Not Pregnant, Fat
I’m not pregnant. I’m fat.
I remember so clearly the way my mom talked about pregnancy. My sister who died. The miscarriages, one after another. Me, almost dying, kept in an incubator, unbearably special from the get-go. So, when my now husband and I married (on a day when I was thinner than I had been but still bigger than all of my bridesmaids), I warned him it might be hard to have children.
Not so for us, it turns out. Not in the way of some of my friends, heavy underwater in a wanting-not-yet that I can’t begin to imagine. No, I got pregnant right away. I threw up, took a test, and off I went.
That first puke, tidy and quick in a waste paper basket, was quite the foreshadowing. I had, it turns out, Hyperemesis Gravidarum. With both pregnancies. Yes, yes, what Princess Kate has. Or, if you prefer esoteric trivia, what probably killed Charlotte Bronte. Every day, every single day, I vomited. Normally five to seven times a day. One time, with the stomach flu, I lost count at twenty. One time, delirious in the ER, the meds kept it down to once or twice. It started around six weeks in and lasted until delivery with both my pregnancies. Some pregnant women glow. I vomited.
I couldn’t tell you the last time my body had anything to do with pleasure. But I could list a ton of failures. Back at work after my first round of bed rest, wiping myself on the toilet only to see bright red blood again. Taking an Uber to the ER when my vomit had turned white, passing out again and again as they tried to get me through having my blood drawn, checking my vitals. Or the time I got food poisoning and found myself wailing in the car, on the way to the emergency room, as my body tried to turn itself inside out, no please oh please no.
That was the incantatory refrain of my pregnancies: please oh please. Let me keep her. Let me keep him. For twenty months or so, nearly back-to-back, I asked my body not to. Not to piss on the seat of my car at the red light as I puked into my coffee cup (it did). Not to puke in the faculty restrooms during class (three or four times a day). Not to push blood up my throat, out my nose, down my legs. Not to turn aside, already vomiting, to a bush, an alleyway, someone else’s lovely front hall bathroom (but yes and yes and yes).
Someone else would beg for those trials and I know it. I didn’t hate my body. And I certainly didn’t hate being pregnant. But I waited. And puked. And bled.
There are other, smaller, failures. Breastfeeding. Just screw that whole endeavor. All those weeks of darkness. The C-section scar that was so clearly made by staples. But the truth is, that now, three years later, I have two beautiful children. And I am fat. Shop-in-special-stores kind of fat. Doesn’t even get mentioned by friends because I have so much else to be proud of. That kind of fat. That kind of body.
To be fair, I have spent much of my life fat—er. Fatter than most of my friends. Or fatter than the girl we all understood to be the ideal girl. Or fatter than every single one of the women in my dad’s family, young or old. But that is a relative fatness, one that bites but doesn’t maul. Yes, I cried. And yes, I worried no one would want me. But sometimes they did want me, and I could still shop at the mall, so I made it through.
There was even one glorious season when I wasn’t fat at all. I was 24, teaching for the first time, and I had a boyfriend that now, in the beauty of retrospect, I am pretty sure hated me and probably himself as well. It was a heady combination, easy, for the first time in my life, to forget to eat. I bought a bikini. That I tried on in the department store without a single tear.
Hate certainly helps when it comes to staying at least a little thinner. A gnawing sense of inadequacy that can easily tip into self-loathing. Some brand of it kept me swinging between a size six and a twelve for twenty years. Briefly a small, mostly a medium, every now and then a large. Not anymore.
Do you remember FitMom? Her picture, ripped abs shining, draped in small children, with the caption: “What’s your excuse?” Oh, Fitmom. I don’t have excuses. But I do have reasons. And a boatload of fears.
There are a lot of things that need to happen. I need to go to work, come home from work, do the work that work tells me to do. I need to wipe noses and buy diapers and wash laundry. And then there are the things that I WANT to happen so badly it borders on need. Someone else could rock my son to sleep. No real damage would be done. I know that, I do. But it still feels like I need to, like I get a contact high the moment his head sags and tips toward sleep on my shoulder. The weight of his body as his breath deepens. I could be somewhere else, but I still want to say, I need it. I don’t need to write those small poems that try to say what this all is. Poems strangely preoccupied with birds. And Biblical women. And oceans. Poems that don’t say fat but want to, and damn if I don’t need them.
The fears? What happens if I forget to teach my daughter to brush her teeth? What happens if she cries and I am not there? What happens if she eats nuggets, again. And again. Those fears are just as good as the needs are at keeping me rooted in my routine. Lately, I think in terms of fissures. This life I love so fiercely, am I checking for cracks? I worry more about erosion than calamity. Oh, do I worry.
My friends? The bridesmaids and college roommates and dear, dear women who keep me sane? In so many ways, our lives seem practically the same. Grumbles about who remembers to empty the diaper pails. Concerns our bosses hold maternity leave against us. A fierce need to keep our children safe, so fierce it startles us and won’t let us sleep.
They stayed not fat. Not even fat—er. They have babies and spin class and sweaters that drape just right. Maybe their hips are wider than before. Or their hair a little flatter, styled a little faster. I know we are all tired. But however hard won, they all won their bodies back.
Me? God, not at all. Instead, sometimes when I cough, I am still scared I will vomit. I still think in terms of food that might stay down (the answer is bread). I still think, sleep while you can. I still think, what does it matter? Your body is making a person, that is enough. Of course, it isn’t.
During my C-section to deliver my son I had my “tubes tied.” I was too afraid my children would remember the sound of me weeping on the bathroom floor, throwing up for another nine months. I was too afraid all I would remember was me weeping on the bathroom floor.
If self-hatred kept me in check for so long, the girl devastated when the scale hit 150, slumped on the elliptical for two hours straight, something else keeps me fat. I don’t hate myself. I don’t have time. My self-hatred was luxurious. I’m sure not all of them are, but mine sprawled and lounged through time and commitments and relationships. No, I don’t hate myself these days. But I don’t like my body at all. I would just absolve myself of bodiness if that were an option. It gets in the way, tires me, singles me out.
I read enough, mostly at night, on my phone, as I try to sleep train or something equally terrible, to know how this article ends: I found an app! Or yoga! Or a shake! Or just value in my own fat self! And look at that Instagram: proud, well-coiffed fat mom in dark rinse jeans.
I haven’t. I don’t. I am on Instagram, but I am not in my pictures.
I wish someone would name this threshold land of just dislike. Profound, powerful, but not unlimited dislike. I don’t love my body. But God do I love my children. I am not sure those two statements have anything to do with each other. I am not willing to Google it, or ask a forum, or post on social media. I don’t want to know. This is my motherhood, for now, and enough.
Maggie Blake Bailey has poems published or forthcoming in Tar River, Ruminate, San Pedro River Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Bury the Lede, is available from Finishing Line Press and her full-length debut, Visitation, will be available from Tinderbox Editions in 2019. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and two small children. For more work, please visit www.maggieblakebailey.com or follow her @maggiebbpoet.