Last night, I was lying in my bed, and my 5 month old daughter lay next to me asleep. I could smell her sweet fuzzy head and milk breath, and I was reveling in how very much I love her, like I always do. Out of habit from all those recent months of pregnancy, I slid my hand down my side and rested it on my belly. So many times I had done that, back when she was still living inside me, when touching my belly felt like a way I could connect with her. Resting my hand on my belly could be a sweet reminder of that special time when I was pregnant with her. But it’s not.
Ever since her birth (a beautiful, powerful, amazing birth), the realization that my hand is resting on my belly always inspires the same jarring reaction in me. Disgust. And shame. When my hand feels the soft flesh of my belly, still somewhat round and squishy and laced with stretch marks I can trace with my finger, a voice in my head shouts, “Look how gross you’ve become! What happened to your figure? What’s wrong with you, still so round and flabby all these months after the birth?” And in an instant, I yank my hand off my belly. As if by withdrawing my affection, I can erase this body I’ve come to inhabit. If I can’t feel it, it’s almost like it’s not there. And then, I nudge my mind off in another direction, to think about something else. Anything else. I don’t want to think about this body. I don’t want to think about how having this body makes me feel.
But last night, a different thing happened. I happened to notice what I was doing. I watched myself rest my hand on my soft, mama belly, and I heard the voice in my head cursing that belly and that body. And this time, instead of finishing the beating and marching off to another thought, I sat with it for a minute. For just long enough to think about her. My body. And I imagined her as her own separate being.
What if she was, like, a person? Who would she be to me? Would she be someone who I’d criticize and beat up? Who I’d call disgusting and worthless and ugly? Who I would hate and want to erase?
Who she’d be is this: She’d be the person who was with me every day of my life. Who carried me through every hardest thing I’d ever been through. Who stood by me even when I neglected or abused her. She’d be the person who gave me every pleasure I’d ever experienced. And with my every discomfort, she’d warned me of things that needed attention or change. She’d be the person who I owed all credit for my every accomplishment. And she would be the one who gave me my four, strong, beautiful, brilliant daughters. She literally made them. She birthed them. She fed them and protected them. I’d owe my loves to her. I’d owe my life to her.
And now I’m going to sit here berating and degrading her, because she doesn’t fit into some arbitrary standard of physical beauty? How dare I! If she was a person, who had done all that for me, I would never, never never never, treat her like that.
She is a person. And I’m never going to talk to her like that again.