An Incomplete History of My Body


Grade school, maybe grade six or seven. Sitting in a circle with my girlfriends at recess. We go around the circle in turns: “My thighs are so fat. I hate them” “Your thighs are not fat! They’re so skinny! Look at my stomach. It’s flabby.” “Your stomach isn’t flabby, look at mine!” Around and around like that. I have a brief realization that none of us are fat, that this is ridiculous. I try not to feel bad about my body.

I am twelve, maybe thirteen. I’m playing at the school yard. A boy tells me I look good. I’m wearing a bit of makeup that I got for my birthday, a hairband, a brown corduroy collared shirt and khakis. I am pleased. Aware that I am noticed. I sense power in that, but don’t understand it. Won’t understand it for many years to come.

All through my young adult life, the women around me are on and off Weight Watchers. My mother, my aunts, my sister, my friends, all struggle with their weight, with their bodies. I subscribe to YM magazine, and read articles instructing me how to dress for my body type, what bathing suit I should be wearing, how to work out. For a while, I do workouts in my bedroom, push-ups and sit-ups on my dusty-pink carpet. I notice muscles growing, and I like it. I feel strong. It doesn’t last long, though. I know that I should care more.

Any time my dad’s family gets together, we eat all day long: cookies, squares, potato chips and dip, cheese trays, veggies and dip, and then we have dinner and then we have dessert. It is normal to eat to the point of feeling ill: that’s what the Borin girls do. In preparation for holidays, we are “good”,  we save our calories for an all-day binge. One Christmas eve, I vomit when we get home from my grandma’s, because I’ve eaten so much.

Throughout my late teen years, my twenties, I continue to spend the currency that is my body. I start waitressing in a bar, and the combination of attention and cash is intoxicating. I am so powerful. A low cut shirt, a push-up bra, pants that hug my ass: it’s so easy. These guys are so easy, so dumb. It feels like power, but in retrospect, I’m not sure it is. I go with it, though. Careening just a little bit, like going downhill on a bike and you’re on the edge of losing control, the handle bars wrenching back and forth in your hands.

Twenty-seven. Pregnant and keeping it. My body swells. I am the epitome of Earth Mother. All of the cliches: glowing, fertile, goddess. I birth my baby in the backseat of the car because I didn’t understand that I’d already started pushing at the house. Afterwards, I wonder how I could be so unaware of my body. Childbirth is different, though. I was in a different head space, I was out of my body and yet so firmly in it, of course I didn’t know. It was my first time. Pushing is feet in stirrups, doctor yelling instructions at you. Pushing is not in the dark of the bathroom against a washing machine. Bearing down is maybe a better descriptor.

Through the next two pregnancies, my weight fluctuates. Just before I become pregnant with Colm, I’m at my lowest weight ever. People tell me how good I look. What have you been doing? You look great, they tell me. I’ve lost enough weight that I need new bras, new pants, new shirts. My jaw, my cheek bones, are more pronounced. What have I been doing? I’ve been anxious about food, entire food groups or tiny molecular portions of them. Sugar and gluten are suspect: I try to avoid both with spotty success. I don’t want to eat things that come from far away, and this is partly a good thing and partly concerning because eventually I’m not sure what to eat. I am obsessed with “real” food. With toxins. I fall for pseudo-science and charismatic Internet food bloggers.

During my second pregnancy, my midwife encourages me to eat more, to put on more weight, as insurance. It’s not until my third pregnancy that I do. I eat with abandon and now, two years post-partum, I continue to do so. I eat oatmeal for breakfast, and then after Paul and Aedan leave for the day, I eat the rice leftover from dinner, with hot sauce. Then I find a chocolate bar stashed somewhere and I eat that, too. The kids want a snack so I eat a half a dozen crackers with them. A few cookies when they’re not looking. I finish their toast crusts. Then we make lunch and I eat mine plus what they don’t. We go to the grocery store and I buy a big bag of potato chips and then it’s empty before I realize it. I eat more crackers while I cook dinner, and then I eat seconds at dinner, too. I pay no attention to my body as I eat, as I go through my day, and then suddenly I can’t help but pay attention to it because I think I might throw up. Shame sets in. What the fuck is wrong with me?

For five years, almost six, my breasts have been on demand. My body constantly stimulated by little hands patting, reaching, clinging, wanting to be carried. I am adept at distancing myself from this body. I look in the mirror, naked, at my lopsided breasts hanging down towards my stomach. My stomach that could pass for six months pregnant. (People ask me, occasionally, if I’m pregnant again). None of my clothes fit right. My feet have gone up a half shoe size in the last couple of years and I wish that clothes came in half-sizes, too. Everything is either a bit too loose, or a bit too tight. I want to live in leggings. I want to cut my breasts off. I am a stranger in this body. This body that has climbed mountains, has hiked fifty two kilometers on the Chilkoot Trail. This body that can dance, and run, and grow and birth and nourish new humans. This body that was once my currency and that now feels like a crumpled bill in the bottom of a pocket. My body the afterthought, my body the inconvenience.

