Monthly Archives of: September 2016

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And yet

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I once went snorkeling in a series of caves underneath Cancún. The entrance was a dark, echoing cavern; a deep, ragged hole in the earth. I think of that cave whenever I see my belly button in the mirror. It’s like someone took a clay model of my midsection and left it in the sun too long.

Last week I went to the gym for the first time in a year. Loving (or tolerating) my body has been a work in progress my entire life, and in some ways it’s nice to have this tiger-striped pooch where my waist used to be. It’s like a shield, or a story written in stretch marks.

The first time I saw it after giving birth I thought “well, at least I never have to try and get into a bikini again”. And then, simultaneously, “I’ll wear a bikini if I want!” and “I can’t believe I got so fat”.

I gained 27kg during my pregnancy, due to a combination of ice cream and sitting still. I felt at the time like everything was hard enough without adding exercise and not eating ice cream into the mix. Post-birth, I lost the first 17kg without really doing anything except never having time to eat and pouring all my resources out of my nipples 12 hours a day, but that last 10kg feels like it ain’t going anywhere.

I made a human person, but I’m still obsessed with how I look in my jeans. These things don’t stack up. They aren’t of equal or similar importance. My body did something incredible for me and Brazil (and Nico, obviously). It’s still battered from it — back aches and red, scaly patches on my face, nipples turned chew toys. I don’t know if I can expect it to be like it used to be. I don’t know if I should.

I could name any photo album of my twenties “places I felt fat” and it would be an accurate description. I’ve worried I was fat everywhere from the top of the Temple of the Cross in Palenque, Mexico (I wasn’t) to an island off Tongatapu (also wasn’t) to Tokyo (wasn’t), Sydney (wasn’t) and everywhere in between (still wasn’t. Never was).

I want to be more accepting of my body, but it’s hard. I have 33 years of judging and hating and poking and prodding under my belt, and now there’s this extra weight on my stomach and hips, these gigantic breastfeeding boobs, the stretchmarks and dry skin and darker freckles and tired eyes…

It’s tough to inhabit a new body, one you didn’t choose, that’s older and weaker and looser than the one you used to have. It could be freeing, maybe, to be lifted out of your petty body confidence concerns by having all your former issues pale into insignificance. Worrying about getting into a bikini seems foolish now I’ve added stretch marks and loose pouchy skin and four cup sizes to the mix. Like I could choose to throw the whole mess into the mental trash where it belongs and focus on things that actually matter… or I could double-down and hate myself more, harder, for more concrete reasons.

I know which of those I want to choose, but it’s not quite so easy to actually do it.

I swing daily between deciding I need to go on a diet and announcing I’m going to love myself as I am. I know being thin isn’t the same as being well — but right now, I don’t feel like I’m either. My body has been stretched too far for too long. I’m not strong or flexible. My back hurts all the time and I’ve had a cold forever. It’s hard not to conflate that in my head with being slightly too heavy. In the past, there’s been a direct relationship. I’ve had too much weight on because I wasn’t eating well or exercising, and when I sorted those things out, the weight came off too. Right now, I’m eating well. I’m eating too much, but I’m eating well. I’m exercising, in a new-mum kind of way. Walks with my baby in the front pack. The occasional aborted naptime yoga attempt. There’s only so much free time to go around, and although I want to prioritise my health, I also massively resent feeling obligated to spend the eight seconds of the day I get to myself on making my appearance more palatable to others.

I’m supposed to “get my body back”, but I’m also supposed to keep breastfeeding (and, right now, I want to, even though I have Many! Opinions! that I will write about at length soon). It’s drummed into you that “supply” is infinitely perilous. Eating too little could damage it. Dieting could force you to wean early, or stop your baby gaining enough weight. When you already eat a healthy diet, the only way to lose weight is to eat less, but that could force your baby to also eat less. No matter how self-obsessed I get, I don’t want to jeopardise my baby’s chubby thighs for my own. Squeezing fat baby thighs is like 60% of the reason I had a baby in the first place.

They tell you that you’ll lose weight while you’re breastfeeding because you’re burning so many calories making food. (This is largely BS, by the way.) But that hypothesis ignores what every fad diet also seems to ignore: hunger. The hunger of a breastfeeding woman is second only to… well, a pregnant woman. Your body spent nine months laying down resources in your ass, but it’ll be damned if it’s going to use those if it doesn’t have to. We’re literally designed to store fat in our thighs like a squirrel stores nuts in the winter.

