This morning, I am sitting next to my daughter on our living room floor. She is stretched out on a furry blanket, on top of our yoga mat. She fell asleep after watching my modified Sun Salutations. Her breath flows as naturally as I tried to make my own flow, belly rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation. Each time she stirs, I steady her breath with the flat of my palm against her stomach.
Weeks after our birth, I am trying to regain my joy in movement. I have never been a happy exerciser; I prefer reading and movies to the gym. But I love pushing my body to exhaustion, accomplishing a stretch that I never could do before. Today, I was able to complete the Dolphin, even lifting each leg in turn, as the video instructed. I could feel my abdominal muscles, what’s left of them anyway, tremble with each breath.
I started my pregnancy with the greatest intentions of remaining active for the duration. I walked, I did Zumba and yoga as much as I could. Then, there came a point where I couldn’t. Zumba left me breathless too early. I became too frustrated with the inflexibility of my new pregnant body for yoga. That left only walking for me, on my lunch hours and after dinner. Late in my second and all through my third trimester, long walks became too tiring for me as well. I needed breaks in between, either to pee or rest (often both).
I started my pregnancy loving my pregnant body. I loved the firm little belly that developed early on. I loved watching it grow and swell. Eventually, I loved watching how it twitched and jiggled with each kick. I felt full and sexy and alive. Then, again in the third trimester, I stopped feeling beautiful. I felt swollen and heavy, ungraceful and slow. Her kicks and turns were now painful. I counted the days until I could have my body back.
Of course, I didn’t know that I would never have that body back, that first body I had before my pregnancy. My hips would never be that narrow again, my feet would hold on to that extra half size they gained. I miss that smaller, more compact version of myself. But, this is my new body, the heavy breasts that feed my daughter, the soft belly that serves as a rest for her back.
There are things I love about my new body. I love how she can kick against the cushion of my stomach and try to push off, like a swimmer. I love that I can feed her, that I can carry her for hours on end in my arms or in a wrap and not tire. I love that she likes to swat at my hair, to rest her hand on my cheek when she sleeps. I love that I am one of the places that she feels safe, warm and loved.
I could also list all of the things that I hate about my new body. I hate my hunger, which is just as strong as when I was pregnant. I hate my scar tissue, which still feels too new to test. I hate that it is bigger, differently shaped than my previous body. But this is not what I want to teach my daughter. I have enough of my own issues around bodies that I don’t want to pass on to her.
I want her to know what my body, what her body can accomplish. I want her to know that our bodies are strong enough to carry, birth, feed and carry (again) a child. I want her to know that our bodies can stretch and turn and jump, past soreness and discomfort, into something that feels like flight. I want her to learn all this, so I do yoga stretches above her, until she falls soundly asleep.