Motherhood and the Redemption of the Body

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As for me, I will read while you boulder, silly people, circa 2007.

When I was in college, I was your proverbial brain in a jar. I read and wrote all day, and grew cold on the sofa of my 80 degree studio apartment, sipping microwaved tea to warm my sedentary bones. Almost all my memories of the time are cerebral: the excitement of defending Milton’s Adam to a classroom of Satan sympathizers, the frustration of my first crack at Nicomachean Ethics.

In fact, the only real exceptions are a.) sitting outside on a warm spring day to do my reading in the cherry blossoms and b.) the terrible tension headaches that plagued me throughout college, especially my underclassman years. (Also the college cafeteria ice cream bar.)

As a stay at home mother now, I struggle to find space for the cerebral, slipping in an audiobook with chores, carving out time for a book club, writing letters to basically anyone who will write me back. On the other hand, though, in a very real sense, my babies have helped me transcend the brain-vat, into the life of the body. I feel healthier, and more whole, though I miss that dear, unbalanced, brainy old life.

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A rare pregnant day on which I did not throw up; second trimester, Dales Way, circa 2012

This wasn’t a given, going into motherhood. Pregnancy is a series of unpleasant sensations for me, and while I am indeed much more aware of my embodiedness as waves of nausea engulf me, it’s far from a pleasant experience. Give me the life of the mind any day!

So my babies surprised me. Their physical need for me — and, unexpected by me — my physical need for them. So much of my experience of motherhood, so much of my current day to day life, is centered on the body: the press of a soft, marshmallowy cheek against mine; the relief and relaxation of sleepy night nursing; a toddler making my hair “beautiful” while I pray he doesn’t get the hairbrush stuck. Now that I’m no longer cramped in the same tense position, hour upon hour, but instead constantly interrupted, my headaches have faded to the background.

And then there’s the rhythm of housework, of course. A critical eye cast to the texture of the brownie dough, when once I’d only scrounged the cafeteria. The realization that about 60% of housework is moving material objects from one room to the other.

I fall asleep at night more readily, most nights, the soft breathing of my sleeping babies in the rooms beside me. My body is squishier, but also softer, stretched and sore from lifting fifty pounds of progeny all day, from a long nap time on my feet fussing over dinner, from the weight of milk I carry.

I’d failed to realize, back then, that in giving my children their bodies, they’d give me mine.

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Mi body es su body, or something like that.
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Author: Katherine Grimm Bowers

Babies. Books. Fledgling housewifery. Once and future librarian. Catholic. Always thinking about chocolate ice cream.

10 thoughts on “Motherhood and the Redemption of the Body”

  1. This was beautiful! This reminded me of my thinking during our last snow day… Although I missed my days of cuddling up by a fire with a good book and watching the snow fall from the comfort of the inside, . Instead, I was bundling up kids in snowsuits and making snowmen and snow angels and snowforts.

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  2. Hmmm… please ignore the grammatical mess above … my dear daughter grabbed for my phone and I accidently hit send before I was ready! Anyway, my main point was that although I miss it, I, too, feel more alive mentally and physically as a mother.

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  3. I know what you mean. Not quite so heavy on the cerebral life pre-children (surgery can be a physically demanding activity), but on the children giving me my body, not back, but for the first time, really. I used to hate my body. I remember being 9 or 10, and sitting in my room, putting off getting dressed, because I hated the way I looked. Getting married to a wonderful man helped, but during my first pregnancy, for the first time I was just happy with myself, and proud of what my body was doing. Now I have a c section scar and two sets of stretch marks – and I feel so comfortable in my own skin. I plan activities for what will make the children happy – not what will make me feel less self-conscious. It’s an amazing gift. Objectively, I’ve had rough pregnancies and deliveries. But even beyond the beautiful children, it was worth it. Thanks for writing about this.

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    1. You make a good point. I feel kind of neutral, or at best conflicted about my beat up postpartum body, but it feels more like ME than it did in the old days, since it’s shaped my current life so much more. I am so glad hanging out with my kids encourages me to use this old body a little more!

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  4. This was beautiful. My hands were always cold before my children came. Now they are always warm. I’m not sure the events are related, but I like to think they are.

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