The moment after you have a baby—like when the kid’s head crowns and he bungee jumps from your uterus—you need to cry. It’s expected. If slimy babies give you the heebie-jeebies, you can ask for the baby to be power-washed first, and then begin to cry. If you are watching Love & Hip Hop and drinking a Slurpee because you’ve had an epidural (my personal recommendation from the Labor & Delivery menu) you can scream, “I can’t feel my legs!” then laugh at your own joke, and begin to shake and cry.
What is not acceptable? Upon seeing that your healthy bundle only weighs five pounds and some change, yelling, “That’s it?! Nah, son. You have the wrong baby.”
Hashtag: my life.
You see, Tophs was supposed to be a huge baby. Mostly because I had overshot my pregnancy weight limit by fifteen pounds and needed someone to blame. But also because Elie Mae had weighed over eight pounds, and second children and boys are typically bigger. “He’s not measuring very large,” my OB/GYN had said at my prenatal appointments, but I’d heard the same with Elie Mae, so I just smiled.
Even after the nurses weighed Tophs and placed him on my chest, I still held out hope. Perhaps I been dealt the hand of an obese placenta? I estimated in one out of every 12,000 pregnancies (rates are surely higher in West Virginia), the woman develops a placenta more than twice the necessary size.
Turns out my feeding sac was normal. At my four-week check up, I finally had to look my postpartum flab in the face, thanks to my OB:
You’re just going to feel my finger here. How much did you weigh today?
ME: [I told him the real number. I couldn’t lie because the nurse was still in the room.]
HIM: And how much did you weigh before you got pregnant?
ME: [Please make this stop. I’d rather have back-to-back pap smears with a chilled speculum.]
That word. A terrible word to say to an adult. I say “Whoopsies!” when Tophs lets one rip in his sleep—because it’s not his fault. I would love to pretend that gaining extra pregnancy weight is like sleep farting. Really it’s like throwing back whole rotisserie chickens and keeping a spit on your dashboard during rush hour.
My doc followed up with, “I tell patients to lose the weight within six months.”
The clouds lifted. Six months? I wanted to hug him. I wanted to hug that White man and invite him to dinner and make a movie about it.
Time was on my side. In November, I would walk through his office doors in my skinny jeans, pulling my wagon of fat behind me like Oprah.
Turns out six months is not an eternity. Already it’s September, and I’ve got eight more pounds to lose. Given the urgency of my sitchiation, you’d think I’d be happy we live a few blocks from the biggest gym on Grounds.
Let me tell you why I’m not.
This gym belongs to athletes and hotties. It belongs to the girls with lean, muscular legs and fluorescent Nikes. (Where is everyone getting those neon shoes?) These girls wear stretchy, spandexy, sexy outfits from Lululemon. These girls do not wear Umbro shorts. (Where can I buy a sturdy pair of Umbros?) They drink smoothies for dinner that make them like soooooo full! and give them, like, natural energy. I stay hooked to a Starbucks caffeine pump and try not to eat a morning bun every morning.
These girls scare me. At one point, I was hot like them. As an undergrad, I went to this gym once a year, the week before spring break. I climbed up on the elliptical as a size four, pumped Ludacris on my Discman and thought about which white shorts would look best in South Beach. But I’m not eighteen anymore, and the only shorts I’m wearing are called spanks, and if anyone sees them on any beach or street corner or grocery store line, I will die.
Did I mention I have a membership to this gym? Like we pay for me not to go. Paul has one, too, but it’s different with guys. Guys gain a little gut, lose a little bicep, but no one notices. And even if someone does, she just falls deeper in love. Girls will be like, “Aww, he doesn’t have as much time to workout because he’s a family man.” Those same girls will look at me and say, “She needs to be grass-fed and tethered to a Nordic Track.”
At twenty-nine, I’m on the fence. I’m young enough to look like a student but postpartum enough to squeeze my thighs together when I sneeze—or else watch pee trickle down my leg. Instead of admitting I’m insecure, I avoid the gym by claiming my needs have changed. My conversations with Paul go something like this:
PAUL: Do you wanna get out of the house and go to the gym?
