your body back” is a phrase that is currently targeted at new mothers via adverts
and articles detailing fitness regimes, diets, antenatal classes. I have heard
it too in anxious exchanges between mothers. I googled it just now and, “10
easy ways to get your pre-baby body back” came straight up. I have a strong
response to this. I want to retort loudly, “I don’t need it back - no one has
taken my body away! It’s still mine! ” In fact it feels more mine now than it
ever has, no longer needing to conform to others’ images of how it ought to
look. The experiences of being pregnant,
giving birth, breastfeeding have given me an extraordinary new sense of my
body’s capabilities. Motherhood has changed me irrevocably. I
want that change to be a cause for celebration, stretch marks and all, not a
thing I should be trying to reverse or hide, a secret source of shame. I spent
much of my pre-motherhood life working within circus as an aerialist. Circus,
for all its alternative kudos, is nonetheless a body-controlling industry and I
struggled with chronic anorexia throughout most of those years. Motherhood at
long last cured me of this, made me glad, proud even, of my body’s fat and its amazing
creative potential. Hence my fierce reaction to the imperative to “get your
However, there is another deeper question that lies underneath this phrase that means I cannot altogether dismiss it, despite my strong feminist politics of the body and its ownership. It is to do with the profound and complex shifting of identities that a woman often goes through on becoming a mother – who she was, who she is now, how the two connect or don’t.
At our last Mothers Who Make meeting one woman shared how she had recently learnt of an archaic English pronoun, wit meaning ‘we two’ or git, ‘you two.’ In other words not ‘we’, which could refer to any number more than one, but a ‘we’ that specifically meant two - me and one other. She said how helpful she would have found such a pronoun during her days of early motherhood, when her baby was still so new as to be always with her and still dependent on her presence for survival, how they were still ‘one unit’ even though the baby had now arrived on to the outside of her body. I love this – the idea of a two people pronoun. I love how clearly it articulates the complexity of the transformation we go through, from the ‘I’ of pre-motherhood, to the ‘we’ or ‘wit’ of mother and child, to the changed ‘I’ of a new mother. These things take time. Different lengths of time for different mothers and different children. I am still breastfeeding my daughter of 21 months, still sharing my body with her. My son at 6 still needs his cuddles - so do I. There are no ‘10 easy steps’ to take as we move back from ‘wit’ to being only ‘I.’
I do not want my pre-baby body back. I do not even want my pre-baby self back, but there are things I miss about who I was. I miss spending time with my partner. I miss spending time by myself. I miss going for a swim alone and the feel of my arms, cutting through the water. I miss stepping out of the house with nothing but a set of keys in my pocket. The other day I was in a playground with my children (and lots of bags – I always leave the house these days with many more things besides the keys.) I had an impulse to see whether I could still swing across the monkey bars. I could, just, but as I swung from the cold metal rungs, the air under my feet, I felt a kind of ghost or genie of who I used to be unfurl from me and drift up over the play equipment. Then my daughter wanted to be lifted onto the swings and the moment was already over. It was an exhilarating, whistful, sad second. Something gone/ not gone. Something still a part of me, that makes me who I am, something still informing the kind of work I make, the kind of mother I am, but also something I will never be again: I am not going to hang from my aerial rope 10 meters in the air anymore.
I know I am not alone. I have heard many other mothers/ makers expressing something similar – how they felt lost as to who they were after becoming a mum, had to reinvent themselves and their creative practise, how this has been both wonderful and incredibly hard. It is where MWM began, from this shaky, uncertain place of wondering who I had become.
So here are my questions for the month: How has it been for you to go from the ‘I’ you were, to the ‘we’ of you and a child, and on to the ‘I’ of whoever you are now? What do you miss? What do you celebrate? Since becoming a mother how are you both the same and different in yourself and in your making? Post your answers on the Facebook forum, or come to a meeting to share….