My Mother’s Body, an essay

vor 4 years

Her mother celebrated her pregnancy, while our author Caroline Rosales, prefers to remain invisible during her own. What does it reveal about society if women that are expecting are deemed annoying?

There is this series of old photos of my mother in which I can see how much our society has changed just by looking at her body. At the time, she was nine months pregnant; that was exactly 37 years ago. She has bangs and pigtails in the pictures and is naturally beautiful. In one of the images, she wears a full, pink shirt dress that falls down to her ankles, in others a blue, also floor-length dress, which she sewed herself. In the 80s, such dresses were available everywhere off the rack; they were called maternity dresses. They weren’t waisted but rather A-shaped, providing room for the pregnant belly. Almost every woman wore them.

To have and to take up space, that’s a big issue in every pregnancy. My mother’s generation took it for granted – in pure physical terms through the size of their bellies, but also as a social being in everyday life and in society. She was allowed to stand out, she was given space and time.

My mother told me how she drank at least a liter of milk a day, ate bananas, broccoli and beef, good rich calories and nutrients. The baby should have it all. Today, I am 38 weeks pregnant with my third child and take fish oil capsules every morning with my pharmaceutical herbal juice. I dissolve magnesium in water and take iron tablets isolated from meals. I also want my baby to have everything he or she needs, but I simply don’t have the time for a big lunch at the office. I will work until three days before the due date because I want to. But also because the modern professional world, with its temporary work models, the dogma of flexibility – whether in the home office, as a freelancer, or with set hours – sets the pace. Either way, it’s better not to attract attention with your pregnancy, if only so that family, friends, and colleagues don’t worry. But also because in professional and public life, those who even talk about their children are ridiculed – not to speak of those who take up space or attention.

Therefore, I say, “I’m fine,” to all who ask – and that is the truth. But it is also true that I consciously avoid such conversations. I wear sweaters that fall perfectly over my stomach. Maternity pants from H&M that look like skinny jeans. I have tape on my back that keeps me sitting at my desk for 8 hours. But I don’t wear sweaters that are too small. They would arouse pity, uncertainty in others about whether something is wrong. Clothes that are too small don’t look confident on a pregnant woman, they create shame, as if it would be better for the expectant mother to stay at home until she is ready to return to an active professional and social life.

I have generously extended my wardrobe with 500 Euros. In contrast to my mother’s generation, I have never had a sewing needle in my hand. I even go to the tailor in my neighborhood if a button pops off.

I behave like a normal woman in 2020, not celebrating my motherhood, but continuing to live with it as if nothing had happened. Just like millions of other expectant mothers. I run on a cross trainer at the gym, then I eat vegetable bowls, go to the steam room, attend prenatal yoga for expectant mothers, and have mommy-to-be massages at Soho House. I plan my C-section and order cooling belts and so-called C-section underwear from Amazon, they are supposed to relieve the pain of the scar during the post-delivery days. My pregnancy is impersonal, sterile, intimate, not worth mentioning. Quite unlike my mother’s 37 years ago.

At that time, she simply stayed at home for months before giving birth. She spent more than 20 hours in the delivery room – without labor-inducing medicine, in the hospital, and then another week after a natural, spontaneous birth. Today, the hospitals push you out 48 hours after delivery; the rooms are needed – I have experienced this twice in the last few years. Afterward, it is important to get in shape again quickly: Tutorials on recovery, garishly colorful Insta-blogs by celebrities proudly showing off their post-baby bodies on the beach point the way. Hollywood actresses like Jessica Alba go to the gym weeks after giving birth, Gwyneth Paltrow recommends yoni eggs for pelvic floor training. The woman who offers tips on anal sex and swinger parties wants us women to remain high-performance lovers,In the 90s, mothers had sagging breasts after breastfeeding. Silicon globes standing without a bra were artificial products from Hollywood, like Pamela Anderson in her red Baywatch swimsuit – not for real people. Today, guidebooks call for “From Bedrest to Workout.” The female body should shrink back to its original shape, become even thinner than before, take up less space. After having two children, I had my breasts done as a matter of course – A cup, I preferred to look flat and genderless.

Women who look at their children with lust for life are completely out. That has an impact. Every day I have the unexpressed need for my children to disappear into thin air: That they don’t call when I’m on a conference call, that they just function when I have to leave on time in the morning and come home tired in the evening. And I know that thousands of others are just like me.

To this day, my mother’s body still has a lot to do with me. It has stored the memory of me , all the experiences of my childhood, the warmth and the love. Like tracks in the snow. I like to look at the photos of my mother in her maternity clothes, but they are from bygone times. My body, in turn, does not remember my children, I see them as my own personalities, as beings who came to me from another world one day. Their births, the breastfeeding, the baby years are in photo albums that I have compiled via an app. I don’t remember that they were in my womb for nine months, I don’t claim my children for myself. What connects us are experiences, the now, our everyday life, our vacations, our routine.They are free of me – and that is good for them. But they will also never know how it feels to have left traces on their mother’s body. 

Essay and Photos Courtesy of Caroline Rosales

This essay was first published in our print Spring/Summer 2020 Fräulein issue, on the theme ‘Birth’

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