When I was in my 20s, I treated my body like I was going to live forever in a Teflon suit. I drank shots of tequila, operated on very little sleep, and hurled myself downhill on a mountain bike. I drove fast and lived for the moment and dated the wrong people. I bartended and closed up by myself at 2 AM, and didn’t pay much attention to my general health. I didn’t look too far ahead, because I assumed the path would unerringly unfurl as though I had snapped a rug out in front of me to cushion my path.
When I had my son in 2009, I was a little more than a year shy of the big 4-0. The previous nine months had been filled with tests to my baby vessel: my body. I shuddered with severe nausea for months; exercised faithfully to counterbalance the traitorous gestational diabetes that threatened both my health and my baby’s; my belly was cut open with a scalpel and my organs moved aside to pull my new baby boy from my womb; I struggled with breastfeeding; and I shed too much weight much too quickly in the aftermath of his birth with the culmination of postpartum anxiety that shocked my system.
I thought I was weak. I thought my body had failed me. I said to my husband, “I am worthless. I can’t. I have nothing more to give.” I didn’t know, at the time, how wrong I was.
In the middle of some of the most terrifying anxiety I have ever had and extreme insomnia, when my son was an infant, I worked hard to change the dialogue I had with myself.
I am strong, I told myself. I carried a person and now he is here and he is everything I ever wanted. I have much more to offer, because I will take care of myself. Finding the time to take care of ourselves when we are parents is more important than ever. “Me time” is not the act of selfishness it appears to be – sometimes, it’s survival. It’s coming out on the other side and finding that the things we thought were important before our children is just a blip on the screen. The pre-flight instruction to “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first” is a metaphor for motherhood.
In parenthood, we have the capacity to become stronger than we ever have before. We are responsible for more than ourselves; we are responsible for growing a seed into a thriving sunflower, bending toward the sun. It’s hard, and sometimes heartbreakingly so.
Now in my mid-40s, I treat my body the way I treat my son’s – with care and love and patience and through the eyes of someone who knows what this body can do. I, too, am growing with my son. The patience I didn’t have earlier in my adulthood is more often within my reach and the wisdom about knowing the most important things in life are more clear. Parenthood has given me the gift of clarity, and that red carpet I took for granted when I was much younger feels more stable and richer and more real than ever.
Every night, my son and I wish upon the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of his bedroom, right before he goes to sleep. And every night, we wish for a happy and healthy life. I no longer wish for a body like a swimsuit model or for a million dollars or for someone to love me. Now I know: all I need is here. I have emerged, stronger than ever.