Postpartum Bodies

I’m tired. Three months with these twins and I am still in survival mode most of the time. I’m doing okay. But I’m tired.

I want to talk about the fact that most conversations on postpartum bodies are strictly about weight loss and why that’s complete utter crap and a major reduction of a complex situation. Look, I have only my own experience with two postpartum periods, but come on, is baby weight really all that most people are worried about? I am lucky in a big way — I didn’t gain a lot in either pregnancy and lost my pregnancy weight very quickly, like by the time I got home, so I concede that I can’t speak to how others feel about wanting to lose pregnancy weight. But I also can’t be the only person to experience pelvic and back pain, to have abdominal weakness and pain from diastasis recti, to have such tense back muscles that lying flat hurts so much it steals my breath. I’m so sick of the conversation being about how postpartum bodies look. Can’t we talk about how they feel?

Right now, I feel weak. I feel frustrated that the very things I must do to care for my kids are the things making my abdominal separation worse — lifting weight, twisting, hunching, sitting, carrying weight on my front. I can’t stop holding and feeding my babies in order to heal my body. If I were healed, I could hold them longer and care for them better.

I’m angry that the DR was likely caused by having a twin pregnancy. I’m angry that my body is doubly taxed with twice as much weight to carry as I care for twin infants. Anger is stupid and useless, but I’m tired, and anger is there.

I just want a massage, free chiro, something. I want to feel better. Every time someone tells me I look great — skinnier — I try to appreciate the compliment, but I feel so physically taxed that my appearance seems so trivial. I want to laugh at the absurdity of the implication that I should be, what, proud? I lost weight because I literally could not eat enough calories to keep up with my babies. Should I feel like I achieved something? I don’t.

I just feel tired, tense, achy, weak, in pain.

Why do we have to label excess in our bodies? Muffin top, mummy tummy, thigh gap, etc. I have been reading about healing my DR, and everywhere I look, I’m told I have mummy tummy. My injured stomach is now a cutesy, rhymey label, generic, cliche even. It’s reduced to A Problem Area. It’s made a point of surface level vanity, a simple unappealing bit of excess, a morsel of shame. But the term conflates round, post-baby stomachs so there’s no differentiation between a bit of extra weight and a separation in the abdominal wall. One you can address with diet and exercise or with spandex or just, I don’t know, not worry about for awhile; the other requires splints, rest, exercises, sometimes surgery. I’m not saying that carrying more weight than you like is a silly non-issue. I’m saying that the labeling of our “problem” body parts is unhelpful at best and, on a really crappy day, just plain mean. I don’t have mummy tummy. I have a stomach that is part of my body. It’s both a bigger and smaller issue than a label implies.

The one thing I’m proud my body is doing is making plenty of milk. Even that isn’t something I’ve necessarily “earned.” Yes, I’ve put in the extensive time it takes to exclusively breastfeed twins, so I’ve sort of earned it, but I’m also just a person whose body lactates with minimal issues. Not everyone is so lucky.

Anyway, I thought the first time around, when I was thinner but also less mobile and in more pain, that I was just being a brat to be bothered by compliments about my body. But now I know there was a good reason: what mattered most to me was how I moved and felt, not how I looked. I felt hindered. I wanted someone to acknowledge that more had changed than my shape, and the changes were at times debilitating.

Some parts of my body, especially after twins, will never be the way they were. Sometimes, that’s hard to accept. But that’s what I want to talk about. The physical. My body how I live in it.

As Soon As This Passes

imageIn the two weeks since my mom moved out, I’ve become quickly reacquainted with the desperation, the rage, the smothering futility of motherhood. It’s back with a vengeance. The first time, I had one small baby to not screw up while I struggled to handle my shit. This time, it’s two babies with ever-competing needs and a little boy who has reached the age where he will remember the shitshow of his mother trying to get through the day without screaming expletives in everyone’s crying faces.

There is so, so much crying.

My toddler hit our mother’s helper in the face last week because she wanted to wipe spaghetti sauce off his mouth. It started with him evading her reach and knocking things off the table, then progressed to him throwing toys and then the wet paper towel under the couch. When she bent to get it back, he smacked her, hard. I was nursing both babies when it happened, so I had to hand them safely off to her, unbuckle out of my large nursing pillow, and take him back to his room. I wanted to hug him and tell him I was sorry that he’s had so little of me lately, that there is always so much noise and having to wait. I wanted the mother’s helper to leave because I was embarrassed and I was angry and I didn’t want to look like I didn’t discipline my child and I didn’t want to discipline him in any of the ways that look like traditional discipline. I wanted him to cry in my arms until he felt better. Instead, I talked to him about mistakes and how our frustrations can get the best of us. I talked about how to maintain friendships by making amends when we’ve hurt others. I did not want to make him say he was sorry, but we got there anyway because a part of me needed to show this young woman that my child hasn’t been raised by wolves. I felt sick as I told him that an apology would help her feel better — I felt sick because he also didn’t feel good. It was why he hit her.

