This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
But we won’t
Although we’ll want to
(Billy Joel — “This is the Time”)
I’ve been doing some organizational work with my computing lately, as long-time readers of the blog may have noticed. As part of it, I found myself cleaning up my digital pictures, which are now a collected set of folders dating back fifteen years.
Fifteen years! How is it even possible?
Aside from my awe that digital photography has been around and accessible to the casual consumer for that length of time, looking through the years of my life captured in this way was really emotional. I found myself searching for the rare pictures of myself, because I’m still struggling with coming to terms with my post-partum body and I wanted to compare my mental image of what the numbers on the scale mean to some reality.
It’s a strange pursuit. Most days, I can keep focused on the fact that this amazing body created a human being — a human being that fills my days with relentless joy. Baby girl is at a really nice point in her development, now that we’ve transitioned from days of constant upset stomachs to watching her learn how to use her body to maneuver into the basics of mobility. Newborns are relatively inert, but now that she’s five months old, she spends her days interacting with her world in the most innocent ways. I spend my days waiting to run home and watch her. There’s really no better consolation to the changes in my body, but it’s still difficult to accept that there have been changes in my body that are beyond my control.
When I first left home, I gained a hefty amount of weight. I was eighteen, with no conception of nutrition. I grew up feeding myself egg sandwiches and Ramen noodles and whatever else I could scrounge in the kitchen. (My mom was very dedicated to her job and, more importantly, hated cooking.) When I moved out and into a ridiculously paid dot com job, I could suddenly afford eating out regularly and lots of dessert. The pounds packed on. When I moved to working a night shift, I used soda to keep myself awake, not realizing the extra meals I was taking in every day in all my empty cans of Mountain Dew. I reached an all-time high score on the scale by the time I was 20, which I didn’t see again until I was seven months pregnant.
I did learn. I learned about exercise and nutrition. I got the weight back down again, as college classes sent me to the gym. Better yet, I learned what it felt like to be fit and strong, rather than just having the effortless thinness of my teenaged years. Pregnancy hit me hard because it took a lot of that confidence and put it on a shelf for a while. For the first time in many years, my feet ached from the weight of my body. I had to catch my breath after walking up the stairs. I couldn’t keep up with the guys at work when we went out to lunch. I had to ask for help to lift things. Looking back, I wish I had enjoyed my pregnancy more, but I spent nearly all of it dreaming of the day when I would have the strength of my body back.
Now, five months after the birth of my baby, I’ve lost most of the weight that I put on, which was significantly more than the recommended thirty-five pounds. The majority of it came off in fluid and baby in the first two months, and there has been a slow but steady decline since, but the last pounds linger. I’ve been doing my best to lose the rest while not thinking about it, but inevitably I will pass a mirror and feel an unwelcome dismay. There are so many other things in my life that are so much more important, but my rounded mommy belly feels like a step backwards to my days of poor fitness. I admit that it hurts my pride.
But rarely does a day go by where I am not grateful for being able to do something that was inaccessible in pregnancy. My abdominals are still rebuilding, thanks to the planks and bridges that are now part of my daily routine, but I can change the water bottle at the cooler at work without having to think about it. If I need something out of the top shelf, I can climb up on the counter and get it. I lift and swing and move baby girl around wherever she needs to go. I can carry her without rest for the better part of an hour. These are all glorious things that seemed impossible a year ago.
And yet, in looking back at my oldest photographs, I don’t see such a dissimilar body. What surprised me most is how unimaginably young I look. I was out in the world on my own, living in an apartment with roommates, working a good job without any knowledge of the upcoming recession that was going to make the next few years full of financial struggles.
My hair, long from laziness, hangs past my shoulders and down my back. It’s usually carelessly clipped up, just to keep it out of my face. My clothes are often unfitted and unflattering, because I didn’t understand those things either. My face is rounder, my waistline bumpier, my arms looser. I could not have predicted what was in front of me, though I remember feeling a lot of anxiety about it. But I didn’t feel young.
Has gazing at my younger body given me any insight into my conception of my body today? Even now, I am fitter, older, more experienced. Then, my fat curled around my waist like a tire; now it hangs in the front as a long reminder of where baby girl lay, head down and waiting, for so many months. Our bodies are still joined, as I guide her to my breast every morning and night so that she can suckle and get the nutrition that she needs to challenge and conquer her world. She has changed me, through the fading stretch marks and the shape of my body. When I look at photographs of myself now — or at the end of my pregnancy — I see our connection in the shape of my waist.
I want to raise a girl that doesn’t spend so much energy on such ridiculous things, as much as I know it is probably impossible. But still, in looking back at my young body, I was reminded of all the places that I’ve seen since — trips to Aruba, Jamaica, Belgium, New Orleans, Canada, Cornwall, California, Paris — that I’d completely forgotten about. There are few pictures of me in those albums, since I’m usually the one behind the camera. Perhaps the takeaway here is to hand the camera over — to make certain that someone records me, not as a record of my body and its shape, but as a reminder of who I’m holding in my arms at the time.