On The Shelf

When I was pregnant with Judah, I really resented the idea that women became 'boring' once they were mothers. That you had to live a life of complete sacrifice to your child, giving up your self-esteem and your dreams. All you would be able to talk about was nappies and weaning. The adverts and magazine articles about getting your body BACK, as if the way it was now was somehow unacceptable and women are desperate to return to their pre-lifegiving state. The way the word MILF was bandied around as something exceptional - the idea that no man could find a postbaby body sexual.

A mother who would cut off all her hair to stop the baby pulling, put her party clothes away, get down to the serious work of childrearing. All those hopes and dreams put up on some distant shelf along with self-image. That a mother's job was now to sit quietly in the corner and no longer show an interest in their lives or development. The only reprieve a 'night out' or escape from your children to re-enact past glories. I won't deny that most days I went around with a whiff of baby vomit. Motherhood is not glamorous. It is hard, unrelenting work but do you know what? It is freeing too.

I soon found that I didn't want my pre-baby body. Those pale white breasts that to me had no purpose, just hung there like random bits of flesh. The fact that my body before had looked static, almost too maidenly, uncomfortable. It had never felt like a true home, more like a costume that I was trying on. I'd wear too much makeup and sweat it off my face, always scared of being caught without it. I obsessed over every bite I put in my mouth, mentally calorie counting and sometimes going through weeks of personal deprivation to achieve some dreamy ideal I thought I had to be. I consumed women's magazines with the free beauty samples with a fervour, hoping to buy into whatever this 'woman' thing was and become it.

I was sometimes too skinny, sometimes too overweight. I spent a fortune on bottles of liquid goo to try and make me feel beautiful. I smoked and drank and tried to create a buzz in my body to quell the anxieties in my mind. I went to work like it was a stage and I was the main character who had to be flawless. I'd buy clothes to try and change myself, but everything just looked too wrong and too hateful. I'd judge myself based on how many men found me attractive. I'd be terrified of being caught first thing in the morning.

I understand why motherhood can be a difficult transition - going from a body that is purely decorative to a body that works is hard. Abandoning the tight controls we have exerted over our bodies. Although I was used to long shifts working on my feet it was nothing compared to the functions my body was now performing to sustain this little being. Surviving on little sleep, converting energy to breastmilk, constant vigilance for his every need. I still found the time to do my makeup and put a pretty dress on, but it felt different now. Clothes clung and fell away in different places than they did before. I evaluated outfits on their ability to produce a breast as quickly as possible. No longer the little girl able to wear a sweet tea dress, it was time to give it up.

With this disconcerting change in my body came a new fervour for self-growth. I have written before about my birth being a spiritual experience, an emotional purging. The high I had from my son's birth and all that I had achieved sustained me for many months postpartum. It seemed incredible to me that it had even happened at all. By not worrying about Judah's sleeping and feeding patterns, I allowed myself to drift through early motherhood relatively unscathed. I was lucky in that sense. There were days when I cried, a lot. There were days when I would catch sight of myself in the mirror and recoil. But, slowly, I began to feel beautiful again.

What amazed me the most was how my face had changed. I had spent years wanting to look more mature. After the birth of my son my face's aspect had changed. Less round, maybe. More knowing. I loved this new face and the things that it had seen. I am getting smile lines around my eyes and all I can say it - thank goodness. I am on my way to true womanhood. Although our society makes a fetish out of young girls, to me there was no appeal to being like that. The worry, the self-doubt. The enormous pressures to be like a perfect doll. I have adjusted my eyes to what my inner heart knows to be true - there is beauty in experience and knowledge. In the lines by somebody's eyes, the odd freckles or scars on their skin. As I grow older I only feel more beautiful, more myself. 

In my new confidence my Self began to emerge. The woman I always wanted to be. Free from the bondage of body, expanding my narrow thinking, I used the energy from my birth to explore what it was I truly loved. It turns out that this is birth itself, and womanhood. Freed from calorie counting with my breastfeeding appetite, finally loving my body for the magic it was performing before my very eyes. Finding a new sensuality, a new way to express my innermost self. Instinctive, attachment parenting that finally let me listen to my instincts that had been clamouring for me to hear them all my life. I found I didn't want to escape my child to pretend he didn't exist because he was the reason for all that I had become. That overwhelming sense of... trust. Trust in myself now. I had given birth! Nothing could ever possibly stop me now. 

Free to create.

Motherhood has given me the freedom and the perspective to just... be.

What am I?

I am a mother, creating a home with my bare hands. Weaving the web of family for those surrounding me and sustaining their life and emotions. Making a safe haven for all. Without me, none of this exists.

I am a woman, no longer maidenly and perfect. A woman of substance and integrity. A woman of conviction and confidence. The ability to speak my mind and approach my relationships as a true partner and not just an unfulfilled need.

I am wild, most days covered in mud or hair full of rain or the sea breeze. Turning my bare face to the wind and jumping over puddles with a child. Free of the trappings that used to hold me. 

I am a writer, words as delicious to me as chocolate. Picking, choosing, threading into works of my soul. This outlet that is so incredibly healing and relieving. Being able to read a sentence and knowing exactly how it should be. Giving voice to that which was previously unheard, or had no name.

I am a dancer, hips moving to an eternal rhythm. Feeling the heartbeat of life deep within my body. Delicately balancing every role I am required to play. Working with the subconscious and using it to spread joy.

I am a birth worker, creating a safe space for women to express their thoughts and fears. Teaching confidence and removing self-doubt and encouraging women to have trust in their powerful bodies. Giving them the tools they need for the battle ahead.

I am a sister, to the incredible women I have met along the way, who have touched my life with their glowing presence and helped me on this path.

I am a witch, in tune with the seasons and the moon. Creating my own reality and being in tune with the natural cycles of the earth. 

I am not on the shelf and I will not go away and become a silent member of the community now that I have a child. I refuse to give my life up just because I have created one. Women need to be supported to follow their own calling and adjust to their new identity as mothers and this new phase in their lives because it's not easy. The two separate factions warring in our brains, the beautiful woman versus the desexualised mother.

Instead of viewing motherhood as keeping you from doing what you want to do, finding and realising the ways that it is empowering you to become better. The daily giving, the relentlessness, not unlike most spiritual paths. The character-building as you learn to put aside and prioritise and change all your assumptions.

We as women and mothers are so powerful - we are growing and loving a group of people who may one day be able to effect change. I know how I want my children to remember me, and it's not as a woman who lost herself when she gave birth to them. I want them to remember me for what I loved and how I never gave up, even on myself. The fact that I didn't have to escape them to pursue my dreams, just carried them along with me.

Who are you? Who has your child enabled you to be?