Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fat and pregnant: 10 weeks

We were talking on Twitter today about the political and deeply personal nature of belly pics for those of us who are fat and pregnant1. There aren’t a lot of pictures of us — because we tend not to take them.

For most people in this culture — not only fat women — bellies are one of the, if not the, most stigmatized, most shame-laden part of our bodies. Add the all-over shame of existing in the world with a fat body, and it’s really, really hard for most of us to take and share photographs of our pregnant bellies.

There are a lot of reasons for this, each of which could be its own post, but briefly2:

  • Our bellies are fat, and, as is drummed into our heads and souls a thousand times a day in a thousand ways, fat is bad. And ugly. And bad! So even this place that nurtures the future, carries a wanted pregnancy, we cannot see as good and beautiful. (And then, even if, miracle!, we do, we are afraid of the reactions from others, afraid of the shaming and judgment and tsking and cruel comments.)
  • So often we spend years in fear of hearing “Are you pregnant?” when no, we’re just fat. Our bodies do not have the space to have “cute little pooches” in early pregnancy like people with very little abdominal adipose tissue. Our bellies are changing, but when we start out “already looking pregnant” (and told that is bad), we don’t want to take those early pictures.
  • Then, when we don’t have early pictures to compare to (because we’re “just fat”, and no one wants to see a fat belly!), we don’t want to take later pictures — because, again, we still look fat! Only a little more so! Our bodies may not look like what we expect mid-pregnancy bodies to look like, thanks to thin celebrities and Photoshop. Sometimes we look what we expect a very very pregnant person to look like very early on, and sometimes we hardly “show” at all. So we don’t take the pictures.
  • Finally, when we’re good and pregnant and really it’s quite obvious that’s a baby belly — we’re huge! We’ve may have gained weight all over, and there may be shockingly dark and purple stretchmarks bisecting all those old and silvery lines, and we think, that’s not what a pregnant belly is supposed to look like! And we don’t take the pictures.

The only way, the only way to overcome this is for more of us to take pictures. And to show them off. To say “this is what a fat and pregnant belly looks like”, and to know that not all fat and pregnant bellies look like that, because no two bellies, or bodies, are ever exactly the same. We don’t store fat the same, our uteruses don’t grow the same (betwixt multiple pregnancies, much less different people), our torsos and pelvises aren’t shaped the same. And yet — there is something amazingly uplifting about seeing a body that is like ours (even if not the same as ours), to see it celebrated and held up as beautiful and worthy of love and respect and, yes, photographs.

It is so very important for us to see3 people who look like us doing all manner of things in life so that we know we can do them too. It’s incredibly hard to be the first, or in the first generations, when we have so little to guide us, so little to let us know “yes, you can” and “yes, this is ‘normal’”, and “no, you are not alone”. And it’s scary, and hard, and often risky. So I’m not going to shame anyone for not taking or sharing pictures of themselves. But I am going to say please.

And you deserve to be seen.

And you are not alone.

And I’m going to post my pictures4. And you don’t have to like them, and you don’t have to gush over them5. But I hope you see them, and share them, and know that this is what a fat and pregnant belly looks like. And it deserves to be honored no less than any other belly.

10 weeks: the baseline. Subtle changes in shape, but my uterus hasn't yet risen out of my pelvis.

There’s a lot more I could say6, but instead I’ll leave you with some links, and a promise that this won’t be the last picture:

On body image, pregnancy, and BMI

Which lead me to: Feeling fat during pregnancy

and You’re Huge! Pregnancy and Size in a Thin-Centric World

Finally, no post on pregnancy and fat should be allowed without a link to Plus Size Pregnancy, which is an all-around amazing pregnancy and birth resource for everyone, but especially, obviously, for those of us who are fat and pregnant. It’s written by The Well Rounded Mama whose most recent post — sometimes I believe in serendipity — is Belly Thoughts.

