at the kitchen table: the body issue

 photo by  Xin Li

photo by Xin Li

1.  Give us a few words you would have used to describe your body, your health or your sense of physical vitality before the experience of babyloss—and a few that you’d use to describe it now.

Chris: Before I felt solid, strong & purposeful. Now I'm just amazed that I can get my body to do anything at all. My muscle memory for how to be correct in the world is what carries me along a lot of the time.

Gal: I am stronger now physically, and healthier. My pregnancy with Tikva actually strengthened me—her gift to me. I am older, though, more weathered, so a new kind of doubt is there too.

Janis: Confident, proud, trustworthy, miraculous (in terms of making and birthing babies). Now, I see it cannot be taken for granted, yet it is still such an important vehicle. So the word for after is: mixed feelings.

Jen: Before: always plump, somewhat abused by the cigarette habit I’d been trying intermittently for years to give up. During pregnancy I felt generally better than I had since my teens. After: tired, entire lives older than it should feel, too soft in all the wrong places. Whereas I’ve never been confident in myself physically—at best it would have been content—it would now likely register at below zero. It’s something I’m working on. Emotionally, however, I am astonished at what I can apparently handle. Or at least survive.

Julia: I've gone through phases with my body. Right before my pregnancy with A, I was, I think, confident even if not satisfied. Now is a hard one. Both A's pregnancy, and my last one, with the Cub, as well as the aftermath of each, have been hard on me, in somewhat different ways. I made an effort to be kind to my body after A. I have succeeded, mostly, but the body isn't much better for it. The cumulative effect of these last two pregnancies is that I am tired. Just.so.tired.

Kate : Before: presumptuous. Oblivious in my skin, and which had me focusing on stuff like saddlebags and zits. After: seasoned, appreciative, solemn. Which doesn't sound like much fun, but I'm better for it.

Tash:  Before: petite, athletic, strong, healthy, feeling as though there was still potential for growth—a triathlon maybe, or scorpion pose. Now: flabby, overweight, stout, stiff, feeling as if I'm over the hill and the best is long behind me.

2.  What do you do to take care of yourself? Has this changed?

Chris: Eat well, relax, read. I am hoping for hikes as the spring rolls in. I was never one to exercise or go to the gym and I still hate it.

Gal: I do yoga once or twice a week. I get acupuncture monthly. I take walks in the park and breathe fresh air. I get good sleep. I eat as much chocolate as my soul desires. Not much is different, except that I feel more deserving of it all now.

Janis: Yoga and chocolates are my lifelines. They still are, and I also need a lot of time for myself. Solitude for the heart and soul.

Jen:  I’ve recently gotten back into the habit of going to the gym regularly. I feel worlds better now than a few months ago when it would have been an accomplishment to step on a machine once a week.

Julia: Not much, physically. I make an effort to walk during the work day. It helps that most of the parking available by my job is far-far away. I give myself breaks, let go of things that would've driven me mad to neglect, before. Alone time, when I can. Blog time, or I feel suspended, unconnected. Time with friends. Time with friends from the computer, who are now most definitely corporeal. A small drink here and there (between the pregnancies, the drinks were larger and more frequent, as they will be again, some day).

Kate: What restores me is the illusion of my own space and time, even for a few hours. I lack the discipline for regular exercise, and am totally mystified with admiration for those that have it. The guilt associated with this has always been there but since losing Liam, it's exacerbated with the 'Get off your ass, life is a fragile thing!'

Tash: I still run, go to the gym, and eat a low-sugar balanced diet. Just none of it as disciplined as before, with a steeper climb to start off with, and it shows. I've only recently got back in the swing of preventative medicine like the dentist and gynecological annuals.

3. Give us one or two words to describe sex or physical intimacy before, and then after the loss of your baby.

Chris : Before it was fun and hopeful. Now it is both fraught with uncertainty and abalm for my pain. We enjoy ourselves but there is a great sense of purpose and intent.

Gal: It's hard to explain, but now it feels even more intimate. We've been through the unimaginable together, so our intimacy—of all kinds—is just more, deeper. Dave is the only one who really knows what it was like to know Tikva. I think of that often when I look at him.

Janis: Before: intense, fun. After: intense, emotional.