(Let’s talk sometime about how I feel about how women have all the pressure to be thin, when they not only naturally store more fat than men, but find it easier to gain and harder to lose. Then let’s sidebar about the #dadbod thing. Fuck off, society. Fuck right off.)

So, basically, my body is doing exactly what it’s meant to. It’s storing resources for my child — as many as it can get. It’s giving him antibodies and fat and all my liquids, while I drink litres and litres of water to avoid desiccating like a corpse in the desert. It grew and sheltered him, birthed him, and now it feeds him. If you want to get existential, it’s fulfilling its biological purpose. If we were grubs, I’d crawl into a hole and die once he was weaned, confident that I’d lived a rich and rewarding life.

So why can I appreciate that in others, but not in myself? Or caveat it with an “and yet…”. And yet, I’d still like to fit my old jeans. And yet, I wish I was fit again. And yet, I’m not ready to look like someone’s mum.

I am someone’s mum, though. And I remember when I was a child, telling my own mother that I loved her squishy bits, because they were better for cuddling. I remember telling my nana the same thing — she worried about her weight right up into her 90s, when there was nothing left of her but bones wrapped in soft skin.

How much mental effort have I wasted on the circumference of my thighs? How many other things could I have done with that time? How much nicer a place could the inside of my head have been?

And yet.

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Adventures in multicultural relationships

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“What’s a stick in Portuguese? Stick-o?”

“You’re so racist. It’s galho.”

“Okay, then what’s a trunk?”

“…Tronco.”

“I want you to be happy and do the things you enjoy while giving me your full attention at all times.”

“I’m peeved.”

“What does peeved mean?”

“It means… you know, peeved.”

“Very helpful. Do you even remember why you’re mad at me?”

“…No. Do you?”

“I do. But I’m not dumb enough to tell you.”

“You’re not the boss of me, you’re just my manager.”

“Remember when you used to stare at me, instead of out the window? It was a magical time. You’d stare at me and not fart.”

“And I said, ‘for fuck’s sake, man, I speak two languages and read two others, is there any point on arguing this tiny point of English grammar?’”

“‘In’ arguing.”

“Now I’m peeved.”

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I don’t know if this post holds together as a cohesive whole, but then neither does my brain these days

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Nico is four and a half months old. I meant to write so much in those first four months, and instead I have a handful of half-finished sentences and scrawled thoughts, and 7,185 photos in my camera roll. (See, Facebook, I am being restrained.)

I just read back some of those scrawled thoughts — they’re like an ice bath now, a sudden dunk back into those first weeks of fear and pain and exhaustion. Of being terrified to do anything and also to not do everything and Google telling me over and over again sixteen million times a day that breastfeeding is the only answer and that everything is normal until it’s not.

But now we’re here. If not confident, we at least have our legs under us. We can navigate leaving the house, going to appointments, buying groceries. I generally know when he needs to eat and when he needs to sleep. I can squeeze myself in around the sides, stolen moments of work and exercise that remind me that I was once a person, too, and one day might be again.

I don’t begrudge him that — he needs me, and I’m so into being his mother it’s embarrassing. And it turns out everyone was right about how fast it goes. He’s already so different than he was. We look at pictures of him as a newborn and struggle to draw the line between there and here, even though there was only weeks ago. Time has never moved faster or slower. I’ve never been so content or so bored, so focused or so lost.

I don’t begrudge this brief, endless period of total need, but I do resent it sometimes. I resent the way society is constructed so mothers are down here in the trenches at home alone while the world moves around us, like making new people isn’t part of the world… kind of the core part, even. Humans are sort of the MVP of humanity.

This week Nico likes to drink water out of my glass. I let him try because it was cute, and now there’s spit and water all over the house. He pulls his own socks off when I’m changing his nappy. He hurls himself bodily at things he wants, and then rages in frustration when he can’t propel himself across the carpet by sheer force of will. He’s full of gummy smiles and giggles for anyone and everyone, but cries real, red-faced tears if we leave his sight in an unfamiliar place. He likes to “walk” holding onto my fingers (by which I mean stamp his feet while wobbling around on fat, bowed little legs), which is murder on my back but fuckin’ adorable. He can sit by himself for, oh, seconds at a time, and will play happily and independently with a toy for ages as long as he can reach out and touch me, and I don’t try to do anything else. His life goal is to get my phone into his mouth, which says far more about me than it does about him.

