Mothering The Body

Motherhood. It wasn’t something that I had ever really pictured for myself. When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream of a big white wedding or of having my own brood. I was probably too absorbed in my own world – first, running around imagining the ghosts and witches that inhabited the farm where I lived, and later, too worried about taking action against all of the bad things in the world.

But somewhere, in between finding a lovely partner and getting older, the call of procreation got me.

 
These early days of pregnancy have been filled with thoughts of and experiences of the body. Women’s control over their bodies is a war as it is, and pregnancy and motherhood is no different.

It seems to me that the first three months are a strange time of denial. Don’t tell anyone your news! What if something bad happens and you lose the baby? Then you get to suffer completely alone in silence, in the shame and the blame. How lovely that sounds!

It’s also the time to get used to the clamp down on what you’re allowed to do (or not do). From the get-go, you’re given a long laundry list of what to not do while pregnant. Both the doctor that confirmed my pregnancy and my midwife each gave me a huuuge pack of pamphlets warning me about all of the things I shouldn’t do and all of the potential problems my growing seed could have.

Some of the important things I must remember:

Don´t eat delicious soft cheeses like brie or camembert
Don’t eat salads without washing them first
Don’t eat hummus
Don’t eat soft serve ice-cream (like those brilliant cheap ones from fast food places)
Don´t eat those amazing creamed donuts or custard squares from the bakery
Don´t go into a hot bath or hot pool, and especially never a spa with the bubbles on!
Don’t forget to take your iodine and folic acid supplements
Don’t get too hot – you´ll cause developmental issues
But also, don’t be lazy – you need to exercise to get you through labour
BUT – don’t go overboard! Running at 5 months (a la Alysia Montaña) might harm your baby
Also, don’t lift anything heavy, like your other children, heavy boxes, work gear, etc etc

Baby at 6 weeks

Baby at 13 weeks – look how much I’ve grown!

I half-joke to friends that Mother’s Guilt starts early because we can’t help but feel like anything and everything that happens to our children must be our fault because of something we did or didn’t do.

 
Not only are our bodies controlled by what we can put in them or how we use them, they’re also judged by their overall appearance. As women, we spend basically our entire lives being told what is physically attractive. We have spent our entire lives trying to hide any sign of a stomach and in turn, hate our body’s “imperfections”. So you can imagine how difficult it is to reset those thoughts when your body expands naturally to host your child! Now at four months pregnant, my belly is beginning to expand in a way that society has always told me is wrong. I’m in a strange in-between where I look fat, not pregnant. I have to remind myself on a daily basis why my waistline is expanding; that it isn’t something to hate, but to love and appreciate.

There are frequent stories of strangers coming up to pregnant women and caressing their bellies. Strangers! We can’t control when pregnancy becomes outwardly noticeable, and apparently people think it is not only appropriate to tell a woman what to do with her body, but it is also okay to physically invade her personal space (not that this is any different to women’s general experience in life though).

I’m not even half way through my pregnancy, but it has already given me a look into the complicated world of being a parent, and specifically, a mother. The dark side comes with its judgement, shame, power and control (and cost!), and the brilliant joyous side entails the miracle of our bodies and its ability to create life, as well as our freedom to make choices as we raise a human being the best way we see fit.

Motherhood isn’t for the faint hearted – you need to be strong willed, consistent, and able to keep marching forward even when you feel awful (physically, mentally or both!).

 
One huge takeaway for me so far is the power of the women’s collective. So often we pitch ourselves against each other, determined to deny the decisions made by other women. I catch myself doing it when people share their choices for birth, for breast feeding, for schooling. What I’ve learnt however, is that it doesn’t matter whether you decide to be a mum or not. It doesn’t matter how you decide to raise your child. As women, we are lucky now to be able to have more influence over our lives and the decisions that we make for ourselves. We shouldn’t take someone else’s power away from them simply because we decided something differently for ourselves. We need to feel strong in our own choices and support others as they make their own. Difference is nothing to be afraid of, and we are stronger united than divided.

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