Still, though. It’s a woman’s body. I no longer wear low cut tops to work, but just this past Sunday, a man who once threatened to kill me because I cut him off told me if he were a bit younger, he’d take me home. As if that’s a compliment. In the summer I wear a red dress because it makes me happy and a man buys me a drink, expects conversation, is disappointed when he sees my wedding ring. I try to be invisible, wear jeans and a sports bra under a loose band t-shirt, and still they notice, tell me I look good. I’d like to tell them to fuck off, but I smile, I fumble, I walk away.

This body is mine and not mine. I’d like to come to a place of acceptance. Of some measure of gratitude. A truce, even. I try. I’d like to offer you more than this disjointed collection, had intended to, but it turns out I’m not there yet.

A Home Water-Birth Story

Sometime after midnight on May 26th, I woke not with the usual heartburn, but with mild contractions.  In the days leading up to labour, I always wonder if I’ll remember and recognize the feeling of a birth’s beginnings. I worry I won’t notice it or correctly identify it.  But of course, it is unmistakeable.

Finally! I thought as I stumbled to the bathroom for a drink of water.  The night was warm and muggy, the fans gently whirring in the hallway.  I let P sleep: experience told me we should all just sleep, so I got back into bed, snuggling Colm to me, intensely aware that it would be the last time we’d lie in this bed in this exact way.  I slept.

In the early morning, the contractions hadn’t changed much.  We all got up and I told P and the boys I thought we’d be meeting the new baby sometime later today.  The day began as usual: with oatmeal and green tea, and cereal for the boys.  I texted my mom to tell her today would be the day, and cancelled the 41 week appointment I was supposed to have with the midwife that afternoon. Then, I tried to relax and let my body do the work while I spent my last morning as a mother of two.

Becoming a mother for a second or third time is so different from the first time.  Of course it is.  The excitement and anticipation are there but there is also an undercurrent of guilt, of worry that I won’t be able to divide myself to attend to them all; that I’m robbing the previous baby of his rightful babyhood, pushing him into the next stage of developement too soon.

I tried to relish that morning with the boys, tried to be loving and connected and present for them. We read books and I did the voices and I didn’t yell. I put Colm down for a nap and snuggled him so hard while I napped, too.  And then, shortly before 1, I couldn’t be patient any more.

The contractions were taking more and more of my concentration.  As the boys ran from one end of the house to the other, bouncing off the walls in between, I frantically texted my mom.

Can you come over now?

While we waited for her I got the boys ready to go to the park.  I paced and I fretted over when to call the midwife.  As soon as they were out the door, I headed upstairs to make up the bed in the birth room. Finally, I decided to page the midwife.

I couldn’t tolerate the kids any longer, I told her.

She laughed and said she was on her way.

I told P he should start filling up the birth tub. I paced some more, the contractions getting a little stronger.

When Julie, the midwife, arrived, I was dilated to 5 cm.  My previous labours have been fast, but still I worried that I’d paged her too soon. In spite of my constant worry, the combo of the kids being out of the house, the midwife being there and the tub being filled acted as a powerful augment to my labour: suddenly the contractions gripped my belly, doubled me over as I tried to climb into the pool. Julie called the second midwife as I began to vocalize through my contractions.

The warm water was wonderful, relaxing, and I thought I’d have more time but it was as though my body knew I was eager to be done with pregnancy and onto the next phase. A few more strong contractions and I was sounding grunty. My vocalizations got louder, the pressure in my bottom was intense. The contractions were coming hard and fast, I was pushing and how the hell can I be pushing already? I thought. The second midwife arrived; I reached down to feel the baby’s head bulging against my perineum. Almost there, I thought, screeched, groaned between clenched teeth. As the baby’s head crowned I felt myself on the verge of losing control of myself.  The pain was more intense than in either of my other labours.  I just wanted this to be over! I pushed hard with that thought in mind and the head was out.

It is such an otherwordly experience to feel a head emerge from your body. I could give birth 10 times and still be awestuck each time.  And then, there is a blissful pause, a strange between-worlds few moments in which I felt the baby’s body rotate. I could barely wait for the next contraction before I began to push hard, long, beyond the contraction to birth her body.  Your body.  You’re here now, in my arms, in this hot, stuffy room in the afternoon of May 26th. Not crying yet, eyes still closed. The midwife towels your face, flicks the soles of your feet. You oblige, and take a breath and let it out with a soft cry that gets louder. Your colour is lovely, your hair thick and dark.

A girl, your daddy says, and I don’t believe him until I look for myself.

Your brothers come bounding upstairs, they kiss your head and tell me I was too loud. Your grandma beams down at you, at us, and herds the boys downstairs. After all my earlier nostalgia, I don’t mind seeming them go. This time is for me and  you.

Soon P cuts the cord and you are free of me, I am free of you, carefully getting out of the tub and settling into the bed to deliver the placenta.  I look at you.  We are quiet in the bustle around us, and you whisper your name to me: Charlotte.

The rest doesn’t matter, the afterbirth, the afterpains, all passing irritations.  You’re here, in my arms, on my chest, sleeping already.

Welcome to the world, Charlotte Maeridh.