He’s basically a cartoon of a baby — all eyes and smile, with that serious forehead and those comical eyebrows. I’m obsessed with his fluffy duckling hair and his chubby little feet. I’ve cried several times in the last few days because I get so overwhelmed by how much I love him.

It’s embarrassing to admit that. It feels like you’re not meant to let on how much you love your children — or you’re only meant to talk about the hard bits. I feel a certain amount of judgement in some circles just for breeding — like I’ve sacrificed my work or my social life, or I’ll get so involved with my own tiny family that I’ll forget to care about the big picture. Sometimes it feels like the very act of having a baby feels unfeminist, like I’m letting womenkind down by being so openly womanly. Or at least thoroughly complicating the issue.

Childbirth and parenting do complicate it — but I think they should. Hormones and biology are complex topics, over and above society and its biases and expectations. Having a baby runs you hard up against the fact that women and men might be equal, but they’re not the same. Brazil couldn’t carry the baby or give birth to him, and he can’t feed him with his boobs (although Nico will give it a go, given the opportunity in the bath). So much of this has to fall on me. Society doesn’t help with that, but there’s also no easy solution to it. I find myself wanting to talk about this all the time, because I have no idea what to say about it.

As for the other stuff, I care more about current events now that I made a person who’ll have to live in this broken world, but I also can’t find room to care as much as I used to. I’m too tired and my feelings are too raw. I can’t even cope with the ducklings in the stream this year, because I’m so concerned for their safety I find watching them actively painful. I’m working, and I want to work, but I’m frequently startled by how little work matters. I like it and I’m good at it, but I’m just not as angry as I used to be about how people are Making Websites Wrong.

I often see articles reporting on studies that have found that having children makes you less happy. But now I wonder what they’re measuring as happy. Am I more frustrated? Less free? Frequently exhausted, emotionally and physically? Yes, yes and yes. I can’t do what I want to do when I want to do it. My life, by all accounts, is looking pretty pathetic right now. But under that… something that’s always been empty has been filled. It’s not that I’ve found a purpose — more like I don’t feel like I need to anymore. I’m just here, today, operating naptime to naptime. And a lot of those moments aren’t what you could call happy… but I’m happy. Happier. Happiest.

People are all that matter, in the end. And new people… I have this whole new perspective on humanity. I’ve never been more conscious of the fact that we’re animals, mammals, organisms made up of collections of cells. But we’re also phenomenal: watching someone learn how to reach out and touch something he wants to touch has made me aware for the first time of what a ridiculous feat of biological engineering it is that I’m typing on this computer right now. That I can tie my shoes and name things with words and use my imagination. We are incredible creatures.

We’re also born craving connection. The love of a child is absolute. I used to feel like that was somehow a weakness in parents — like it was vaguely exploitative to have children for love, like there’s something vaguely odious about needing other people that much.

It’s beautiful, though. This baby is so incredibly happy to see me every single time he sees me. I make his day just by showing up. He has no concept of hate or disgust or anger. He gets sad and frustrated and he doesn’t understand why I sometimes want to use the bathroom without him, but his requirements in life are so simple: me, Brazil, cuddles. The two of us form his entire pyramid of needs. Food and sleep and shelter are all contained within us.

I watch him watch a tree move in the wind and his total delight is contagious. I’m also realising he’s happier playing with one toy than six, with the cords on my hood while sitting in my lap, than the plastic elephant-shaped ball-shooter thing I bought him for $70 and four D batteries.

I used to joke that toddlers are proof we’re all born sociopaths and have to be moulded into responsible citizens through bribery and brute force. Maybe I’ll change my mind once we have one, but right now it’s fucking wonderful to realise the opposite is true: we’re born loving everyone and everything with indiscriminate abandon. This baby isn’t only teaching me about myself — I feel like I’m re-learning the world along with him.

It’s pretty great, you know?

Anyway, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I wrote all that while he slept. And then he woke up feeling like he’d been dramatically wronged by the changing table in general and his left sock in particular, following which he was done some kind of grievous harm by avocado, which only yesterday was his best favourite. Then he enjoyed some no-nappy time until I left the room for eight seconds and he pooped, rolled in it, and then peed across all of his toys. Then he smashed a pot plant, threw up in my hand and now he’s back in bed.