I open the drawer and lightly touch the smooth black lace, running it through my fingertips. It’s been six weeks. I should feel ready for this. I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t even wait six weeks. Why am I so scared?
Turning to look in the mirror, I hold the scrap of lace up against me. It’s surprising how unchanged I look. How can you go through something so monumental and manage to look the same, aside from a softer belly and a few stretch marks?
In the weeks after my son’s birth, I was applauded for losing the baby weight so quickly. Each time someone commented, there was a pool of guilt in my stomach for feeling the way I did about my body. For hating it. “I’d kill to look like you do right after having a baby. I was huge,” a friend said. Yeah, but were you in pain every time moved? Were you scared to pick up your toddler for fear of ripping stitches open? Did you lie awake at night with your body aching and your mind racing like you just barely survived a car crash? I forced a smile, but my mouth refused to thank her for the compliment.
I used to think the most important thing about my body was how it looked. That was before I realized how fragile it was, before I had considered all of the ways it could fail me. An insufficient cervix that could have cost my baby his life, a pelvic floor torn apart and ruined. It makes me feel stupid, how much time I spent worrying about how I looked. It’s a luxury to think that the most important thing your body has to do is look pleasing to the eye. It means taking for granted all the precarious ways that your skin and organs and muscles and bones are holding everything together.
I’ve read a million articles about learning to love your postpartum body. Each one discusses extra pounds, stretch marks, sagging breasts. None of them explained how to walk to the park without obsessing about the scar tissue rubbing between your legs. The heaviness of organs that have shifted out of place. The unnerving discomfort of no longer feeling at home in your own skin. The heartbreaking fear that you’ll never feel normal again. The nagging voice in your head telling you this birth will be a permanent scar on both body and mind.
I grew accustomed to that voice, the one silently cursing my body while I went about my day, but today it hit me. How can I hate my body when it held onto my baby? I was told I could go into labor any day from twenty weeks on, and it provided a home for my baby until the day before my due date. My body didn’t fail me, it’s the hero of this story. And that day, the day that I’ve been saying destroyed my body? It was the same day my son came into this world. His birth day. The day God entrusted him to me, to love and care for and nurture with this body I’ve been calling broken. Isn’t all of that bigger than this body of mine, this sack of bones and skin that will eventually turn to dust?
My husband says he doesn’t see me any differently, and thanks to expertly done stitches, he probably won’t notice a change. But there’s something about being torn apart and stitched back together that makes me feel ruined.
This is all new to me. I’ve always been confident. After going through puberty, I quickly got used to getting attention from boys. I took pride in the lingering glances I received. The thing is, it wasn’t me they were interested in. I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t me they actually saw. It was makeup, and hair, and clothing, and a body shape that our society deemed admirable. Until recently, it’s felt like no one has truly seen me. I showed people what I wanted them to see, nothing more. Even the people closest to me.
Once, when I was dating my husband, I came down with a terrible cold. He called and said he wanted to visit me and make sure I was okay. As soon as I hung up the phone, I jumped out of bed and put on a full face of makeup. Natural makeup, of course. I wouldn’t want him to think I had put makeup on just for him. That would have been ridiculous, right?
As a teenager, I never put my head under water when I swam at the lake with friends. I told everyone I was scared of water. I was actually scared the boys would see me with less-than-perfect hair .
Everyone in my life knows me as the girl who doesn’t cry. But really? I just don’t cry in front of people.
But this birth, it’s forced me to show my husband a side of myself that I never wanted him to see. The crying, bleeding, complaining, hurting side of me. The side of me that couldn’t even walk because of the pain. Don’t even get me started on the lack of makeup, that was the least of it.
Somewhere along the way, I grew tethered to the idea that vulnerability meant weakness, and sympathy was just another word for pity. I heard too many men complain about the annoyance of dealing with “emotional women.” A male friend once told me he would never date a mutual friend because of how emotional she was. He used the word complicated. “Who would want to deal with all that?” he asked. It stuck with me. To be admired, I had to make things look easy. I handled whatever life threw at me, and I did it with a smile on my face and perfectly applied eye-makeup. For years, I thought my fears, struggles, and feelings would be an annoyance to the people around me, so I kept them inside. I didn’t understand that good men, men like my husband, want to know their wife to the depths of her being. They want the good, the bad, and the complicated. I know that now, but it’s still a struggle to convince myself some days.
The night after he was born, our son developed a small infection and was brought to the NICU. (He was fine, thanks to the fast-acting doctors and nurses.) In the middle of the night, my husband pushed me down the long, winding, painfully bright hallways of the hospital in a wheelchair to nurse our baby. I still had a catheter because I couldn’t walk to the bathroom. I hadn’t slept in days, and my eyes were so swollen from three hours of pushing that it looked like I had two black eyes. It was one of the first times in my life that I couldn’t put an optimistic twist on an experience. I had always been known for my cheerful disposition and positivity. I was supposed to be a force of encouragement, saying things like, “well, at least he’s here. The antibiotics are already helping. He’s going to be okay, and I’m fine. Time heals all.” But I felt beyond healing.
I couldn’t remember what it was like to not feel pain, and I just didn’t have the energy to pretend.
Birth exposes you in ways you’re not expecting, and I don’t just mean the most private areas of your body, which are exposed to a room full of medical professionals. It exposes your heart, too. Never before have I been so incapable of hiding my innermost feelings; the love for my newborn son, the fear for my ruined body, the awareness of the fragility of life. My husband saw me at my weakest, in every possible way. Now, six weeks later, I feel exposed. Vulnerable. Naked. What if this experience has completely changed how he feels about me?
My doctor gave me the green light to resume normal activity. I’m healed, she says. But here I am, sitting at a green light, frozen in place. Green light means go, but I’m scared to move forward.
I take a step closer to the mirror, then shimmy out of my yoga pants and tank top, slipping on the black lace lingerie. Maybe he doesn’t see me the same way. But it’s possible that what he says is true, and after all this, he loves me even more. I want so desperately to trust him and let his reassurances drown out the self-deprecating voice in my head.
God had to literally knock me off my feet for me to finally let someone see me completely. All I want to do right now is build my walls back up, but I won’t. Isn’t this the whole idea of marriage? Truly seeing someone and loving them anyway? And truly letting yourself be seen and letting yourself be loved?
Our bedroom door quietly creaks open. I turn toward my husband, my heart racing with fear and anticipation and everything in between. Within seconds, he’s crossed the room, filling the space between us.
His kiss tells me more than words possibly could.
Guest post written anonymously by C.D.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.