**Narcissism is an actual mental disorder that affects ~1% of the population.  Narcissistic people often have various, sometimes severe difficulties in daily life because of their intense self-focus.  Using the term merely to describe being proud of features or accomplishments is... well... it's rather ignorant.  
***JUST IN CASE... this entire paragraph = sarcasm.
****With pregnancy in this sentence, I am speaking from a purely emotional standpoint; I am not making any claims or arguments about the physical relationship between a woman and an embryo/fetus.  If you want to discuss "personhood" or abortion, --this is not the forum in which to do so--.  Thanks in advance for staying on topic.
*****And let's not get into how sexist/presumptuous it is to say, "Think of what your future children might think!" when viewing those spring break photos in the first place.  Not. All. Women. Want. Children. OK?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Pregnancy & Body Image Inner Dialogue #2: Growing Pains.

1. What? What? Have I overslept?  
2. Why am I awake at 2:46?  
3. Oof... oh, that's why.
4. Can anyone sleep through round ligament pain?
5. If I went back to sleep, I can't imagine the nightmares it could cause.
6. Don't think about Alien.  Don't think about Alien.
7. Too late.
8. Ugh, now I need to use the bathroom.
9. It took ages to find this comfortable sleeping position, though.
10. Could I just hold... no, no, bad idea, I know I need to go.
11. How many times will this be?
12. Four; it'll be four.
13. Remember, this is your body's way of preparing you for little sleep in the future.
14. You know, I'd really prefer my body just allow me to sleep all night while I still can.
15. Now back to the get-to-sleep gymnastics, I guess...
16. Woah, is that me in the mirror?
17. Did this baby decide to make itself even more visible overnight?
18. Ahem, hello in there, do you think you could get larger than my boobs by 7:30?
19. I'd be much obliged.
20. And I have to put nice clothes on Sunday.
21. So if you could just go ahead and lift yourself above my belly button by this weekend?  Y-yeah...

22. Because right now this is looking more kangaroo pouch than anything.
23. ... Aw, baby kangaroos in pouches.
24. Focus.
25. No, not on that freaky blue vein, on going back to bed.
26. Hmm, let's just see if I have any new stretch marks, though.
27. I could have sworn all that tugging would have resulted in fifty more, but still just the old ones.
28. What if I'd found new ones?
29. I probably wouldn't have been happy about it.
30. And truthfully, I'm not even sure why I'd be unhappy about it.
31. Again, it's not like I think they look bad on other people or aren't perfectly normal.
32. I think I've just seen... me... in the mirror for so long.
33. And this is me and someone else.
34. ... Figuratively and literally.
35. Not that I ever exactly came to terms with "me" in the first place, but I was used to it.
36. Sometimes I don't feel like I can fully accept my body as it is knowing that it will change.
37. If I could just know where I'd end up, at least...
38. Would that help, though?
39. And wouldn't that take away something from this experience?
40. Pregnancy is change.
41. Shouldn't each change be celebrated as a new milestone?
42. It's no wonder you change so quickly when there's a rapidly growing human being in there.
43. At least this ginormous maternity pillow helps out with the sway-back changes.
44. ... I wish it weren't quite so ginormous.
45. Prepare to witness some high-skill maneuvering as I manage to stay on one side of the bed.
46. ... Yeah, no, still a noob.
47. Sorry, Mr. Nerd, didn't mean to disturb you.
48. Ah, there we go.
49. This position isn't too bad.
50. Maybe I can even get back to sleep by 3:30.
51. Now, if my stomach would stop doing... what is that?
52. That doesn't even feel like my stoma...
53. Wait... 
54. Is that...?
55. OK, I'm actually shaking you so that you'll wake up now, Mr. Nerd.
57. ... oh, no...
58. ... making me need to pee again.

TACN's Note: These won't be every week, but getting my inner dialogues out is cathartic, and it's entertaining when I look back on them, so I hope they're at least somewhat enlightening and enjoyable! Now, some of these dialogues might not seem related to body image, but what I'm discovering through this process is that, at least for me, it's often difficult to separate the shock at sudden new changes, how your body feels, and how your body actually looks. When you're tired, or feel like your sides are being tugged in two directions at once, or your feet are aching, or you've developed varicose veins overnight, or you see something in the mirror that is legitimately different than what you saw three days ago, sometimes it's just hard to look at yourself and think, "I look great." If you're having difficulty saying it for yourself, here you go:

You--yes, you--look great.