My Body, Herself

I remember feeling the need to blow off some steam during pregnancy and since soothing myself with a glass of wine was not an option I turned mostly to exercise.  When I was worried about not knowing enough about childbirth or childcare I would turn on a pregnancy or mom-based podcast and run or walk around the neighborhood.  Fear of not being strong enough to get through labor was soothed by strength training.  When I needed to figure out how exactly to move about and get comfortable in my ever changing body I turned to yoga.
Once I learned we were having a daughter I imagined how lovely it would be to teach her how to be comfortable in her own skin since I spent majority of the first three decades of my life uncomfortable in my own. I wanted her to learn to move because it feels good, not because it burns calories. I looked forward to teaching her about nourishing and taking care of her body because it took me so long to be able to do that for myself.
I’ll admit I started down the path of exercise and nutrition not because I wanted to be healthier but because I wanted to be skinnier. Growing up as a dancer with short legs and a naturally curvy body I was never the skinniest girl in the room. In college I envied the handful of girls in my program who were able to maintain a slim physique while eating burgers and drinking beer. I found it easiest to maintain a weight I could live with by existing on microwaved egg whites, saltines, lots of coffee, and consuming Splenda like it was its own food group. I went to the gym every day not because I enjoyed how it felt but because I wanted to look good in a leotard. Weight loss was the main goal, stress relief and strength building were just consolation prizes. Life continued much in the same way when I moved to New York after college but somewhere along the way I had a paradigm shift. I began focusing on exercising to be strong and healthy rather than skinny. I began eating in ways that gave me energy and nourished my body rather than starved it. This continued in Chicago as I dove further into my career in the fitness industry and in many ways still continues today.
When I became pregnant the worry that I wouldn’t be able to handle the physical changes that came along with it was always in the back of my mind. What worried me most was the loss of control. No matter how healthy I ate or how much activity I performed my weight would still be on an upward trend for nine months. At the beginning of the first trimester I read a book called “Does this Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat” to come to terms with these changes but after a while I became less concerned about my weight. The awe for what was happening inside my body took over and knowing that I was nourishing my growing daughter with every bite I took made eating more satisfying (at least after the first trimester when most things made me want to throw up). My appreciation for what exercise could accomplish grew once weight loss was completely taken out of the equation. It became another way of taking care of and connecting with my daughter and also offered a release when stress got the best of me.
In yoga the asanas exist to burn off energy and make the body strong and flexible so one can sit comfortably in meditation for longer periods of time. In a larger sense movement of any kind allows us to burn off stress and tension to be able to sit more comfortably with whatever is going on. Never have I experienced this more strongly than in the weeks since Eve’s death. The particular pain of a losing a baby has left me with an astonishing variety of emotions to work through, burn off, and eventually learn to sit with. My fight or flight response has been so strong and constant that without exercise I think I would internally combust and turn into a giant puddle of cortisol. My relationship with my body has become infinitely more complex. On one hand I am amazed at its ability to grow a baby and bounce back from a strange and painful labor and delivery process. On the other hand I am angry because the umbilical cord that my body created to lovingly nourish my daughter and give her life killed her in the end. The illusion I had of complete control over this body I inhabit has increasingly diminished. The most I can hope for is to be at peace with it.
At first I thought it an unbelievably cruel twist of fate to be left with a postpartum body and no baby. Was it punishment for the years I spent obsessing over every calorie and movement of the scale? Though I still find it difficult I now view it as a challenge instead of a punishment. It is the ultimate test of being comfortable in my own skin. It is forcing me to relinquish control. It is exactly what I wanted to teach Eve had she been able to inhabit her body outside of the space of my womb. It is what she is now teaching me instead.
When we returned home from the hospital, amidst all the painful planning that involved funeral homes and cemeteries and in the ultimate act of love, my husband found time to plan an anniversary trip to the island where we honeymooned. It was a strange juxtaposition, my postpartum body against the Caribbean beach, but as I glanced down at my belly I was surprised to find the usual shame was replaced by a strange sense of pride. My not yet faded vena cava was like a sign reading “Eve Was Here” and for that moment I was at peace with my imperfections.
I think about who Eve would have grown up to be every single day. I look to the memory of her little body for clues. There are so few things I know…she had a lot of curly dark hair, was on the bigger side and tall for infant standards, and had exceptionally large feet. Would she have wished for her dark curly hair to be straight and blonde? Would she have preferred to be shorter or have a smaller shoe size? I hope she would have seen herself through the eyes of her mom and dad; a perfect, heart-achingly beautiful little girl. I wish I could have had the chance to teach her how to love her body but the roles have been reversed. Every deep yogic breath, every delicious stretch, every powerful leap and bound is infused with the essence of Eve. This body I inhabit was her home and out of respect for her I will take care of it, aching empty arms and all.