12 Ways I Kept A Sense Of Bodily Autonomy When I Was Breastfeeding
The moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I was 40 (more or less) weeks away from experiencing the challenges of postpartum life. Yes, I was excited to be a mom and have a newborn and I was even looking forward to enjoying breastfeeding; but I wasn't daft to the challenges I was sure to face. However, the loss of complete bodily autonomy was something I wasn't prepared for. Thankfully, I found ways to keep a sense of bodily autonomy when I was breastfeeding; ways that made me feel like I hadn't lost every single piece of myself to this wonderful, exhausting, beautiful, challenging, life-changing thing called motherhood.
Honestly, the loss of total control over my body is what I disliked about pregnancy the most. I hated that I was constantly sick, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I hated that my body was changing and I couldn't say, "Um, maybe slow down with all the alterations, for at least a hot second?" I despised the fact that all the side effects of pregnancy — the constipation and the gas and the food aversions and the growing stomach and the heartburn and the insomnia — were completely out of my control. A tiny, growing fetus was calling the shots, and I didn't particularly appreciate it. So, when my son entered the world I thought he would be bringing complete bodily autonomy with him. Yeah, that wasn't the case. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping made it all the more difficult to feel like I could be in total control of my new, sore, still-changing postpartum body. That continued loss of bodily autonomy was just another cosmic shift in my life; a shift that was making motherhood difficult to adjust to.
So, I took the time and made the effort to carve out little moments in my daily life to gain that bodily autonomy back, even when I was still using my body to sustain another human life. Sure, I couldn't completely call all the shots (for example, if I had it my way I would have foregone those late-night breastfeeding sessions in favor of some sleep), but I could still find some moments where I was 100 percent in complete control of me. You guys, it was magic.
Sure, it was a pain in the ass and, yes, it was still somewhat difficult to feel like I had complete ownership of my body when a part of it was attached to a machine for an untold number of hours every day.
However, when I pumped I new that I was essentially giving myself an opportunity to have someone else feed my son. When push came to shove, his dad could take over and I could still provide my son with breast milk. (Plus, engorgement is the worst, so anything that made my body feel relieved was a win in my book.)
I Let My Partner Feed Our Son, Too
This, honestly, took me a while. I had this "problem" after my son was born, in that I didn't want anyone (including his father) to necessarily care for him. I felt like I had to do it all, which meant I was over-worked, exhausted, sleep-deprived, and stressed out. I didn't feel like I had control over my life, let alone my own body.
So, eventually and with some coaxing, I learned to allow my partner to feed our son, too. Coupled with pumping, I knew that I could hand over a hungry baby, get a bottle of breast milk out of the fridge, and let my partner take over. In a way, it felt like I was taking a little piece of my body and my life back. I got to decide when my breasts were used to sustain my son, and when they weren't. When I felt myself breaking, I could say, "This can be your turn," and give myself the self-care that would allow me to continue to take care of my son to the best of my ability.
I Took Ridiculously Long Showers
I took long, unbelievably hot showers. Like, my skin would be red when I came out of the shower after using pretty much all the hot water. It was my "vacation moment," and a time I never apologized for taking. Yes, sometime it wasn't feasible and I would either forego a shower or take a quick one. However, when I could, I took my sweet ass time and relished the moment when the only thing touching my skin was borderline-scolding water.
I Didn't Have Sex
Exclusive breastfeeding and co-sleeping meant I was touched out in no time. So, even when I had the clear from my OB-GYN to resume sexual activity, I didn't. I was already giving so much of my body to my son, that I really didn't feel like giving anymore of it to my partner; even if I knew that would be mutually beneficial and feel great and there would be orgasms. In those first postpartum, breastfeeding months, I really thought the sexiest thing in the world was being left alone. I needed to feel alright in my new body, that was doing new, incredible things, before using my body to feel sexual, sexy, or anything in between.
(I did, however, masturbate and that was pretty awesome. I highly recommend it, especially as a way to learn to love your new body, and gain some bodily autonomy back. Masturbation, dear reader, is the bee's knees.)