Jen: Before: regular, fun, satisfying. After: fairly regular, satisfying, much more intimate and intense. We’d both admit that we’re still terrified of being pregnant again before we’re ready.

Julia: Before: fun, important (as in a priority, not as in fate of the world in the balance). After: entangled, involved.

Kate: Before: carefree. After: loaded.

Tash: Before: Freeing, confident. After: Overthought, naked (in an on-stage-at-the-talent-show kinda way, not a sexytime-fun kinda way)

4. Has loss and/or grief left a physical mark on you (a scar, a chronic condition, insomnia, a tattoo)?

Chris: The lack of any physical expression of my loss and pain was intolerable to me. I don't have Silas here, so I needed something to mark me. I have a tattoo on my right forearm that provides a powerful connection to my absent son. For a while I had headaches every night around 3am but thankfully those stopped. Now a sour stomach plagues my nights.

Gal: Almost 10 months after Tikva's birth, I still have a faint pregnancy line down my belly. I love it, I hope it stays forever. I still have tears running down my face at least once each day. My gray hairs are more abundant, and I definitely look older.

Janis: I have aged. I am flabby and old. I feel extremely tired and ravaged in every sense of the word. When I look into the mirror I do not recognize myself, but my friends seem to still recognize me. I dunno how that works.

Jen: Certainly a c-section scar. A few stretch marks. About 30 extra pounds. The circles under my eyes have finally started to fade. Sleep has been a major issue for me since she died, but as I get my ample ass to the gym more often, the easier I’m finding it to drift off. I’d be awake for weeks at a time without the books I consume.

Julia: Do 50 pounds count? PCOS, which means dropping weight is a bitch. Post-partum thyroiditis, which means a whole host of symptoms and medications, none of them good. Including, yes, the weight thing. Both times two now. A possibility (probability?) of a medical procedure on the horizon.

Kate: Two years later I'm still unsure how I feel about my c-section scar. Some days it haunts me, and other days I feel as though it's my tattoo. I look like anyone else on the outside, as does my family, and I almost cling to the evidence of the NICU, of him.

Tash: A pooch that sit-ups don't seem to have the least effect on. And I grind my teeth now. Oh, and deep dark bags under my eyes, even though I haven't cried in ages and sleep quite well, thanks. And grey hairs. Would a tattoo divert attention away from any of this?

5. Do you medicate or control your emotions with food, wine, altered states, prescriptions? Without judgement, what have you gravitated towards in an effort to heal, and how do you feel about it?

Chris: I just want to give a big shout-out to all the micro-brewers all across the land. Keep those IPAs coming!  And thank you wine, for existing. Wine is wonderful.  Food has also been a refuge. Chocolate. Lobsters. Pizza. It's sorta like an anti-celebration, but it works. I was surprised to find that neither of us relied on things like Xanax for relief for very long. Initially it helped, but it was always a decision of last resort and it's not something I look to anymore.

Gal: Besides chocolate, which is comforting, I really haven't felt drawn to control or stop my emotions. I'd rather feel them deeply and let them journey through me and from me.

Janis: Not really. I think I escaped into words.

Jen: I’ve been on antidepressants since just before Christmas. I was against them for the longest time, believing that given my addictive personality I’d end up on them at best for years and at worst for the rest of my life. I started during a period when things were sliding backwards for me at a pace I simply couldn’t handle. It was lower and more painful than I ever admitted to the people who love me and hiding how sad I was became more than I could cope with. Now I’m on a course that will have me weaned off by late spring, and I’m ready. Also, wine has always been and continues to be a fairly close acquaintance of mine.

Julia: Between the pregnancies, I needed that drink. Or three. Not every night, but not infrequently. Somehow, it made it easier to think, put sentences together. It quieted the background, helped me focus on whatever it was I needed to process that day. And is there really a better way to deal with a BFN than a fruity yet stiff cocktail?

Kate: I stopped eating meat. It was an intentional way to get the hell away from death three times a day. Being a vegetarian helps me to feel peaceful. And smaller/tidier/healthier, fringe benefits.

Tash: I was so afraid of wine in the beginning—I opted not to drink it for the longest time until I was sure it was because I truly wanted to just enjoy it, not because I felt I needed it. I did a lot of a coffee, and still find it the most comforting substance, especially in the morning when I'm realizing for the 26th month of waking up that this wasn't some bad dream.

