Femme nue avec fromage, c. 2008
I know childbearing changes women's bodies. I knew it would affect mine, even beyond the changes infertility itself incurred. (Mushy white laparoscopy scars? Check. Persistent painful ass lumps from progesterone shots? Check. Fibrous wodge of scar tissue in the bend of each elbow from blood draw after blood draw? Check. Line forms to the left, fellas, for anyone itching to cop a feel. You know you want to. Don't be shy. Palpaaaaate meeeeeee.)
I volunteered for pregnancy, after all — ha, understatement; I did the equivalent of blowing one half of the selection committee and blackmailing the other — and was willing to pay the physical price. Most of the changes to my body didn't occur until Ben; for some reason I got off easy with Charlie, if you ignore my body's brief but passionate antepartum interest in bucket-kicking.
I am not especially troubled by most of it. My bra size is back to normal — humming the alphabet song in illustration, and scatting artfully a few notes in, if that gives you any clues — and when I am clothed (read: shored up by the several flying buttresses of the Wacoal 85185) my breasts look as firm and youthful as ever. (That is to say not very, but then a rack of these dimensions doesn't exactly call to mind visions of sylphlike ballerinas and unholstered gamboling nymphets. Think sturdy lactating peasant and you're more in the general ballpark. But a well-contained sturdy lactating peasant.) Unclothed, I resemble something you would see in a glass case at the Museum of Natural History. I will not blame you for hustling your children by quickly. But then you probably don't want them to see my caveman spouse's Australopithecal wang, either.
But I expected those changes. That's normal, after all. So are the varicose veins that lace my right leg from knee to ankle. They don't hurt; they're merely unsightly. I like to think they make me look a little like one of the X-Men, like when Jean Grey went all batshit evil. Since this is the only way in which I could ever be supposed to bear any kind of resemblance to Famke Janssen, I'm okay with that. (My awesome mutant superpower is developing life-threatening blood clots. Oh, it's kind of self-defeating, I suppose, but you work with what you got.)
And I am only slightly dismayed by the fact that while I am down to my prepregnancy weight, even my pre-cycling weight, that weight seems to have redistributed itself. I am not exactly sure what's thinner, but something has to be, because I have a greater tendency now to hold on to mass around my midsection. You know how our body shapes are said to tend toward either apple — weight around the belly — or pear — weight around the hips and thighs? I am an apple. I am a fruit bowl. I am an entire goddamn orchard, if you want to know the truth. In spring I positively swarm with bees. But, again, this isn't exactly a problem, unless I ever want to purchase an article of clothing that is fashionable, flatters me, and fits properly.
But, really, all these things are okay. I am grateful, and I am not especially vain, and I am especially lazy, so I find acceptance very easy. Stretch marks, fine. I think of them as racing stripes. Permanent changes to my nipples, fine. Useful adaptations for nursing, even though neither of my children would be able to pick them out from a police lineup. ("Number three, step forward...now put on the ski mask...and the wig...and the Groucho glasses...and the scary latex Nixon mask...Yes, that's her!") Even the C-section scar I have is fine, considering that not a year ago somebody made a swift seven-inch slash in my abdomen and withdrew from it an entire new person. Funny thing about that, though. When I told the nurses which doctor was slated to perform the surgery, every single one told me how lucky I was. "He's an artist," one of them cooed, speaking of his virtuoso skill. Yes. She cooed. (Nurses, don't ever do this. It creeps your patient out.)
Which, I mean, I don't know. Maybe he is an artist. Maybe creative caprice is the reason for the only postpartum change that truly unnerves me, the weird subcutaneous blob that now resides on the left side of my abdomen, three inches southeast of my navel. It's soft and kind of wobbly, a noticeable asymmetrical protrusion where nothing stuck out before. If the doctor is an artist, he is a sculptor, and he works in human fat. Or maybe in washed-rind cheese. And in my educated opinion, he does the kind of work that makes jerks in museums scoff and say, "Oh, sure, that's art. My kid could do that."
Of course, if I can't blame the doctor, I guess I have to accept that in an indirect way, my kid did do that. Suddenly my eye is newly informed and I'm seeing that bulging fist of cheese in a more appreciative light. Why, it challenges what we thought we knew about, uh, tangerine-sized clumps of fat. Insistently it prods us to reexamine our aesthetic relationship to an unsightly gob of blubber. It occupies the space, long believed merely philosophical, where beauty and suet collide. With the advent of this seminal work, adipose tissue serves no longer as simply a loose connective mesh of fat cells, but as a ringing indictment against — oh, let's just say man's inhumanity to man. "Within my indistinct margins," the work seems to whisper, "can be found a shrine to the human spirit, in all its courage and its frailty. And also a ham croquette."
My son the artist. He's some kind of fucking prodigy.