We are out there, those of us willing to take pictures of and share our fat pregnant bellies. I’m hardly the first. But until it’s not rare enough to note, until we see bellies rounded from the start of pregnancy, stretch-marked going in to gestation, until whether one takes pregnancy pictures is only a question of “are you a picture person or a private person?” not “are you ‘beautiful’ enough or brave enough?” — it’s worth celebrating, these bellies of ours.

Did you blog about size and pregnancy, regardless of your weight? Did you take, whether or not you shared, pregnancy photos starting from early on? Was something holding you back that I didn’t discuss here? Please share your stories — and your links if you have them!

  1. You can follow the convo — and whatever other topics come up under that topic — on Twitter at #fatandpregnant.
  2. Those of you who are regular readers are laughing right now. Don’t think just because I can’t hear you that I don’t know. I know. Oh yes. I know.
  3. Which implies visual representations, but all forms of coming-to-know are meant to be included.
  4. I’d say every week, but my regular readers haven’t recovered from laughing at “briefly”, and I wouldn’t want to cause you injury from further guffaws.
  5. And for the love of all you hold dear please don’t say “but you don’t look fat!”
  6. Why lying down? Why basically nude? When am I going to get a decent camera and not my crappy first-gen iPhone? Will I ever learn how to compose a decent shot, or even what that means? (Probably not.) And also: yes, this is scary for me. I’m doing it anyway, but it took quite a bit of ramping up to get here, and now I’m in midair, uncertain of my landing. As the Fat Nutritionist and I jointly said on Twitter, the difference between a fat activist and an “overweight” person isn’t that we don’t feel any shame, it’s that we know the shame is bullshit.

Reflections on trolls, the bias against emotionalism, and a new way to harass, I mean, communicate with me

Some of the feedback to A really bad day has been… interesting. About what I’d expected, really, but sometimes it’s not that fun to be right. Most of the comments were supportive, some of you really got it, there was a troll who called me middle-class and sheltered (and also a monster, but that was part of hir “I’m-so-clever” trolly shtick), and I got accused of begging for absolution with flowery language.

Was the post a reasoned assessment of the severity of what happened? Was it an objective reflection on the potential damage of that level of physicality with one’s child? No. And it wasn’t supposed to be. It accurately reflected (with its “flowery language”) the emotional state I was in at the time. It fascinates me — perversely, granted — that some people’s response to an emotional outpouring whose intensity they think is disproportionate is not to respond to the emotional content, but to belittle it, and the person expressing it. We (over)value “objectivity”, and hold emotional expressions — especially those we deem “disproportionate” — in contempt.

I could probably do a 1000 word treatise on why, but, frankly, I’m not in the mood. And you all know who-what I’d blame, anyway.1

What I wanted from that post, far from absolution (which I don’t believe anyone else can give me), was two-fold: one, help, which — having asked for — I received, before it was even posted; and two, to be seen, acknowledged, and not rejected. (Which, it occurs to me, is what our children so often are asking for. “Mama, do you love me?” indeed.) It’s what most of the Naked Pictures of Faceless People authors are asking for. It is, I would argue, what most personal bloggers are seeking. When we are seen, naked and raw and we think so very ugly, and are accepted anyway? Not forgiven, not unforgiven, simply seen, and not turned away from: it’s one of the most profound transformitory experiences possible.

One which doesn’t require that our nakedness be as ugly as we think it is. And in fact, rarely proves to be so.

*****

It also amuses me when trolls think they’re saying something new and shocking and horrifying when they ridicule me. As sixyearitch said on Twitter: “No one can hate on me like me. Fools game. Plus I do it better.” Or, to quote the Doctor2 speaking to a version of himself3: “There’s no one in the universe who hates me as much as you.”

Hate me for abusing my child? Disgusted with me for equating what I did with “real” child abuse? Think my writing is self-indulgent navel-gazing? Been there, thought that. Frankly, it’s kinda old. The day a troll says something I haven’t heard from myself before is the day I quit blogging because I’ve achieved perfect silence from the crazy voice and won’t need this outlet anymore.

