The nurse wants to know if I’ve voided my bladder since giving birth just a couple hours ago. I haven’t, but the thought of shuffling this body, raw and bleeding, across the linoleum, doesn’t sound like a good option right now. I wiggle my toes and pinch my thighs to confirm that the epidural has worn off enough for me to attempt this trek before easing my feet, clad in yellow hospital-issued “fall-risk” grippy socks, over the side of the bed.
Nurse Larry walks with me to the bathroom and holds up a plastic container not unlike the one I use for leftover soup. I get the sense that he wants me to pee in it, which he affirms by sliding it under my bottom. As soon as I squat down, urine pours out of me and into the empty carton with a thud. Even when the vessel is nearly full, three hours of pushing out my firstborn seem to have stripped me of the very muscles needed to pause the stream which shows no sign of slowing. This, coupled with the fact that Nurse Larry told me I have a hemorrhoid the size of Jupiter, frightens me.
A few days later, after being discharged with my baby and a bottle full of orange Colace gels, a new fear finds me: the fear of my first postpartum bowel movement. During my pregnancy, my mom had assured me that childbirth wouldn’t be so terrible by telling me that she thought a bowel movement after having a baby was “way worse than giving birth.” My birth experience left me with what I refer to as Frankengina, so the thought that using the bathroom could be worse is enough to bring me to tears when I finally lower myself onto the cold toilet seat like a skittish sloth attempting a grand plie.
I lock the door and flick on the exhaust fan in an attempt to muffle my sobs. Who is this person crying on the toilet? And what do I do with a body I can’t trust?
The betrayal began about 32 weeks prior, when after a cozy dinner with friends, my husband and I took a walk with the dog. Poised and ready with a blue plastic baggie wrapped around my head, I leaned over to pick up after the pup and found myself barfing pumpkin spice ice cream into the neighbor’s rosemary bushes. My husband took over dog clean-up duty for the foreseeable future, and I hoped the neighbors wouldn’t hear me retching and assume I had too much wine with dinner.
Pregnancy nausea turned me onto a college girl on spring break; one minute I was ready to party, the next I was spewing Chipotle into the trash can under my desk at work. I needed a new strategy for date night, choosing between ordering the food I loved and the food I would least mind throwing up an hour later. I became used to dry heaving in public places, notably Pier 39 in San Francisco where the pungent sea lions sent me weaving and dry heaving through a crowd of tourists.
I learned that, in addition to my digestive system, I also could not trust a mesh trash can. Nor could I trust advice to sprinkle baking soda on a mess and then suck it up with the vacuum, unless I wanted to spend a lot of time cleaning fettuccine out of that vacuum the next day. I grew weary of being a live wire. I was thankful for the life flourishing inside me, and I also longed to feel in control of my body. The only whims I was used to following were my own, but life was becoming less predictable every day.
A couple months after my post-delivery sob session on the toilet, another surprise from the fourth trimester funhouse greets me in the bathroom: clumps of hair swirling around the shower drain. My typically lush locks are suddenly jumping ship en masse; not only do I find them in the shower, but lodged in my hairbrush, curled on the bathroom floor, and clinging to the baby’s fleece pajamas. The bald spots on either side of my forehead, along with some late-night internet searches, tell me that postpartum hair loss is very, very real. The fact that I was not warned about this phenomenon does not stop it from wreaking havoc on one part of my body that I naively did not expect to be marred by motherhood.
I collect headbands and hats in an attempt to hide the bare patches and continue to wear my new headgear once I realize that the regrowth might be worse than no hair at all. Spiky baby hairs in the front, thinned out and stringy in the back; it might be worse than a mullet. And all that hair in the carpet means that my days of taking apart the vacuum to clean it are not behind me.
I wince at my reflection and delete pictures of myself almost as soon as they are taken. “Please crop me out of that one,” I beg my husband. I don’t want to see reminders of what has been taken from me; I prefer to pretend it isn’t happening. I knew parenthood would require sacrifices, and I made them willingly. I accepted the fact that I might never get a full night of sleep again. I didn’t drink a single IPA or eat lunch meat during my entire pregnancy. I even quit my job to stay at home with our daughter. Yet none if it was enough. My wayward body is still changing every day, and no one consults with me first.
