This is (my new) womanhood

Part 2 of Lane 9 Project co-founder, Heather Caplan’s essay contribution for our August writing prompt, “This is womanhood”. 

“Tell your husband to go to bed and get some sleep. One of you should be rested,” she said.

I was in labor, and apparently in labor, you get no rest. Instead, my instructions were to Wait And See What Happens. My options were to take a warm bath or shower, an attempt to slow contractions and ease into the discomfort, or lay down, or…I don’t know, read a book? A few months ago, I joked to my husband that I wanted to start a puzzle while I (we?) labored at home. In this moment, that seemed both hilarious and hilariously naive. I wasn’t about to go find a puzzle, dump out the pieces, and concentrate on putting little cardboard cutouts together. I could barely think clearly enough to open my phone and start a contraction timer

I. Am. In. Labor. To. Deliver. A. Baby. My first baby! Maybe next time I’ll want to do a puzzle, I thought, but this time I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around what my body is doing. I’m in shock and awe. I’m trying to talk to this baby and tell him to slow down. I’m trying to talk to myself, to be in this moment, and I say things like, “This is labor. Your body is in labor. It’s happening right now. You won’t be induced next week because NOW—right now—this baby is on his way.” It never felt real.

I don’t get to rest. I get to bring a human life into the world, and somehow my body knows how to do what my brain can barely comprehend. So I trust it, and I say to my son, “Here we go…”

This is womanhood.

— — — — —

After more than a day in hours of laboring and delivering, my son is placed on my chest. He’s covered in bodily fluids I’ve never seen and can’t name or adequately describe; he’s breathing; he’s looking at me (or, probably, for food); he’s opening his mouth in the most natural way I’ve ever seen. He knows he’s here, he knows what he needs to do to stay alive, he knows I’m his mom.

He knows me, but I’m just seeing him for the first time.

I’m up at all hours of the night, gently waking him to nurse so that we can make sure he gains the “right” amount of weight in these first two weeks. I’m nursing him every two hours, or more, during every day. I’m holding him close more often than not; I never want to put him down.

I’m looking at this newborn boy, and wondering if I’ll ever be able to fully understand and believe that my body created him—the same body I once had an insatiable desire to change and manipulate with food restriction, daily weigh-ins, various “hard” workouts, and negative thoughts; the same body that carried me through marathons, healed from disordered eating and amenorrhea, brought me into adulthood, weathered my storms, and stayed strong throughout. I can’t fully wrap my head around it, so I wrap my arms around his small, fragile, soft body, instead.

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This is (my new) womanhood.

— —

At my six-week postpartum appointment, the doctor seems most concerned about one thing: my likelihood of getting pregnant again, anytime soon. (I get it; there are a lot of risks involved with pregnancies that are too close together—there are many risks in pregnancy, period.)

“I’m a runner, so, is it okay for me to start running again?” I ask.

“Sure!” he says. Enthusiastically. Without hesitation. Without guidance. Without consideration for what muscle groups need to be strengthened in order for me to run safely, healthfully. Without a second thought about how “running” could mean a few minutes, a half mile, or ten miles. Without realizing that maybe, actually, my body wasn’t quite ready to run again. But hey, don’t get pregnant too soon!

“I’d like to see a postpartum physical therapist before I run, but she requires a physician’s referral. Will you give me one?” I ask.

“Why? What’s wrong?” He replied, less enthusiastic this time. After all, he had just taken a “Quick look!” down there and confirmed, “All healed!” I didn’t know quick visual “assessments” could be so thorough, diagnostic, or trustworthy. I tried so hard to not roll my eyes. WHAT’S WRONG? I don’t know! I’ve never had a baby before. Maybe nothing is wrong, but I’d like to know for sure before I trust that my body is ready to do anything again (except pregnancy, of course!). 

I did meet with a postpartum PT, one who didn’t require a physician’s referral. She spent an hour with me, assessing my progress, confirming I didn’t have any ab separation (or at least not anymore?), and gave me some exercises to work with. She confirmed my decision to wait to run—what’s the rush? Running will always be there. My shoes will always fit. My body will heal if I give it space, time, and care.

Having taken on the process of Orthorexia and amenorrhea recovery on my own, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be a solo venture. I’m okay with asking for help. I’m okay with taking my time to do things, to “get back” when I feel damn ready to get back. To not rush into any process because I feel pressure from anyone or anything.

12 weeks. Not one, not two, not six—it was twelve weeks after I gave birth when I pulled my running shoes on, strapped on my Garmin, and went out for slow, easy, run-walk intervals. Nothing fell out, or off, or apart. We were doing this—my body and me, back in sync, healed together, ready to go again. This is the timeline that felt right, for me.

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This is my decision to move my body, to advocate for its care, to be patient with it, and know that we have a lifetime together. This is womanhood.

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