Not that any of this will stop the trolls. Only silence will, and I’ve no plan to shut up any time soon.4

*****

In other news, I acquired a post office box, which means Raising My Boychick has an official public mailing address!

Arwyn Arising5
Raising My Boychick
PO Box 80241
Portland OR 97280
USA

Send me anything except chocolate6 or death threats7. Or toenail clippings8. Or junk mail9. Or, y’know, anything illegal10

*****

Consider this the kitchen sink post: anything you want to say or ask or comment on or get off your chest or share11 that you haven’t had a chance to in the regular-irregular posts? Say it now! Or forever hold your — well, actually, or say it later. Or, hey, send me a real paper letter! Your choice.12

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  1. Kyriarchy, for the newbies. Which really is a bit of a tautology, in that kyriarchy is the sum of all that which encourages the effed up hierarchies we live under, including objective-over-subjective and intellectual-over-emotional (which some might see as aspects of male-over-female, but I’d argue that’s too gender essentialist). But we’ll leave that as a discussion for another day, one in which I’m feeling far more pedantic. Yes, I do get more pedantic. Yes, you should be afraid.
  2. Yeah, I’m going there. I may keep it mostly off the blog, but never let it be said I am not a Whovian.
  3. Spoilers!
  4. The crazy voice isn’t going anywhere, though sometimes I manage to sing louder than it can whisper.
  5. This is a pseudonym. Though you’ll probably start seeing my real last name around here soonish. And anyone determined could find it in about an hour online right now. But so far, I haven’t managed to acquire any trolls quite that persistent. So we’re sticking with the pseudonym. And it amuses me how many sentences in a row I’ve managed to start with a conjunction, all stuffy rules of grammar be darned unto heck.
  6. Triggers migraines, and yes this sucks, and no I don’t want to hear — again — how awful it is. Because it is. And yet I survive. Somehow.
  7. This one should be self-explanatory.
  8. Ditto.
  9. The toe nail clippings of the mail system, yet less appetizing.
  10. Don’t blame me when you get arrested or investigated.
  11. Dirty jokes? Troll-B-Gon recipes?
  12. This is a gratuitous footnote entirely in honor of Hel. Blame her.

A really bad day

I wrote this three weeks ago, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it at the time. Then, the day after I wrote it, things got better. Not great, but better, and all that changed was me. Sometimes, asking for help is enough to receive it, even when we ask an empty room.

I have never deliberately hit my child.

I start with this, hold it out as an emotional talisman, to ward off the evil I from what I say below.

I have never purposefully hit my child, but I have hurt him, caused him physical pain through deliberate action as surely as though I had raised my hand to him.

My hand — this hand, gripping his as he struggles to pull away, as he screams “Stop! You’re hurting me! Let go of me!” I feel his ischemic skin under me still, can recall the grating of his bones as they attempt to twist away under mine. There were extenuating circumstances, to be sure, but aren’t there always? They feel like excuses, the same as any other abuser: I had to, he made me, it was for his own good. Did I grip tighter than necessary, in anger, squeeze more cruelly in my rage? I cannot say no and not know it a lie.

I feel still his flesh under mine, and the urge to hurt my hand in restitution (not revenge; its agony is too well earned) is a physical force, like gravity, pulling me to hit, to cut, to bruise and bloody and break until the feel of him pulling from me fades, until the blood pounding in ears is drained, until I cannot hear him pleading me to stop hurting him, mama, stop hurting me, let go!

***

This body of mine doesn’t deserve to feel good, to be pain-free, when it contains the tactile memory of harming my child, when it contains the potential to do so again. A part of me knows the uselessness of this limited thinking — pain begets more pain, healing begets healing — but I cannot convince the core of me it does not deserve to suffer for what it has done.

