When my daughter was eight days old, her great-grandparents came to visit.
My brain was nothing but mush, and to be honest, I shouldn't have agreed to having visitors over so soon. My birth experience was traumatic to say the least -- I'd hemorrhaged half of my blood volume immediately postpartum -- and in hindsight, I should have been tucked up in bed, thinking of nothing and nobody but my precious baby girl.
But I was a first-time mom, living in a world that places meeting external expectations and keeping busy above healing, bonding and finding peace.
So when my grandmother asked me, "Are you doing your exercises?", my mind turned from mush to purée. Had I missed some vital postpartum exercise information in the midst of my near-death birth experience? I'm not talking pelvic floor here -- I was clued up on the importance of that, particularly after naturally delivering a 9-pound, 8-ounce baby. My mind was racing to the Worst Case Scenario, panicking that a magical exercise routine should be followed to ensure no further hemorrhaging, to aid recovery from anemia, or at the very least to help me remain upright without nearly collapsing.
Whilst my legs could barely stand, my mind raced... was I missing out on a program of self-care that all other women, of all generations, instinctively knew about to ensure maternal safety postpartum?
A finger-jab to my tummy brought me back down to reality. My grandma sat staring at my stomach: "You know, exercises to get rid of that belly."
It was eight days postpartum... eight days since I had first seen my gorgeous baby's face... eight days since my hemorrhage... eight days since I saw white amidst a room full of diligent-yet-worried doctors... that belly was hardly at the forefront of my mind.
Why should I have been thinking about ridding myself of that belly? That belly, with the map of carefully interweaving lines, detailing my daughter's every kick and stretch. That belly, which was the first home my daughter ever knew. That belly, which kept her safe, content and protected for 42 (long) weeks. That belly, which nurtured my growing child and in so doing, nurtured my own sense of self... because by default, that belly kept me safe, content and protected as well. I grew as a person with every inner hiccup and every swollen, uncomfortable moment.
You see, I felt like bowing down to that belly. I felt like celebrating it and thanking it for what it had carried -- for whom it had carried. And yet there is so much pressure placed on mothers to rid ourselves of every reminder that we ever once carried a child, and that pressure is even bigger than that belly.
We are put high on our pregnancy pedestal for nine months, only to take a drastic fall from grace once our babies are in our arms. I hear so very often of mothers "doing so well" because they are "back at the gym so soon," yet I rarely hear of a mother being praised and congratulated for spending those first weeks and months doing nothing but snuggling with her newborn and putting two fingers up to the socially acceptable image of early motherhood.
Because it is always an image. We are told that only images have significance -- that only an image can sell, can seduce, can influence. Because pictures are power. Yet for a new mother, the smell of baby's head, the touch of baby's skin and the sound of her gurglings are true power. For a new mother, staring into the deep, pool-like eyes of her newborn is nothing short of life-changing: power in its purest form.
As mothers, as women, we have all the time in the world for our bodies to slowly and carefully change after pregnancy. In time, they will deflate. Our maps will become less visible, the bright reminders of our maternity softening and dulling, but thankfully, never truly disappearing. Because these are the symbols of the truest love story a person could ever be a part of; they are signs of the greatest and most fulfilling journey imaginable.
And hey, on this journey of motherhood, I'll bring that belly along for the ride.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.