I Started Reading For Fun
I blame an English degree for stealing the joy I once had for reading. When you're working on numerous papers, reading long, old, somewhat-difficult-to-decipher text, the urge to open up a book on your free time just kind of, well, disappears.
However, after I had my son I reclaimed my love for literature. I did some online shopping (because screw going out into the world when you're sore and have a newborn) and ordered a few books that were for me, and only me. I even read a lot of those books out loud, to my kid. He was a newborn and didn't understand a single word, and I was able to feel like myself; like I was calling the shots in a small part of my life; that I could take my body and travel the world from the comfort of my living room couch.
I Ate Whatever I Wanted
Not only did I need to accommodate all the calories I was burning thanks to breastfeeding; I also just wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. During pregnancy I couldn't do the aforementioned, for fear certain foods would harm the baby and/or my pregnancy. After my pregnancy, though? Yeah, all bets were off. I decided what was going into my gullet, and it was kind of hilarious how something so small could be so freeing.
I Had Bi-Weekly Manicures And Pedicures
I recently moved my family across the country to New York City, and aside from saying goodbye to the city I've known and loved for over six years (Seattle), and my friends, I was devastated when I was forced to say goodbye to my local salon. Those women were incredibly kind to me when I was pregnant, are partly responsible for starting my labor (foot massages, you guys), and made me feel incredible postpartum. Every two weeks I would take time to pamper myself, talk about new motherhood (or absolutely anything but new motherhood), and have a manicure and a pedicure. It was me doing something for me, and it was a step towards my new normal as a new mom.
I Danced By Myself (And Sometimes My Baby)
I love to dance. I've always loved to dance, and I'm sure I always will. So, once I recovered from childbirth, I found a way to move my body that was beneficial for me and only me (and, I guess, the mirror in my bedroom, but whatever). It was fun to do something with my person that was just, well, fun. To be "free," if only for a five minute song. To just be goofy and go back to my pre-baby self, when dancing to percussion-heavy music was my "thing."
I Stayed Off The Scale
Screw the scale. Seriously, all the time just screw the damn thing. However, I say especially screw it when you're postpartum. Who gives a shit about "baby weight." In fact, what is "baby weight?" You lose it the moment your baby comes into the world. There's no such thing as lingering "baby weight." It's not a thing.
When I was constantly using my body to benefit the tiny human being I made, the last thing I needed was to feel like I also owed my body to the alter that is unrealistic societal beauty expectations. I refused to give a you-know-what about my size or my weight, and that small act of defiance was empowering.
I Cut My Hair
Clichéd? Maybe. Do I care? Nope. Not even a little bit. A few months postpartum I found myself in a hair salon, cutting and coloring my hair. When my body was being used to sustain another human, my hair was a portion of my personal real estate I could completely and totally control. Plus, it's fun to change it up every once in a while.
I Wore Whatever I Wanted
Sweats? Check. Over-sized shirts? You bet. Tight-fitting clothes that showed my postpartum stomach? Absolutely. I wore whatever I want, regardless of how "ridiculous" or "inappropriate" someone else thought it was or wasn't, because why the hell not? Taking complete ownership of my wardrobe and dressing my postpartum body up however I felt, was another way I could say, "I am still in charge of me." It was awesome.
I Spent Time Alone
Yes, it's difficult to come by when you have a newborn and you're exclusively breastfeeding. However, alone time is worth freaking fighting for. In fact, it's worth demanding. I made no apologies for letting my partner know that even if it was just for a quick 10 or 15 minutes, I needed some time to and for myself. It was me drawing a line in the proverbial sand. It was me saying, "Yes, I am a mom responsible for another human being, but I am also a human being who has her own needs, too." It was me fighting against the notion that in order to be a "good mom" you must sacrifice every single part of yourself, including your sanity.
I will never, ever regret the moments I spent breastfeeding my son, even when those moments were horrifically difficult. I gave my son something truly incredible, because my body is truly incredible. However, feeling like you're not longer calling the shots when it comes to your own person can be difficult, if not triggering and detrimental. So take some time to gain that necessary ownership back. In the end, you taking care of you is you taking care of your baby.