***

He won’t get in his car seat. So often, it comes down to that ridiculously mundane thing. I want to loathe the contraption, to curse the laws of state and physics that demand its use, but rationally I know it is little more than a symbol for both of us. If it were not the seat, likely it would be something else, some other point that would act as fulcrum and wedge between us, would be come the trophy in our struggle: his control, my freedom; his freedom, my confinement.

So often we don’t go out, not because he wouldn’t go — he’s happy to strap in when the bookstore or preschool is on the other end — but because the return is so agonizing. I have a choice, always, between the sedentary depression of staying home, or the awful antagonism of trying to return.

My impulse, so often, is to go out — when I am manic, to go and run and do, when I am depressed, to go and get away and be anywhere but here, when I am relatively well, to go and get things done. To be confined, trapped, at home or in a place not my choosing, unable to leave at all at my will, is not mere inconvenience: it is sickening. It is, perhaps, not unbearable per se, but sometimes it is more than I can bear, and often more than I am able to bear if I am to also, ever, have the ability to do anything but survive it.

At some point, the human body breaks down under stress.

I think I can be stable on my own, have learned through trial and so many errors how to manage my moods to minimize instabilities, when my time is my own. But when it’s not — when my every movement must account for the dictates of a capricious creature, not deliberately but casually cruel, uncaring of my needs and the demands of my moods — and it always is so — I don’t know how to not lose it, except through a grip so tight it twists arms and damages tissue. It hurts.

***

When I can, I wait for him. I give him time and space to choose. I give him control over as many parts of the experience as I can: arms under, pull out the bottom buckle (for it inevitably ends up underneath him), clip the top, guide the clasp to the buckle, your hand on mine as I click it in place. Before then, even: how many more times would you like to go down the slide? Yes, you may open the door yourself, climb in yourself, close the door in my face and make me knock and open it again from the inside yourself, fine. Whatever. Rituals are developmentally appropriate, if damned annoying, so knock yourself out making me knock, kid. Just get in the damned car seat.

Sometimes this works. Other times it does not. Today was an other time. Today was an abundant heads-ups, lots-of-options, still-didn’t-want-to-leave, carried-him-out-kicking-and-screaming day. Today was half an hour playing in the car and finally an agreement to leave and we’re scraping the bottom of my well of patience, dragging up brackish tones that are as close as I can get to the calming voice I know would help, but it has to be enough, and it will be enough because he’s getting in his seat — except wait, now he wants to get out and have me knock on the other doors, and maybe that would have been the magic step but after so many prior misdirections, I cannot try, there is not one last chance left and I lose it and I force him in the seat, and the straps are scraping his skin and his tears are falling on my sleeve and his body crumples under my “superior” strength, as I prove to him, viscerally teach, that might makes right, and I am glad we got rid of the car with the clutch because I can drive away left-handed, my right reaching back and stopping his from undoing his upper buckle — his arms twist in my hand — as he screams and curses and cries and some stranger in a truck stopped at the light next to us stares through the window and wonders if he should call the cops and I swear to god I’m not sure he shouldn’t.

That was today.

***

Some of you are thinking I give too many choices to a child, would chide me that it’s my own fault, I need to put my foot down. To you I say, fuck off. Not only are you wrong because it is wrong to treat another so, I’ve already tried that anyway: all upping the pressure does is quicken the explosion, and we are both that much more miserable that sooner.

Some of you are thinking I am asking too much, not giving enough, not patient enough, not creative enough in my solutions, too insistent that we ever leave the house or the park or the preschool, and to you too I say fuck off, because sometimes there is no more to give, no more daylight to stay out, no more blood sugar to wait another half hour, no more options when the appointment is across town, no creativity left to be had when it’s taking my all to just not hurt myself or him. If you want to move me to the mythical land of everything I could want in walking distance and a dozen alloparents when I need to tag out, then we’ll talk. Until then, take your shoulds and shove ‘em.

