Motherhood changes you, they say. You'll never be the same.
It's true. I took my baby to the doctor for his 9-month checkup. Scottie is truly our baby, the youngest of three boys, forever the baby as much as it will make him cringe in future years. "Check his ribs," I urge the doctor, "one of them feels funny." The doctor nods and glides his hands over the top of smooth baby plump, feeling for the unevenness that keeps me up at night.
"One of them sticks out."
"I can feel that," he says, "but it's quite normal."
"They're not symmetrical..." I push him a little harder for an answer and he turns to face me.
"You know, a lot of things in our bodies are not symmetrical. A nose, a face, ribs... rarely are our bodies perfect. The rib will continue to change as he grows; it shouldn't cause any problems."
I smile and relax back into my chair, smoothing the hair on my 3-year-old's head as the pediatrician continues the exam. Scottie's doctor was also my own as a child; he's been easing my worries for 27 years now. Sometimes I feel like we're talking as friends.
As he checks reflexes and shines light into nostrils, he continues, "Ribs are actually more flexible than you think." He could have just dropped the subject but instead chooses to casually chat with me about ribs: "They will bend and move as they grow. A lot of mothers even notice that their own ribs will change shape on the side they use to carry their babies."
Now I'm really smiling. "I had no idea!" I gush, probably a little too overzealously, at this fact. I'm a lefty and I want to immediately stroke my left side searching for sunken ribs but I stop myself and instead keep smiling. Motherhood changes you.
I forget about ribs for a while. Somewhere between the diaper changing, meal burning, mail getting, vacuuming, school pick up, where are my mittens, phone blinking, please can you... I need some... why is the... my tummy hurts..., ribs slipped by silently to the quiet spots of my mind. The later spots. The oh yeah I remember that spots.
Until a few days later I was getting in the shower, quickly weighing myself before jumping under the warm water, steam already filling the corners of the mirror in the bathroom. I pinch a little at my skin, tracing the stretch marks, sucking in just to remember what could have been if this belly hadn't grown to entomb the growing bodies of three bumbling boys. And as I suck in I notice my ribs, like Scottie's, not quite symmetrical. Then on the left side, my baby carrying side, without much effort at all I can feel the subtle but sudden indentation of bone. A perfect casting of baby thighs, wrapped tightly, lovingly, around mama's middle. It takes my breath away.
Motherhood changes you in so many ways. My sleep cycles are permanently damaged. The stretch marks are irreversible. Even the way I think, always about others before myself, is a mark that motherhood silently brushes over its canvas in permanent pigment. I am the canvas, at the mercy of motherhood. Humbly pouring myself into these little souls, knowing the toll it takes on tired, already sagging skin, but also knowing the honor of being called into this role. I know the joy of loving through bent-up ribs, with pent-up love that bursts through the cracks in the spaces in the bones that these babies bent up inside of me. And it is beautiful.
My husband used to say "I can fix anything but a broken heart," just to make me swoon when we were dating. He was being honest, though. We bring him busted toys and aggravating appliances and he returns them mended. But I can't bring him my ribs. I won't. It would be too painful to imagine them perfect again.
These babies are growing. One already in school, toting home homework and spelling lists to study. Another lounges lazily in bed on a cold afternoon, leisurely snacking and watching a favorite show and looking so much like his daddy it makes my heart gasp. There's only one boy left who claims my ribcage as his own. It's his stomping ground, literally. When I scoop him up off the floor or out of his crib his fat excited legs squeeze tight around me as his feet stomp the air, so quickly, in enthusiastic bursts. My ribs are maybe even still molding a little with each happy stamp.
Motherhood changes you. Painfully, and beautifully, it changes you. I could be a smoother version of myself, less sleep-deprived, better dressed; my list of worries could begin and end only with me. But I'm at the mercy of motherhood, and I'd rather love through these bent rib bones.