Eventually, my almost-mullet grows out and offers an opportunity to try bangs again. I can wriggle into pants that don’t have an elastic waistband. My boobs stop leaking milk 24/7, and there isn’t a flash flood advisory if I leave home without nursing pads. Even the hormone-induced eau de motherhood funk I noticed in the early days of my daughter’s life has settled down enough to be tamed by regular deodorant. Fragments of my reflection are becoming familiar again.
Dinner is over, and while the kids drop clanging dishes into the sink, I sneak away to the bathroom down the hall. A quiet click of the lock, and I’m free. Do I need to use the bathroom? Yes. And also, maybe I just want to work on today’s Wordle puzzle without someone interrupting me to ask for another snack. Maybe I just want to use my brain for something other than calculating when we will run out of milk or diapers.
Several minutes and two incorrect word guesses later, the toddler is jiggling the door handle, whining, “Mamaaaaa! Mamaaaaaaa!” Foot stomps and grunts emanate from the living room, where the older kids must be sumo wrestling again. I decide to wrap up the consonant-and-vowel-filled merriment when my legs begin to tingle. I tuck my stretch-marked belly into the high-waisted jeans I hope will never go out of style and lather up my hands at the sink. When I emerge from my bathroom cocoon and out into the sumo arena, I see the toddler emptying out three decks of playing cards onto the carpet and sigh.
I open my mouth to prompt the kids to clean up, then change my mind, instead reaching for my phone again. A couple taps and swipes later, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is blaring on the living room speaker. The kids stop running and wrestling and start air punching and hip shaking instead. I join them and give each of the three kids a turn in my arms, spinning and dipping and laughing along for the entire five minutes. There are air drums and air guitars and some cute attempts at break dancing. “One more song!” they beg, and I oblige by doing my nightly performance of “Guns and Ships” from the Hamilton soundtrack.
My hair has fallen out two more times since I had my daughter. I have peed my pants on multiple occasions, sometimes in public, often while running but also from sneezing (always because I didn’t do enough kegels). Almost nine years into motherhood, my body is still capricious. Fickle. Unforgiving. But this body has also nursed three babies. She has cared for feverish kiddos while wiping her own drippy nose and made broccoli cheese soup from scratch with a toddler strapped to her back. This is the body that kisses foreheads goodnight and dances in the living room after dinner. My body has been on a journey, but she’s returning as someone I recognize, someone I can rely on.
What do I do with a body I can’t trust? Love her. Be kind and gentle to her. Be patient and wait for her to come around. Put on a rock song and see what happens.
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This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Love After Babies.”
11 thoughts on “A Body I Can’t Trust”
So relatable! The bathroom is never safe from toddlers (at least for mom). Also…Frankengina. Hilarious.
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I’m half expecting him to bust the lock open one of these days. 😉 and thank you for reading!
I love this so much. Laughed out loud multiple times. What a wonderful and meaningful tribute to self love!
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Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! I’m so glad it made you laugh. 🙂
Hi Melissa! What a throwback with the first section haha. I went to an obgyn a month ago (16 months after my first) to ask if things down there were normal. Thankfully she said things may have changed but that everything seemed within normal. She also said that delivering a baby is like “having a bomb explode down there,” which I’m still trying to figure how I feel about that expression haha… I enjoyed reading, and thanks for writing our amazing bodies!
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Oh man, healing after childbirth and pregnancy is so personal and delicate…I appreciate the health care providers that can balance honesty with tenderness. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!
Me too! With my first baby, I remember constantly looking in the mirror at all the ways my body was changing. I both marveled and was appalled and felt entirely out of control — like I was an alien host! Shauna Niequest wrote in BITTERSWEET about talking nicely to our bodies, and her words have stuck with me since reading them. Thank you for your beautifully written words that capture both the horror and the beauty of inhabiting a mother’s body. 😊
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Yes—horror and beauty. 💛 and I love that you used the phrase “alien host.” I used to describe pregnancy that way to my husband and he hated it. 😂
Girl. All of this!! I relate so hard to all of this! The Frankengina line made me literally laugh out loud and I was crying by the end. Absolutely beautiful writing ❤️
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Also, for some reason, it used an old WordPress account to comment and not my name, but this is Kendra. Lol!
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Gah, thank you, Kendra! ❤️