Some of you, too, are thinking it’s all normal, and this too shall pass, and I’ll laugh at this some day and to you too I say, no matter how well meaning your platitudes — and I know they mostly are — fuck off. This is not a way anyone should have to live, this is not ok, this is not merely the moanings of a bad-day mother. Everyone has bad days; not everyone is trapped at home in terror of a tiny tyrant and their own responses to such. Not everyone has to chose between going crazy at home and going crazy out, when crazy is not an overused hyperbole but a terrifying, dangerous reality.

(Some of you are thinking this is nothing, and you are carrying secrets far worse, and wondering if I feel this bad about this, how should you feel? And to you I say: I’m sorry. I offer you all the compassion and love and forgiveness I cannot draw forth for myself. I hope for you the solace and strength and healing, for yourself and your children, that I despair of finding for myself.)

I do not claim to be unique. I would not presume to declare myself worse off than everyone, or anyone, else. But before you shove me into the slot you lined up for me — monster, martyr, mundane mother –, before you wag your finger or pat my head or dial CPS, hear me.

Do not judge me and so dismiss me, whether as over-permissive, overbearing, or ordinary: see me, know me. Help me.

Naked Pictures of Faceless People: Trauma by Any Other Name

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone, whether blogger or reader only, is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

Trigger Warning: There is a trigger warning on this post for descriptions of medical/birth trauma.

Trauma by Any Other Name

There’s a lot of stuff around about on the Internet about birth trauma — both the medical-clinical kind, wherein actual physical damage is caused to baby or mother or both, and the emotional/psychological kind, which is posited for babies and reported by mothers after some births. Like, I suspect, a lot of women, I’ve read my share of these stories and have been moved by many of them, horrified by others, and mystified by a few.

While sympathetic, even empathetic, to the raw pain expressed by many of these women, I wondered in my heart if birth trauma wasn’t what my mother has always referred to as “women’s war stories” — an expression of shared trouble to bind and bond a group as much as to release emotion. Birth, after all, is by its nature a major, transformatory and physically and emotionally very significant event. I suppose it would be fair to say that I never really thought the concept had applicability to my own three birthing experiences — until the past few months.

Let me be clear: neither I nor any of my three baby girls suffered physical birth trauma. The damage done to my body by the major abdominal surgery that is a cesarean section was planned, and, in the scheme of things, proportionate to the result it produced (ie a healthy, intact baby). My body was not unduly tardy in healing these gut wounds and my uterus, if scarred, remains functional and behaves normally, as does my skin. I did not feel then, and do not feel now, that my c-sections were botched or that they were unnecessary. The surgeons who performed my deliveries were careful and neat workers and I had none of the complications that I know can attend abdominal deliveries.

However.

My last delivery, of my beautiful almost-2-year-old, C, in February 2009, did involve physical injury to me, although not related to the surgery itself but to the spinal anesthetic. The anesthetic caused nerve damage to a wide span of nerve bundles in my upper spine, which caused a range of subsequent physical and emotional effects which mimicked the onset of MS, and left me living in terror of the paralysis I felt sure was coming, for several months at least.

Even after my wonderful, thrice-blessed neurologist, who took me seriously and tested me to within an inch of my life to find out what was *really* going on, had reassured me that the damage was not life or mobility threatening and that I would, in time, recover, I still had many months more of physical symptoms to get through before late 2009 and 2010 brought ever-increasing improvement and relief, to the point where now, in January 2011, those physical sensations are a nightmarish memory, with only occasional flare-ups if I am exhausted, very stressed, or very sick. (I will be vulnerable to those flare-ups all my life).

Excuse me if I ramble. I am actually having difficulty writing as I am shaking as I start allowing these memories to surface and be spoken. I need to write this, though; tonight I realized how badly I do need to.

I knew, obviously, that I had been physically traumatized by the anesthetic at my last birth. That was clear once my neurologist had completed his tests. What I have only woken up to recently, however, is the fact that I have also been psychologically and emotionally traumatized by this experience as well.

