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25 weeks | The weight of my words (or, ‘Reflections on the politics of why my back is hurting’) | no. 0018
I hold the munchkin most of the time when I’m on my feet (and when I’m not on my feet too). If I’m not holding him in my arms, I’m wearing him. I do this for many reasons, but these are the ones that first come to mind. One, because I want to. I like having him so close to me. It keeps me ever present with the miracle that is his whole life. Two, because I think it’s the most gentle and loving way to help a new human being acclimate to life outside the warmth of the womb. I figure, he will spend the greater part of his life with the responsibility of having to navigate the world on his own terms. This infancy is fleeting. Obviously he’s growing everyday; there’s no need for me to expedite his independence. And three, because I can. I am blessed to be able to be at home with him. Our time is ours, and as his primary caregiver, I welcome the work and extra effort it takes to maneuver my days with his bouncing bulk attached to me.
That said, these choices have a definite cost on my body. And I am combing through my process to trace how it is that I created this phenomenon of acute back pain. Not 12 hours after posting last week’s piece about how I need to take better care of myself, I woke up with a much more intense discomfort in my lower back. As I was sitting up to nurse the munchkin, this new sensation gripped me, and every little movement I made hurt badly. I couldn’t seem to reposition the pillows to alleviate anything. What would have been our usually seamless transition to nurse his partial wakefulness back to sleep– thereby gaining me up to another hour of mommy-free time– was impeded by my uncoordinated efforts to secure his latch as my back muscles seized. What is going on!
I actually was not that surprised. My back had been getting increasingly worse, and it was only a matter of time before my poor (read: nonexistent) practice of stretching and restoring my overworked muscles would render me unable to even bend slightly forward. Aside from the ego blow that the dancer many people know me to be could no longer do basic movements, the immediate consequences of having a very limited range of motion most impacted the munchkin. And I, of course, felt like I had made a mess of things.
It was a very rough couple of days. Because I hold him all the time, I couldn’t just not hold him all of the sudden. But I did need to rest my back if I wanted to avoid a more severe injury. I tried my best to adjust why and when I had to be on my feet, to make the most effective use of his nap times, and to play with him in horizontal positions (read: laying on the bed!). Yeah…that only worked for like 5 minutes. The munchkin is all about moving from here to there. He is quickly mastering the kinesthetic intelligence needed to make his own choices in the space. Even he is not trying to be all up on his mommy forever. (Which is what I am often pointing out to folks to tell me: “You need to put him down/Don’t spoil him/He needs to learn that he can’t be held all the time.”)
I think babies are wired to the tune of “get on with it already.” Munchkin makes no illusion that this sweet mommy-baby rhythm we’re in is ephemeral. And while the intentional time and space I make to be all about him is much appreciated and currently vital to his development, it is something he is keen on outgrowing. It’s the perfect balance that naturally exists when the mothering is left alone. I am constantly feeling like I have to defend (that’s my issue…I know) my choices to an ideology bent on telling me that my job as a mother is to let go as soon as possible. My heart deeply questions this notion that conditioning my son to separation is somehow the sensible way to prepare him for the cold, hard reality that the world has a tragic history of being more than unkind to little, black children like him. If anything, this just makes me want to hold him more. Infuse his subconscious memories with the normalized sensations of being wanted, and celebrated.
There is definitely an urgency to my love for the munchkin. And I feel the weight of this devotion most recently in my back. I groan through the simple exercises that have been prescribed to me. Remember to breathe. The munchkin leans in and out of my view, enjoying this moment to have control over whether he is up or down. The irony is not lost on me, as I struggle to lift both legs into the air. The whole lesson is beautiful: I have to let him be in his own space sometimes so that I can take care of myself. I have to take care of myself so that I can take care of him. This can work too.
For me, it’s always been about preserving the process of incremental learning. Baby steps. Gradual. That’s how nature is, right? And we are doing our best by going slowly. I’ve started to make some changes. Everyday I am practicing how to make sure I do something just for me. And I’m finding all sorts of cool ways to incorporate the healing stretches into me and the munchkin’s flow. I realize that since I basically have to put my postpartum body back together from scratch, I have this amazing opportunity to rediscover who I am. What it takes to move through life, literally.
I was looking at video clips of me dancing in Trinidad a few years ago. I could reinvent myself into any number of shapes so effortlessly. There was always this deep knowing I felt, a certainty in the power of my body to just be present with any space. I called this work/experiment, “space activation.” Now as a new mommy, almost at our 6-month mark, I can see that mothering has changed all those understandings I thought I had of my body and its relation to the space. The stiff and achy awkwardness of my body is also a reflection of all it is taking to be so present with this journey. At first I was really disappointed that I had not worked harder to restore my dancer’s body. But now, I am appreciating the detour.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.