Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in an embody love workshop (if you want to learn more, you can go here: http://embodylovemovement.org), the idea of which is to empower women to accept themselves for exactly who they are and what their bodies are; it essentially works toward breaking down the insiduousness of microagressions and patriarchal messages of corporeal oppression by giving women the knowledge to choose when, how, and if they are participants (e.g. choosing to filter our photos, choosing to wax our nether regions, choosing to wear makeup every day, etc.). Because it is okay to participate but doing so with cognizance is different than doing so with the uninformed hope of attaining some unattainable ideal. One path is empowering, the other is born of shame.
I mention the workshop as a preface to a post on motherhood and miscarriage because it, a) infiltrated my dreams last night and, b) is currently influencing the way I view mother’s day (which is today in the US). Let me try to explain the connection a bit. Last night, instead of dreaming the same nightmare narrative whereby I am chased by one of several different men and I can’t get away (or the one where I am trapped by my rapist and can’t do anything but lie there), I dreamt, instead, that I had some agency in the narrative. It was the first time I could fight back in the dream. Coincidentally, it was also the first time I became a mom in the dream (and I was happy) which leads to the Mother’s Day correlation.
After I was raped (IRL), I became pregnant. Shortly after finding out, or coming to terms with the truth, I miscarried. In those moments, I beat myself up because I had such mixed feelings about the pregnancy and loss. On one hand, I thought it could have been another chance at motherhood (another chance to prove my body’s worth) and on the other hand, I feared that I wouldn’t have been able to love a baby conceived in such a way. I knew the baby was innocent but I feared he/she would remind me of my rapist, of my rape; I thought motherhood in that way would have been too painful. In the days after I found out I was pregnant I seriously grappled with the choice to abort. I never made the decision because my body decided for me, as it often does. I inevitably resigned myself to the fact that none of it mattered because my body was an epic failure…again. Thus, the connection between the embody love workshop and Mother’s day. Today is a day that many women struggle with because society has more than one narrative about the female body. And one of the more painful narratives for some of us is the story it tells about pregnancy. I am hoping that this blog, in some way, can help with shifting that narrative at least a little bit.
The story western society tells about motherhood is one that is deeply entangled with the narrative society tells about bodies. And it is a complicated one. There are certain things that are suddenly “okay” after a woman gives birth (but only for a limited time): stretch marks, tummy squish, etc. For a while, the things we are taught to hate ourselves for are the things we are told make our bodies beautiful… but only if our bodies successfully carry out the task of growing another human; otherwise, society is all, “how could you let yourself go?” Thanks, Society. So, what does this say for the women who have been pregnant, have acquired the signs, but have never “become mothers”? How does society expect us to talk to ourselves after something that is already so painful? I will tell you, society does not help with that self-talk and pain. Given my dream last night, given the change of narrative, I can’t help but think about these implications.
When I was 17 and pregnant for the first time, I spent ages after that miscarriage beating myself up, two-fold. I beat myself up because I suddenly had this tummy:
And, I suddenly had these stretch marks which would have been considered a badge of honor had I successfully carried my daughter to term:
But, because I didn’t carry her for 9 months (or more), that part of the story is erased. I am an almost mother, and society silences those stories. Society doesn’t want the sad stories of women who almost had babies, so we shove them down and quietly swallow our shame. This is where the second form of beating myself up comes in because I didn’t know my struggle was a common struggle. I beat myself up because I failed my baby. I was dead set that I must have done something wrong. I thought I caused my miscarriage. I thought I failed my daughter before I even had her. I thought my body was literally made for the purpose of procreation (thank you southern Baptist upbringing) and I couldn’t even do that right. How could I have known otherwise when society was so dead set on only showing me stories of women who had these beautiful babies to show for their pregnancies and changed bodies? Can you see where this was leading? I hated my body and my self in every way possible. I was “ugly” and I had nothing to show for it. My body, to me, became a reminder of my ineptitude.
One of the things said at the workshop yesterday that stuck with me, that I think is important to remember, was about how much effort we put into (or don’t put into) taking care of something we hate. If we hate our bodies, we don’t take care of them. And if there is one thing I know with complete certainty, it is that our bodies deserve our care and love and admiration. Whether your body, like mine, could never quite make it to 9 months of pregnancy. Or, whether your body has never been through pregnancy. Or, whether you’ve had multiple successful pregnancies. Your body deserves care. It deserves your attention. To Hell with what society says. Stretch marks are not ugly with a caveat. They are simply not ugly. They are a normal thing that bodies do. Your belly is not gross. Your cellulite does not make you less attractive. Your body hair doesn’t make you less deserving of a healthy sex life. Society doesn’t get to tell us what makes us “less than.” Society doesn’t get to decide when and how to change the narrative on our bodies. They’re ours. We own them. We live in them. It has taken me years to realize that I am not less than because of how I got my stretch marks. It has taken me years to stop seeing my body as a failure. It has taken me years to realize that love and care do go hand-in-hand. And I am only just realizing my body does deserve to be cared for, same as yours.
Wherever you are on your journey, however you see your body today, remember this: you are alive for a greater purpose. Society would have us believe that purpose is motherhood (yes, still, even in 2018). But, for some of us, that won’t be our purpose. Our bodies are still strong, remarkable, and resilient. Whatever your purpose in life (whatever way you make a difference), know that your body and the narrative you’re told about it (the narrative you might tell yourself), does not have to be one that makes you less than. We have a choice.
Think of how remarkable it is that your body perseveres no matter how much trauma or strain it’s been through. Think of how remarkable it is that your body continues to be a part of love, even after heartbreaks. Think of how remarkable it is that your body is home to a freaking glorious supercomputer brain. Think of all the amazing words you’ve said or typed or written that have touched someone else’s life; they come from your brain. They came from your body. Think of the hugs you’ve given that have warmed someone else’s heart. Think of the times you’ve cried tears in solidarity with someone else who was in pain; that is your bodies power to empathize. Think of the times when your smile ignited something in someone else. Think of the times when you used your body to help someone move or carry their groceries or whatever it was that you helped them do, in those moments your body existed for the good of someone else. And not because someone else chose that for your body but because you did. There are so many people, so many things out to take away the choice we have over our bodies. Sometimes we don’t have the power or the ability to fight against that but we do have power in the after, in the now.
Our bodies are not mere objects; they don’t just exist to be pretty. We don’t just exist to be pretty. We are not all meant to make sacrifices with our bodies. No matter what your story is, I hope today you will spend a little time offering yourself some acceptance and forgiveness. Offer yourself the love you’ve always wanted and needed, you deserve it. Be the amazing you that you were always meant to be.