I have been shying away from calling this trauma by its name, because I have been unwilling to label myself as a “victim”, unhappy to allow the word to be breathed in the same context as the joyful welcoming of my daughter, all too aware of how much suffering others have undergone and not wanting to even implicitly compare my experience to theirs. But I know that really those are not reasons enough to deny my reality and that continuing to do so is not helping me to face these memories and deal with them.

So here it is:

I am traumatized by what happened when I gave birth to C.

Remembering the anesthetic being inserted is like an unbearable toothache, where the tooth throbs in agony but you can’t seem to help yourself from poking at it with your tongue. I try not to dwell on it or even give it head room, but things remind me, and all of a sudden I’m back, telling the anesthetist that it feels wrong, different from the other times, and being shushed. I flush with heat and then cold, and then the tingling starts, a psychologically induced but physically felt ghost of the myoclonic jerking, loss of balance, parasthesia and terror that I felt when C was 1 to 10 weeks old (the worst time).

By careful mental discipline, I can think about C’s birth without allowing my mind to touch on the anesthetic. I can remember the delight I felt in seeing her delivered safe and beautiful, I can remember her sweet newborn smell, I can taste my tears of happiness as I gave her the very first and blessedly easy breastfeed. If I focus my mind’s eye on her, on C herself, I can remember peacefulness and love and tiredness and happiness and milk and sleep and sweetness. All that good stuff. It’s not lost to me and it’s not less real for the fact that, if I let my mind stray to my own body -

I feel sick.

I feel incredibly anxious.

I feel fearful and closed-in and yes,

I feel invaded.

It was brought home forcefully to me how strong this reaction is as I was telling my elder daughters stories before bed tonight. They wanted me to tell them the stories of when they were born, stories they have always loved hearing and I have always loved telling. Tonight, for some reason (perhaps her increasing need for detail to know every bit), the 7 year old wasn’t content for me to talk in generalities – she wanted the specifics of how the needle was inserted, where it was inserted, how it felt when my legs went numb. And although her birth was not traumatic at all, I found myself struggling to breathe as I described these things to her, my mind’s eye filled with a picture of myself in 2009, lying on that table, about to be harmed. I had to tell her that I couldn’t talk about it anymore, and move the story on to talking about her surgical delivery (I can talk and think about my abdomen being incised and a baby removed with complete equanimity and even humor. Strange).

Is this reaction disproportionate? Sure, it is. Is it reasonable? No, I know it isn’t. Do I have any just cause for complaint? I think I don’t, and so I don’t complain.

I’m not complaining now. Not really.

I’m just calling it by its name. Birth trauma. Trauma, occasioned to me, during a surgical birth. Trauma that I have to understand and acknowledge in order to be able to release.

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Quick Hit on Ineffective Parenting Techniques

Parenting techniques that are utterly, pointlessly ineffective:

  • Yelling at your child not to yell.
  • Threatening your child for unsocial behavior.
  • Demanding that your child stop making demands upon you.
  • Disconnecting from your child seeking connection (manifested, for example, as pleas for attention: “Look at me! Watch me! Did you see that?”)
  • Getting stressed at your child for not going with the flow.
  • Insisting that your child not insist everything be done exactly their way, because you want them done your way instead.
  • Swearing at your child to fucking stop swearing.
  • Screaming at your child because they won’t stop screaming.
  • Throwing your child’s toy because they won’t stop throwing it.
  • Commanding your child to relax.
  • Ordering your child to speak gently.
  • Grabbing an object from your child to teach them that grabbing objects from others is wrong.
  • Lecturing that your child cannot control another’s actions while controlling their actions (by, for example, requiring they get buckled in their car seat right now).

How do I know these parenting techniques are completely ineffective, other than that, when written like this, it becomes obvious how unbelievably foolish they are? Because I have done each and every one in the past week. Many times. And they never, ever work.

So why do I keep doing them?

(…don’t answer that.)

(But if you want a real answer, it’s because kids are triggering, I am my father’s child, and this parenting gig is hard.)

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