Woman, Actually is the little corner of BuzzFeed where Mariela Summerhays writes about everything and anything to do with being a millennial mother — a woman first, mother second. Yes, you'll read about the glorious struggle and joy of child-rearing — but also about relationships, mental health and more. Because as it turns out, growing up doesn't stop at motherhood.
IT ALWAYS MAKES my heart ache a bit, when a new mother asks how I got my body back.
Not for the only reason it should, if whatever kindness and wisdom there is in me were to prevail — Sweetheart, rest, there’s already so much occupying your mind. You’re holding the universe together, love, what does the appearance of your body matter? — but for painfully vain and superficial reasons, too. It’s because the premise is inaccurate — no, I never did get my body back. I’m only now reaching the latter months of my twenties, yet the firmness and strength expected of my age left me many years ago.
And despite the well-meaning lectures I’ve given myself, the quiet admonitions in front of the mirror when dressing for the day — I can’t help it, looking as I do pains me sometimes.
My youngest is now three years old and still, I am learning how to speak kindly to my body after pregnancy.
FOR MOST OF the past decade, I have cherished my body for what it has meant to my children; their home, source of sustenance and now, the place they most like to sleep in the middle of the night. My body is perfect for holding my children. Burrowed into my lap, my daughter can rest her head on my chest and so long as the day is late, she will fall asleep peacefully.
But babies grow to be adults, who turn to friends before they do their mother, and I will still be with myself. I have to learn to love my body for what it means to me now.
There’s a hollow triumph in being told that I don’t look like I’ve had three babies, because, of course I do. Like my children dig into their costume collection, it’s just that I’ve learned how to disguise myself as the twenty-something year old I might’ve been if I had never been a mother. Stretched and deflated by years of feeding, my breasts deceptively sit where they did as an adolescent under cotton tees, thanks to sculpted bras alone. Formerly the part of my body I admired the most, they cause me the most insecurity today.
For years I would wear the strongest, most restrictive shapewear — and perhaps it gives other women confidence, but it just made me hate my reflection without it. So now my spider-web stricken waist sits undisturbed, untucked and loose, most noticeably by me. It’s unbecoming of me and I hate to share it — but I’ve begun this exercise in truthfulness, so I might as well complete it — sometimes I will anxiously move my hands across my stomach, as if in an attempt to flatten it.
As if it were simply a crease in a button-down shirt that my garment steamer didn’t quite fix. As if it were something needing fixing.
AS WITH MOSTLY everything, even without conscious thought, the way I feel about my body is changing. Motherhood is not easy — life is not easy — and my body holds me together when I most wish I could fall in between the cracks. It always has, but I’m better aware of it now. My body has been held by people I adore; eaten handmade pasta and fresh oysters, my mother’s adobo and my husband’s steak. It takes me up mountains and allows me to create this piece of writing as you read it now.
Even at twenty-one, during my first pregnancy, six months along and in the waters surrounding Thailand, my body has always loved me for more than what I am to my babies. Two boats left the bay that day, one filled with young people and music that spilled out the sides and across the waters to the one I was on — dotted with young families and elderly, quietly observing the cliff faces that surrounded us.
I wasn’t fond of my body that day. I was young — I still am young. I felt that motherhood had conspired to take me from where I was really meant to be.
But eventually the two boats anchored in the same coral reef and, though moving slowly, I swam the same crystal waters as every other person that day.
Sweetheart, rest, there’s already so much occupying your mind. You’re holding the universe together, love, what does the appearance of your body matter?