Last week Sarah Bessey wrote a gorgeous and moving letter to her body. I read it, just like I read every post that shows up in my news feed with a similar theme. I love reading about women becoming comfortable, delighted even, with their post baby bodies; with all their curves and ripples, lumps and marks. I am always so proud of and thankful for their courage to speak against the photo shopped, air brush standards the media tries to hold women to. But my experience has been much different than theirs and I always find myself reading those posts and letters with a small knot of envy deep inside.
When I read Sarah’s beautiful post I wanted so badly to write one of my own. I started to think of what kind words I have for you and I understood, perhaps for the first time, that there simply are none.
The truth is you have let me down. You aren’t the body I wanted. Sure, you started out pretty great at 5’6″ and 118lbs back when I was 20. I loved eating any and everything I wanted and still wearing my little size 4 pants. I took for granted not being judged by my weight and dieting never being a part of my norm. Having people mistake me for a dude from time to time because my name is Blake and I had the tiniest boobs in the world wasn’t exactly fun, but it could’ve been worse.
After you gave me Noah 16 years ago, you also left me with 30 extra pounds and stretch marks for days. I even have stretch marks on those little itty bitty boobies. Now that just isn’t fair! I have a c-section scar running horizontal across my mid-section because of the awful Medicaid doctor we had. Back then we were so poor and young and scared. I didn’t know I should have gotten educated about how to help you get Noah out into the world without the assistance of surgery. It wasn’t that I was too lazy to learn, I was just the first amongst my friends to have a baby and I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t afford the good birthing classes because I had to get a car seat and a crib for Noah, you know, things that are kinda non-negotiables when you have a baby.
My mom wasn’t much help, God love her. She was of the generation of “doctor knows best and just do as you’re told.” Sure, I read What To Expect When You’re Expecting, but I don’t remember it being all that helpful. It certainly didn’t speak of birthing plans and patient rights, all of which I was clueless about. I had rights?? Who knew? So when I went for my 9 month check up and Dr. Horrible proceeded to stick her whole hand somewhere I’m fairly certain it really didn’t belong and tell me that she felt the baby’s feet instead of head, meaning I would need a c-section, I didn’t realize this would be a fantastic time to invoke those patient rights of mine. I didn’t realize she should have done an ultrasound to detect that little breach tidbit or that when choosing an OBGYN you should always check their c-section rates. Turns out Dr. Horrible’s was over 90%. Whoa!!
We never got to experience a single contraction together, you and I. We never felt the pride of seeing exactly what you are capable of or how strong you are. We never had the joy of knowing through and through that one thing that separates women from men; childbirth. After Noah’s birth, I quickly realized that breastfeeding was going to be a challenge. I don’t know if it was because of the size of my breasts or a general lack of understanding on my part. This was before the days of the internet and I admit I was just clueless. When my baby would cry and cry because he was hungry and you didn’t seem to be able to satisfy him, Mom suggested I give him formula. So I did, because I was 21 and worried. Breastfeeding my sweet baby lasted less than three weeks.
Even through all these struggles I believe you and I remained on pretty good terms. I realized the part I played in your experience. I didn’t think it was all your fault we ended up with a surgical experience that was really quite terrifying. I had a lot to do with that and for that I owe you an apology. I set you up to fail and I’m so so sorry.
It wasn’t until 2 years later when my then husband and I decided to have a second baby that I began to slowly hate you. This time I had insurance and an amazing doctor and we weren’t nearly so poor. I went to the Bradley childbirth classes, I got permission for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) provided that my pregnancy was healthy, and I read more books. I was ready. Except it seems this time, you were not. I don’t know why my placenta and uterus grew irreparably together. I don’t know why I had to be on bed rest for 7 weeks of that pregnancy and then little Zyler had to be born 5 weeks premature. I don’t know why I began to hemorrhage on the operating table during my second c-section and almost lost my life. I don’t know why Zyler’s lungs were under developed or why he was born with two holes in his heart. It took over a year, but in the end those two heart holes cost sweet Zyler his life.
And I really don’t know why the only thing that ultimately saved my life was having a hysterectomy the moment after Zyler was pulled from my body. If I didn’t feel like a woman before, I certainly didn’t feel like one now.
So after I read Sarah’s letter, I understood that I’ve spent the last 14 years punishing you, attempting to make you pay for all the ways you haven’t been enough. I’ve filled you with cigarettes and far too many glasses of wine. I’ve eaten all the fried things and only exercised in fits and starts, ultimately believing you were beyond salvage. You didn’t give me the experiences and memories I so desperately wanted therefore I would give you nothing more than chastisement. And when I haven’t been punishing you, I’ve been afraid of you. You almost killed me before. How long before you will do it again? I believe we may have a slight trust issue between us.
I don’t how you turned out the way you did, little Body of mine. Did I make you this way or did God? Were you just born broken?
Then I thought of my love for Christ and His teachings. I thought of the way He loves all His children but especially the broken ones, the orphaned ones, the widowed ones, and the outcasts. I guess as far as bodies go, you’re sort of an outcast, you exist in the margins. You really are like a little engine that could though and although you couldn’t put Zyler together in a way that was whole and safe, you did give me Noah and I couldn’t be more grateful for him.
I also have an amazing new husband that I adore, a mother I cherish, and fantastic friends. None of them want you to give out, Body. They are pretty hellbent on me and you sticking around and loving on them for a good long while. I guess it’s about time I recognize that my spirit which loves them so intensely needs you, Body, to keep me here with them for as long as we are able.
So here is my commitment to you- While it is a daily struggle for me to be grateful for and kind to this very real flesh and bone body I am forced to walk around in, I have decided, in light of all my sisters hard work to be thankful for their bodies, I am ready to join in their cause. I will include you and all your capabilities in my list of daily gratitudes. I will use you more in physical ways and I will be more deliberate about what I put into you. I will speak gently and kindly when talking about you. And I will pray often and faithfully to let go of the bitterness and resentment I have felt for you until now. And above all, I will stop trying to punish you for all you didn’t provide me with and be thankful for the fruit of all that you did.
We have a lot of life left to live together, sweet girl. I’m so sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt you. I’m sorry for not advocating for you. I’m sorry for holding you accountable for things that probably weren’t your fault at all. I’m sorry I haven’t worked to help you overcome your shortcomings and make you strong(er). You are a gift from God and I should have told you that sooner.
Here’s to our next 50 years together! May they be blessed, healthy, full of love and fun!