A few days before the hit, in his enthusiasm to sleep in bed with Mom and Dad and the babies (because he started calling our room Mom and Dad and The Girls’, like we all got to be together and he was excluded), he accidentally kneed Caroline in the head and hurt her. I held Caroline close to my chest. Theo buried his head into the bed and cried next to me, and I told him his sister was okay, told him he’d only made a mistake. When they both stopped crying I googled infant head injury.

When both girls cry at the same time, I put them in the twin carrier and pace around the house singing made up songs about how we can walk and sing and wear pink and green and listen to 1D and sometimes sleep. Sometimes, when both girls cry, Theo lets out an ear-piercing scream. Other times, he tries to soothe them by shouting the alphabet song over them. Sometimes, I suck in a powerful breath to expel a good, hard STOP FUCKING CRYING, but I swallow it down instead because they are babies. They’re just babies. The breath burns through my chest until it doesn’t.

I curse a lot more when Josh is home. It’s immature, but I think I just need someone to see my frustration. It’s the tree falling in the woods. When he’s not here to see it, there’s not much point.

When I get to take Theo grocery shopping, just the two of us, he likes to listen to “Uptown Funk.” I tried this week to expand his taste a little, and every single song I played, he shouted over it from the back seat, “Uptown funk you uuuuuuuup.”

When I slip up and mutter a harsh word, he says, “Funk? Funk you up, Mom?”

He would prefer, he tells me (when I’m alone with the three of them), all diplomacy and innocence, to leave the girls at home this time. “Sorry, buddy. CPS would have a problem with that.”

I haven’t really been alone these two weeks. A friend, my sister-in-law, my aunt and cousin, my in-laws have come over and kept us company, done cleaning. I’ve looked forward to their arrival, but I’ve also been exhausted by extra voices in the house, Theo getting over-excited, not having privacy I didn’t know I wanted. If the babies are asleep when someone else is here, it feels like a waste of their help because I can manage fine when they’re asleep; I need someone when they’re both crying. If the babies are not asleep, I can’t help wondering if they would be if it were quieter.

I have a friend with a toddler and a baby the same age as the girls. I want desperately to see her. She’s my closest mom friend here. But I worry about Theo not wanting to share his toys with her daughter. I worry that three babies and two toddlers are too much for us to handle and she will regret coming over or I will. I want to have a nice, long talk with her like we used to, and I’m afraid we won’t be able to, and that I will miss it even more if we try and fail.

I took Theo to the pool last week, and some older kids tried to take his Hot Wheels. They asked first, but it was more to initiate play than to get permission. I stood over all the kids and expanded on his meek no: “He doesn’t want to share right now.” A girl grabbed one and dove under the water, and when she came up, I said, “Please give us the car back. He doesn’t want to share.” She told me she didn’t have a car. She squeezed it tighter in her hand and tucked it into her swimsuit. I wasn’t going to grab it from her suit. I had a vision of what that scene might look like. But damn it, this kid, I wanted to shake her. I wanted to scream, “He doesn’t get what he wants all day, all week. He doesn’t have to share with you!” The other kids were quick to point out the injustice of her takng the toy without permission. They also took advantage of the distraction and said, “Can we play?” and slowly took the other cars while Theo watched them. They left one for him. He quickly joined in racing his car with the others, and he seemed to have a good time, so I let it go. But as soon as the first girl pulled the car back out, I grabbed it from her hands and said, “You didn’t ask.”

Josh and I both used to say, when the girls screamed at night, “I don’t like our babies.” If they had a good day, though, and I was feeling closer to them, and he said it, I felt differently about it. Like he didn’t like our life, our family. “I hope you like our babies soon,” I said once. It wasn’t fair. I complain about them far more than he does.

I still look at my life sometimes and think, Why on earth do I have twins?

When they both cry, I want to take them outside because babies are often soothed by going outside. But it’s way too hot to take babies outside right now. When they both cry, I want to get out of the house, so I take all the kids to Target, but to get there, I have to get three children into car seats. Sometimes first I have to feed both babies and burp them and change their diapers or their clothes. I dread the babies outgrowing their carrier (soon) because then how will I leave the house ever again?

When either of the babies cries, when either one starts to fuss, when I let out a heavy sigh, when my clipped tone reveals even a hint of impatience, Theo asks, “Are you okay, Mom?”

Today, I said, “No, right now I’m not okay. I’m frustrated because I wanted to read this book with you but this stupid baby won’t let me.”

This stupid baby.

There are so many issues with what I said and how I said it I won’t even bother to dissect that one.

All day, he asks me if I’m okay, if I’m fine. And I often tell him, of course, Mommy’s fine. Nothing’s wrong. Often, nothing is very wrong. He misinterprets a sigh, or he anticipates that a fussing baby will upset me though it doesn’t always.

Are you okay?

Are you fine?

Are you all right?

These are the questions I am always asking him, analyzing his every action and change in tone. Are you feeling frustrated? Do you feel overwhelmed?

