"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

April 09, 2009

Joining the Momfessional

It's about 9 a.m., and I'm watching Valerie Bertinelli talk about her recent, now almost infamous, bikini-clad, skinny new bod on the Rachel Ray show. Note: I never watched RR before my maternity leave, and I'm pretty sure that once I return to work, I'll have forgotten that this very perky show exists. I'm waiting for the babe to wake up, and I'm inspired to blog.

I suppose the impetus to blog is also partly inspired by another gynocentric show: Oprah featured a segment called "In the Motherhood" earlier this week, wherein moms across the country Skyped in and divulged their deepest, darkest confessions. One such mom, a once-amateur blogger, has turned her online confessional into a lucrative, full-time job. I checked out her site this morning, and am pleasantly surprised to read and see honest accounts of a rational, informed, and savvy mom. Maybe this kind of public confessional shouldn't be shocking in an age when a local, Catholic diocese has recently put confessionals on YouTube, but my interest is piqued nonetheless.

One of the recurring mom-topics I'm finding--which also turns out to be a perpetual tenet of womanhood--concerns our bodies. Bodies before pregnancy, bodies we wish we had, how to get a fabulous body, what nobody told us how our bodies would change after age 35, etc. Here's Valerie at age 48, talking about exactly what she had to do to get in such fine shape. There's work to do beyond Jenny Craig, it turns out, which involves a personal trainer, support panties, and giving up indulgences like champagne.

I've always struggled with my own body image. It's really no secret to anyone who has ever known me: my brand of humor lies in my own self-degradation, usually attached to punchlines about desserts or too-tight jeans. I can only hope I haven't turned into the living equivalent of a Cathy cartoon. {Ack.}

I can remember attending a Weight Watchers meeting before the age of ten (I was with my mom and a neighbor, I believe);even my high-school years are punctuated by weight loss and gain and loss, peaks and valleys that would look like something out of Frog and Toad's Wild Ride.) Just after I moved to Boston, an old acquaintance visited and confessed that her visit was in part to apologize for teasing me about my weight when we were children in elementary school, which to this day I have no recollection, thankfully, but to which I most definitely owe my wicked self-consciousness. I ate my way through most of graduate school (part stress, part food-freedom), and upon seeing a photo of myself in profile, quickly marched into the nearest WW meeting I could find. That summer, I re-learned how to eat, began a serious exercise regimen, and felt more confident than ever. I was in my mid-20's, surely my prime, and I am thankful to have been able to truly enjoy those years.

Like many women, I had started dieting the moment I became engaged at 33. A friend recently looked at my wedding picture and remarked that she thought I was too skinny (I don't see that, but loved hearing it). And like many women, my wedding day will probably be the thinnest I'll ever be.

Fast forward to age 36. Three months postpardum, I have put away two pairs of pants that will not slide over my hips. There is a layer of my stomach that likes to peek over the top of whatever I'm wearing on my lower half. The self-loathing has returned with a vengeance. I have rejoined Weight Watchers online. I have no problem walking when it's nice out, and I cherish these days I get to stroll with my baby in tow. But my particular kind of body loathing is a special kind of demon, and it is no longer about ridicule or the laws of attraction. Rather, it is rooted in fears about health, disease, and losing my self-image and self-confidence.

A BABY IS ALL I EVER WANTED. I am thankful, in a bizarre way, to have this problem, except when I'm trying to get dressed (and for a couple of weeks after the baby was born, I was putting on my p.j.'s in the closet). But I have more than baby weight to lose. At 36, I have baby weight, a layer of baby-loss weight, a layer of trying-to-get-pregnant weight, and under that, father-loss weight. So why blog all of this? Because here is my contribution to the mommy confessional: you can love someone so much more than yourself that you can forget to love yourself, and frankly, I don't want to forget to love myself--nor do I want to forget what loving myself feels like. Sure, I may not walk around as carefree and bare-armed as I did at 26, but I fear I'll never have that self-confidence back. I have a lot to be proud of, not the least of which is a gorgeous baby. But a woman is more than a mother, and as one woman remarked on Oprah, "Once you have a baby, you have to reinvent yourself. You can never be who you were." I know moms are supposed to be selfless--mine certainly has been. But I think there's a way to be an incredible mom and not have to sacrifice feeling...good. Or great. Or happy with herself.

In a way, I'm looking forward to this reinvention: but it will be a long, hard, road. I want to post-script here that I know there exist far more serious and heavy problems than mine and I am so thankful for what I have. There was a woman on The Today Show this morning who couldn't speak about her daughter who was recently murdered in a trailer park in California, because she couldn't stop crying. This, and any recent catastrophe (earthquake in Italy, flooding in North Dakota--close your eyes and place your finger on the front page of the paper) puts everything into perspective. Just here is my confessional, I have accepted the invitation to join the Momversations, and it's my honest report.