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I don’t like what I see. A few months after giving birth, the belly is still protruding. It is a bulge turned loose and deflated with stretch marks. Both breasts rest on it, as if pulled by gravity after the long passage of time. It has only been nine months, however, followed by the aggressive sucking of a newborn. I know this body has survived more than 24 hours of labor and a normal delivery, but all I see now is the damage in the aftermath.
I thought my body could bounce back to the way it used to be. But I still looked more bloated than expected after the six-week postpartum mark. There is guilt in hindsight for the way I ate during the pregnancy. My husband and I had to stop subscribing to our healthy meal plan because the smell of it suddenly made me want to vomit. In order to eat, I turned to comfort food and didn’t keep track of my consumption. I ate what I felt like eating even if the lack of exercise due to a low-lying placenta limited me from taking better care of my body.
My bigness during the pregnancy, however, didn’t bother me. All my tests built a picture of overall health for myself and the baby. When someone teased that even my nose had gone big, it didn’t sting. Pregnancy put me in a general state of celebration, especially after being diagnosed with PCOS in my early teenage years. I used to trace the curve of my belly with the palm of my hand in awe. I couldn’t help but smile through how pregnancy made me look, big nose and penguin walks included. I was basking in a miraculous time in my life. All the discomforts that came with it felt small compared to my body’s ability to carry, nurture, and protect a new life.
But now, in its post-partum form, even shopping can’t get me excited. This body is hard to buy clothes for. Its new shape or shapelessness is unfamiliar, and it leaves me clueless; I seem to have no sense for its potential beautification. Layered with its new need for breastfeeding access, the options just seem limited. These days, it is easier to live in my dad’s old shirts or loose nursing pajamas at home. They’ve all been marked with drool, milk leaks, lungad, or diaper accidents by now. And to further display my deteriorating fashion sense, I’ve also cut my hair short to chin-length. I’ve unknowingly traded saving my baby from eating my hair for under-chin acne and perpetual fly-aways. In the rare times we leave the house, it’s no wonder a quick blow-dry can boost my self-esteem – a self-esteem that quickly falls apart once the baby cries in public.
My look clearly belongs at home. Or maybe not even. My grandmother, who is diagnosed with dementia, couldn’t contain her laughter when she held my stomach and joked that there must be another baby inside me. It was perhaps too honest of a remark from a mind that has gone back to her childhood. My mother also told me, “Nanay ka na talaga,” as she tucked my uncombed hair behind my ears. When I asked what that meant, she said, “There is not an ounce of vanity left in you.”
There must be plenty of vanity left, however, for not appreciating the body I have now because of the flaws I see in the mirror.
The deformity I see deserves an apology. When I look at it in the mirror, it’s hard to see how brave it has been. Its intimate zone was ripped open during childbirth and yet it already gave up sleep on the first night after that ordeal. I remember how it trembled with effort just to sit up on the bed and hold a crying baby. After a long, deep breath and much needed help from my husband, it stood and swayed to comfort someone else instead of herself. Its breasts were constantly surrendered to feed a surprisingly aggressive hunger until the nipples became wounded. It felt inadequate not to have much to give at the beginning. But it eventually accepted more pain and let the skin chafe through the early stages of pumping in order to give, and hence be emptied, some more.
These days, it feels chronic backache, triggered by a pick-up from the crib, a diaper change, a prolonged awkward position while breastfeeding in bed. It prides itself in retaining more self-awareness than a zombie, addressing one demand after another; transitioning from one task to the next. It can still afford short baths but not a lot of combing. It doesn’t socialize with anyone, apart from the few who won’t look from head to toe. Perhaps it’s presentable only to the baby. The baby who wants its milk more than anything else in the world. The baby who won’t fall asleep anywhere else unless wrapped in these arms. The baby who will hold back no screams, poop, and cries in this presence.
The beauty and strength of this new body don’t look back at me in the mirror. Instead, I see hints of them in another reflection. There are times when my baby fixes her eyes on me. She smiles, coos, and waits for a sign that I understand the sounds that form no words just yet. In those moments, despite my shortcomings, I think she likes who she sees. – Rappler.com
Ailee Zapata is a full-time mom and a Masters in Creative Writing student in UP Diliman. She is currently working on her thesis and writing about her experiences of motherhood on the side.