And so all day we are checking back and forth, gauging the other’s mood, acknowledging the tension as it coils in the other with each passing hour.

Do you need to cry? It’s okay to cry.

I have been lamenting to those close to me that Theo is a mess. I think I’ve been talking about myself.

When I first researched postpartum depression, when Theo was a baby, nearly every source emphasized that a mother’s health was important because a happy mother was necessary for a happy baby. So I gave him exaggerated smiles and sang the same songs again and again. It was easy to fake happiness for a baby.

I am trying so very hard to be a good mother to all my kids, to be a healthy mother — for real — and this time I have a little mirror, keeping me in check, showing me where my weak points are. He sees me much more clearly now. And this time, he’ll remember.

When he asks if everything’s okay, I won’t lie. He knows it’s a lie. Instead, I try to say, “I’m overwhelmed right now, but as soon as this passes, and it will, I’m going to be fine.”

This Kind of Mother

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My husband just left for work. My mother is moving home today, back to California, which may as well be the moon. I’m sitting in bed in the dark with one of my twins asleep in my lap trying to give myself a pep talk, but I am not very good at giving myself pep talks.

I don’t usually say things like, “What kind of mother does x?” Still, I turn that judgmental little phrase on myself sometimes.

What kind of mother is afraid to be alone with her kids?

The answer is laced through the question. I don’t have to spell it out.

I’ve been here before, the day my mother moved away and my husband went to work and I was alone, truly alone for the first time, with my baby. He was probably ten weeks old. I had never been alone with him longer than a few hours for TEN weeks.

Here we are at about nine weeks with my twins, and I have never been alone with them at all. I have been by myself nursing them while my husband is unavailable in the shower. I have been inside with them while my mom is outside playing with my toddler. I have gotten the babies out of the bedroom and into the living room by myself, mainly just to prove that I could because I knew today was coming. But I have never been at my house with no other adults here, mothering my two infants and toddler.

I am terrified.

I’m not afraid I will hurt any of us. This isn’t a cry for that kind of help. But I am battening down the hatches and watching the day descend upon me too quickly, too slowly.

What am I afraid of? I’m not afraid of them dying or being injured. I’m afraid of helplessness, choicelessness, having my hands tied. I’m afraid of the many hours in a day. I’m afraid they will all cry, and I won’t have enough arms, and their need will be bigger than I ever could be. This is not life and death, but it is. Because I’m the kind of mother who cannot accept the inherent imbalance of motherhood. I will always want to give my kids all that they need, and they will always need more than I have.

There are parents who know from day one that they can handle their babies. First baby, tenth baby — it doesn’t matter. They just know, or at least they fake it really well, that they have a job to do and they are capable of that job. I envy that.

When this day came the first time, I cried over my baby and held him on the couch all day. Every time he cried, I offered my breast, and he nursed back to sleep, or at least back to quiet.

I haven’t figured out how to pick up two babies at once. I can put one on the bed and go get the other and lift them one at a time into my lap or onto a nursing pillow, but it’s not quick, and once they’re there, I am stuck under them. The process for getting them to another safe place is also slow. I haven’t mastered burping two babies at once. They writhe and fuss, and the only thing I can do is put one down. But not feeding and burping them together also has its drawbacks. Once I have one at the breast, I can’t do much for the other one. A clock starts ticking, counting the time I am with one and not the other, comforting and neglecting, soothing and abandoning.

And this is just two of them. There is still a third child. His needs aren’t as urgent, usually, but he has them.

There is a version of things where I am enough. It’s a version where one or two or three kids are crying at the same time, and maybe I am crying, and all I can do is hold one, pat another, tell the third I am sorry, I know this is awful, I’m so sorry. It’s not pretty, and it’s completely exhausting. And somehow, I know, even this will get us through the day. It won’t be nearly enough, but it will be enough. I will always want to be better, but I will be enough.

The day is here, heavy. On the other side, I will be the kind of mother who has taken care of her kids alone. It seems a little silly that it’s taken nine weeks, that I’m still afraid, that this is such a dramatic milestone. But there it is. Wish me luck.

Short and Simple

For most of my pregnancy, I was unable to interact as closely with my son. For a while, I would tell him, “I’m sorry. Mommy can’t play on the floor. Mommy is too pregnant.” It broke my heart after more than two years of it being him and me in a daily love fest of affection and touch and eye contact and laughter and dance parties and books… And my heart broke all over as he stopped asking for me. We have probably hugged less than twenty times in the past several months. I haven’t lain beside him to help him fall asleep in ages. He doesn’t even want me to hold him, to soothe him when he’s hurt. It has been hard.

But tonight I helped him get his jammies on. Tonight I brushed his teeth. We pratfalled on his bed. We read a book. Tonight, for the first time in probably seven months, I turned his light off, crawled into bed beside him, and told him stories about race cars, monster trucks, and a little green tractor, and I listened to his breathing get deeper, and I pulled his blanket over his arm and whispered, “Good night. I love you.”

It was everything.