Even though I knew, intellectually, that a lot of the 40+ pounds I gained during pregnancy was fat reserves for nursing, increased blood volume, amniotic fluid, a brand new organ, and so forth; when my son came out weighing just seven and a half pounds, part of me spent the next few days thinking, “But where is the rest of you, really? Do you have a secret twin hidden somewhere?” One of the many things you learn about your body after pregnancy, is just how many big changes a tiny person can make.
It's certainly possible to know and understand that bodies are amazing before having a baby, or without having one at all. But few things, if anything, can give you an in-your-face, visceral understanding of just how amazing, bewildering, funny, and raw your body, is like having a baby. Tiny cells, invisible to the naked eye, transform into a whole new person inside of you, and put your body through all sorts of changes in the process. Then you spend hours, or even days, moving that person out of your body; a feat that requires levels of strength and energy most of us never imagined we had. Then we actually have to keep that new person alive, which in the earliest days is an incredibly energy-intensive task.
Before I had kids, I truly didn't understand just how hard it is to have and raise a baby, or how quickly you rise to that previously impossible-seeming task. I mean, I thought I did, but it didn't take very long for me to realize that I simply didn't have a clue. I learned, though, as well as a whole lot of other weird, surprising, and impressive things about my body, including:
How Far Your Skin Can Stretch
As a whole, our society isn't so respectful of loose skin or stretch marks. However, whether you've come to accept their beauty or not, it must be said that skin is pretty damn amazing. Stretching to cover a belly that has a whole new person in it, and adjusting to bodies that gain dozens of pounds in a matter of months, is incredibly impressive.
How Far Your Nipples Can Stretch
New babies nurse a lot. They also have very little ability to manage their attention, or to sequence their actions into logical steps. So, if they're breastfeeding and something interesting catches their eye, they'll often turn their whole heads to see it — taking their mouthful of boob with them. "Niplash" can be uncomfortable, but it's also just stunning to see how far a nipple can actually extend.
How Far Basically Everything Can Stretch
From her swollen (or even up-sized) feet, to her previously fist-sized uterus, to whichever body part said baby ends up emerging from; a mom's body is nothing if not extraordinarily (or perhaps, quite ordinarily) flexible.
How Little Sleep You Can Survive On
It seems like a bit of a design flaw, really, that arguably the two times in our lives when we need the most rest, are also the times in which it's hardest to actually get it. Sleeping with a giant, active belly is super hard, as is sleeping in the same home as a newborn. Still, somehow, most of us find a way to keep on keepin' on.
How Hungry You Can Get
As a general rule, I'm always hungry. I can pretty much always eat, and regularly out-consume my husband, who's nearly twice my size. But pregnancy and nursing hunger (and cravings, mind you) are next level, even for a walking stomach growl like myself. Making and feeding people takes a lot of energy, and mama bodies signal hard when they need refueling.
How Quickly Your Whole Body Can Transform
Once we hit adulthood, most of the physical changes we see in ourselves happen gradually over the course of years, even decades: some new lines here or there on our faces, a few flecks of grey in our hair, a gradual uptick in the sizes of our clothes.
During and after pregnancy, we basically inflate and deflate over the course of a few months.
How Animalistic Human Bodies Truly Are
We humans go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. But no amount of art, or poetry, or music, or technology, or philosophy, or religion, or anything else can change the fact that we are animals.
Of course, nothing is quite so animal as the messy, blood-, guts-, and poop-stained process of giving birth, either, so becoming a mother really puts it all into focus.
How Strong You Really Are
All of the physical transformations and challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and new (biological) motherhood are awe-inspiring enough. That, combined with the emotional and mental changes a mom goes through as she brings a new person into the world, particularly when things don't all go as planned? "Strong" doesn't even seem to cover it.
How Much You’ll Willingly Withstand For The Sake Of Love
Nausea. Vomiting. Fatigue. Swelling. Back pain. Indigestion. Heartburn. Constipation. Gas. Rapid weight gain. Heart palpitations. Varicose veins. Frequent urination. Disrupted sleep. Mood swings. Contractions. Discomfort. Pain. Bleeding.
And that's just considering healthy pregnancies and births.
Yet most of us sign up to do this not just once, but multiple times, because love. Like I've said before, oxytocin is a helluva drug.