6.  Was physical healing important for you in the first year after your loss? What did/does physical healing entail and how did/do you work towards it? If physicality hasn't been a priority for you, what do you do that makes you feel stronger or more able to cope?

Chris: At this point, for me, physical healing is secondary to healing my emotional and psychic wounds.  I'm sure more exercise & activity will benefit me, though.

Gal: I'm still in the first year, although sometimes it feels like a piece of the loss began over a year ago when I learned of Tikva's condition in utero. Being supported by friends and family holds me together. Eating well and enough and feeling nourished. And writing, lots of writing.

Janis: Yoga really helped me, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I also went to a couple of energy healers. Being out in nature also strengthened me and inspired me, and helped me feel connected to my son.

Jen: A year passed last week for us. For me, getting a job was a major factor in making me feel stronger in the beginning. Now, improving physically has become a priority that I’m finally enjoying.

Julia: I wanted to. I had the best intentions. I got benched by thyroiditis for a while. Other things after that. I think I ended up going to the gym a grand total of four or five times. Though I surprised myself a few times that year with the things I could still do, like swimming out into the open water to chase a catamaran. And catching it.

Kate: Physical healing wasn't an explicit priority—at least in terms of fitness. For a very long time, sex was near-incomprehensible. It felt inappropriate to relish in this baby-losing body. For me, the reclaiming of this flesh had more to do with Marvin Gaye and new underwear than it did jogging.

Tash: Oh good lord, no. I can't remember how long it took to even cut my hair, let alone think about taking a vitamin or eating something other than cold cereal. Eventually, I wanted to run again, and about four months later I did. It helped immensely, physically and emotionally. Until I blew out my plantar fascia. Moral of the story: when healing, do it slowly in small increments, not all at once.

7.  If you could change anything about your body and/or health, what would it be? What would it feel like to be either at peace with your body, or at peace with this babylost state?

Chris:  I hate my teeth, I hate my eyes and right now I can't stand my stomach either. I'd trade any of them in an instant. Teeth first, though. I seem to wear glasses well. However, I don't really feel like I'm at war with my body.  It's just how it is and I'm okay with it. My body is strong enough to bear this loss and I can still do everything I need or want to. Overall I'm fine with my body, but I will never be okay with losing Silas.

Gal: I would turn back the clock to be 10 years younger and have more childbearing years ahead of me. I feel at peace with my body, appreciate its vitality and resilience, and the resilience of my soul. I feel like being at peace with my babylost state is something I have no choice but to choose to be and feel.

Janis: I don't think I can change anything, because now I feel I am no longer in control. I can change this, or that, but there are a myriad other variables out there. I am not sure what it will feel like to be at peace, but I think it will be just that—feeling at peace. No wants, no desires, no regrets, no could-have-been's, just accepting, just being. (I think if anything, I wanna change my life, change what happened...)

Jen: In a perfect world I'd know that I'm perfectly healthy; able to carry and deliver a healthy child. I have no idea what being at peace would feel like.

Julia: I accept both. I am not ok with either. My body is the way it is because of childbearing and what, for me, comes with it. That makes its present state earned, but it doesn't make it good. I call my feeling acceptance, though I am beginning to suspect that it's actually resignation. One day I might find motivation to work on it, but for now, from here, it just looks daunting. As for the babylost state. It will never be ok that A is dead. Yet he will always be dead. I accept that he is gone. But it will never be ok.

Kate: I am now a night-owl, and don't get enough sleep. I'm also not physically fit. This leaves me feeling pretty ragged sometimes, but staying up late to write feeds me in ways that keep me sane, if not toned. So I'm okay with that. (This is weird, actually. I wrote this question, yet I'm shrugging at it. All I can think of to say to "what would it look like to be at peace" is "hmph. dunno.")

Tash: I keep thinking, irrationally, if I could just change one little thing about my body, I'd deal with the whole grief mess sooo much better. If I could just lose the 20 pounds. If my skin would finally lose the pregnancy blotchiness. If I could have joints and feet and ovaries that were just five years younger. If I got a boob job. And then I realize I wouldn't feel that much better at all. I suppose I've found some level of peace in the notion that I'll never be content with my body.