On Monday I had my first gynecological exam since Calder was an infant. It was over before I realized it and I hardly felt a thing so I’m glad I avoided it for three years. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to the dermatologist for a full body scan of the various constellations and mud splatters that dot the canvas of my epidermis. I have an appointment scheduled for June to see a pelvic floor physical therapist (and an insurance deductible for the privilege that I’ll probably never meet). Next month I’ll see a primary care physician for the first time since mine left town six years ago. I’ll get blood drawn and tested and maybe we’ll figure out why I’m so very tired all the time. Tomorrow I’m getting my hair cut. I’m thinking I’ll cut my bangs short again because I could use something meaningless to fuss with. I’ve been exercising. Yes, I’m a human being with a body. It’s been news to me, too.
It’s been three years since Rachel Welch first reached out to me about the postnatal fitness program she runs called Revolution Motherhood. Online and in person Rachel works with postpartum birthing parents to restore and repair the bodily infrastructure that gets, pardon the phrase, fucked by pregnancy. I was eager to take her course after Calder was born, but as we know, things in 2020 didn’t go exactly to plan. In my own freshly postpartum state I found myself at home, in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, a newborn, a three-year-old, and a kindergartner zooming her way through learning to read. James threw himself into tending his sour dough and taking our children for socially distanced park visits. He toted warm water and soap in an insulated bottle to use for hand washing and I rolled my eyes and locked myself in the only bedroom and listened to sirens while trying at least to maintain the appearances of working. I sobbed over taxes and closed playgrounds and shuttered schools and studiously ignored my aching back and tight hips.
For all intents and purposes, and certainly on a surface level, our family has made it through the past few years relatively unscathed. That I’m lucky in a million ways goes without saying, but there are other ways where I can recognize how I’ve shrunk in on myself, ignoring the ways my body was asking me to do things differently and adapting my behavior to make up for the deficits. My back aches and so I often write from bed, or don’t write at all. A borrowed heating pad from my parents’ house works overtime, trying to keep me nimble enough for school pick ups to say nothing of getting out for a good wander solo. Lifting something the wrong way landed me in the emergency room this fall. I was sent home with prescriptions for muscles relaxers and physical therapy. I went to every appointment and didn’t take even half of the medicine and still, I have not been feeling good in my body. All of which is how I have found myself—preternaturally resistant to group exercise—donning leggings each week and kneading my cranky body on a foam roller in one of Rachel’s classes.
In class this week, Rachel coaxed us into crow pose. I did a modified version of the stretch, squishy blue ball tucked under a butt cheek that positively will not touch the ground. Stay there, she cooed and then laughed: “All we want to be is alone and we get there and we have to face some stuff. It’s easier to just go back to scrolling.” And how!
Like no doubt others this week, I’ve been rocked by the news of Heather Armstrong’s passing. In her beautiful piece for the Washington Post, Lyz Lenz writes, “Heather’s writing was sack-of-meat raw, raunchy and transcendently real. She wrote fiercely and furiously.” She goes on, “Heather had shown me that I didn’t need to ask permission, I didn’t need to wait for approval….She showed a generation of women who would become mothers that the stuff of our lives was valuable and important, that our voices and stories mattered. She elevated the humdrum of domesticity into an art form — one that made you laugh so hard you thought you’d have to lie down.”
I am no Heather Armstrong. I don’t often lay bare all of my messiest stuff, the demons I wrestle with don’t threaten to destroy me. I’m sure I’m not half the wit or half the writer, but I do know something of what it is to exist, at least partially, online. “You sound sad” in the comments section always rings like an admonishment and so I instinctively do my best to avoid hearing it: Command + Shift + Arrow; Delete. Command + Shift + Arrow; Delete. But sometimes I am sad. This week I’ve been sad that Heather didn’t make it. (Devastated, if I’m being honest, that some of her last published pieces were deeply transphobic.) Sad that it can be so hard to be a human.
This afternoon I went for a private session with Rachel. She worked on my overtaxed hip flexors, my jumpy back, my pelvis that doesn’t like to move but needs to. She held my head in her hands and massaged the length of my neck. I don’t always warm easily to care. Confronting my human body and caring for it hasn’t always come naturally to me. But I’m making and keeping my appointments. I’m doing my little exercises and rolling on my silly rubber balls and foam roller. It feels good. If you’re a person with a body that has carried a baby, I can’t recommend Rachel’s class enough. If you’re a person with a body at all, I hope you find a way to care for it this week.