ME: Nah, they don’t have childcare.
PAUL: I’m offering to stay home with the kids.
ME: Yeah, but I need to go to a class. You know, strength in numbers. The Army.
PAUL: Don’t they offer classes at the gym?
ME: Yeah, but with skinny undergrads where you have to dance and stuff.
That last excuse is legit. They don’t have what I need. If I were to open a gym for postpartum women, I would offer classes like Underwater Kegeling, Wave Goodbye to Turkey-Neck Arms, and Get That Cellulite Outa My Face. A lot of people would come to my gym.
I’m sure if I actually went to the gym near our dorm, it wouldn’t be so bad. But in my head, it’s apocalyptic. Here’s how it plays out: I walk in and a gorgeous girl is changing out of her sneakers into her Sperrys. I admire her brown top-siders. She says, “Want to try them on?”
“Um, no, that’s okay, but if you insist, what size are you and do you have any nude footies?”
She wears a seven-and-a-half, so I take her right shoe, and I slip it on. The leather is tender, the little tie on the top so dainty yet boatishly rugged, and I smile. Until I walk to the full-length mirror and see what I have always known and yet in this moment have irresponsibly forgotten: I HAVE CANKLES.
It all goes black.
Sometimes the scenario plays out a little differently: Instead of Sperrys, the girl wears a sundress with cowboy boots that won’t zip over my calves.
“What do you need?” she asks. “Wide-calf boots?” Then haunting laughter.
So you know, I have good reason not to go to the gym. Sperrys are real. They are out there, man. Plus, I have other exercising options—like DVDs hosted by former Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels.
Jillian gets me. She gets that I have saddlebags, muffin tops, and pancake boobs. She is all, “Stick with me, and I will get rid of trouble zones.” She promises to blast out my fat.
I read somewhere that Jillian Michaels vowed never to have a baby because it would ruin her figure.
So maybe she doesn’t get me. But, hey, she is into diversity. One of her backup stretchers is White; the other is Black. And she flirts with them equally. She’s all, “Get back to your mat and stop tryin’ to steal my thunder” to Salima, the Black girl.
Yes, I know the words. I even know how the fake bongos change tempo between the planks and push-ups. You start to hear hints of Donna Summer near the thrusting portion of the video. But there are no poles involved. I don’t know that people with trouble zones do well on poles.
I am comfortable, safe at home in my makeshift gym. I close the blinds so the students can’t see me holding my boobs while I do jumping jacks (They don’t make steel bras like they used to). I do my girl pushups—“Beginners, you can start on your knees if you need to and work your way up”—on Elie Mae’s play mat, in between Toph’s bouncer and swing. No one can judge me because no one can see me. Except for Paul. I always call him over for the hip thrusts. Suddenly, I am Brittany from MTV’s Daria: Am I getting stron-ger, babe?
But even as I eat more salads and less fro-yo and meet Jillian in the living room three nights a week after the kids go to bed, something still nags me. It’s not just the weight. The weight will go, even if it takes longer than six months. Even if I have to endure another round of WHOOPSIES! But there’s this sense that I keep bumping up against a ghost of my younger, collegiate self. She’s prettier, more confident, smarter, and more successful—and I’m not sure she ever existed. But even if she didn’t, even if I sketched her from exaggerated memories of my time at UVA, she is real now. She’s there when I run into former professors who thought I’d be getting my Ph.D. right about now. I see her when a fellow alum asks, “So are you just a mom?” I feel her near when each time I answer, “So what brings you back to Charlottesville?” with my husband’s credentials and fail to mention it’s a quirky, intellectual town that’s great for the two callings I love: motherhood and writing.
At some point this semester, I will have to drag myself to the gym. But I will also have to take myself to that place where I decided the older me is less desirable than the younger me, and figure out how to make peace.