Motherhood and Body Complexes

By Isabel Cristina  (El Toque)

Photo: Jorge Ramírez.

HAVANA TIMES – A couple of days ago, my cousin came to see baby Oliver and told me: “Cousin, what’s happened to you? You look like a tank.” I burst out laughing when I heard this, but if it weren’t for me being so laidback, I would have broken down into tears at his heartless metaphor.

Pregnancy is not only the joy of a baby on its way, it is also a series of physical changes to a woman’s body. Some women suffer more changes than others postpartum, when we no longer have a beautiful belly, and our bodies don’t return to what they once were. We already know how much excessive importance is given to the aesthetics of a woman’s body in modern-day society.

The difficult tmes after birth

Pregnancy, birth and the first few months after a baby is born, are extremely difficult times for mothers. They experience emotional, hormonal, physical and spiritual changes. Even if we are well accompanied during this time, like I am, there is always a good dose of solitude. This solitude is inevitable, and is marked by the pain and deformation of the physical body. Even if a baby has a large family waiting for it with open arms, it’s our uterus that holds it. So, beyond all of the company in the world, all of the love and good vibes from your family, it is still my baby, my uterus, my vagina, my breasts, my arms, my legs, my hands, my body inevitably linked to its own.

After birth, it is even harder to understand Eastern philosophy about how the mind and body connect. So, we not only hold onto the Western view of separating body and mind, but we have two or three bodies and one mind alone, trying to understand them, guide them, master them.

Every woman is different. For example, at 32 years old and five months after my second child was born, I have three bodies in one, the one my cousin affectionately compared to a tank.

My three bodies

First of all, there’s my maternal body, which has become an extension of the baby’s body and is warm, sweet and soft. This body is like a mother ship that provides safety and pleasure, a combination of shared pee, poop, milk, drool, tears and sweat. In spite of how hard it is to keep a baby satisfied, happy and healthy, the mother ship has been designed to achieve this purpose. I am always comfortable and successful in my maternal body, seductive and infallible in my baby’s eyes.

Then, there is my sexual body, which I am less comfortable in… you could even say that it feels alien, as if it were somebody else’s body and not my own. Feeling good about your sexual body postpartum doesn’t only mean that the person you’re sharing intimacy with wants and loves you.

Regardless of whether your sexual partner is a man or woman, feeling good about your sexual body has to do with personal acceptance, with feeling beautiful and ravaging yourself. My mind hasn’t been able to strike a balance between my sexual body and my maternal body. In my mind, the wishes of these two bodies contradict each other and listening to one means not listening to the other.

Maybe some other women also have problems tuning into both these frequencies at the same time, just like I do. In this silent struggle, the maternal body almost always wins and the naked breast stops being an erotic act to become an expression of love and protection that is deeply connected to Nature itself.

The social body

Lastly, there’s my social body, the one I’ve exposed the least out of the three, thanks to COVID-19. The social body is what outside people see, the ones who don’t have access to my maternal body or my sexual body.

Luckily, I don’t pay too much attention to the exclamations from relatives, friends and neighbors: “You’ve gotten so fat!”, “You look like a big container!”, “Did you give birth already? … You’re still big…” or “Oh! You still haven’t recovered!” as if I had been hit by a hurricane.

I wonder if women who have always been big, were born victims. I have always been thin, but now I’m big. However, if my hormones had worked differently and I were still to be thin, then I would receive different comments: “You’ve gotten so thin!”, “You’re dry!”, “This kid is sucking you dry!”, “Motherhood doesn’t agree with you, it’s destroyed you!”.

Yes, because they don’t only demand you have a chubby baby, but that you look like a mother straight from a magazine. A woman has to deal with looking after her baby, the ups and downs of her ego which comes from the tasks of all three bodies, as well as public opinion.

I don’t know how much time my neighbors, family and friends think it will take for my body to get back to what it used to be. When I had my first son, I also put on weight in the first six months when I was breastfeeding 24/7, then I lost weight and began to fit back into my favorite dresses. Almost ten years later, I don’t know if my hormones will work in the same way. Or maybe they will make me put on more and more weight, just to spite my neighbors. I don’t know.

My favorite is the mother ship

In the meantime, the mother ship is my favorite body out of the three, and I have learned to enjoy and understand it, in spite of the contradictions it stirs with my sexual and social bodies. The relationship I have with my physical body is still confusing, it’s rife with pressure that comes from me, most of the time.

Luckily, Oliver’s father, my life partner, understands my body complexes as if he were a great girlfriend. Sometimes, he jokes when something doesn’t fit me, he says “my blue little fat lady” and he always waits for a sign to come near my sexual body. For my youngest son and his 9-year-old brother, mama is everything. Mama is body, mind and soul, all at the same time. Mama is mama.

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