This much I know: six weeks post-partum, and while no one puts Baby in a corner, Mama’s gonna put herself in a corner soon…if she can still fit in one. Because when Mama sits around the house? Mama sits AROUND the house, if you know what I’m saying.
You know it’s bad when you hear a “your mama” joke, and you immediately think of yourself.
Cheerfully, I will announce to the world right now that according to Weight Watchers (aka “Land of the Mayonnaise Eaters”), I am a mere seven pounds above my pre-baby weight. (Insert sad little rah-rah cheering sound here.)
Unfortunately, I will simultaneously announce that those seven pounds hang around my stomach in an unsightly bulge where my integrity used to lie. Now, in place of the semi-normal looking stomach I possessed once upon a time (possibly in fifth grade; realistically, third), there is a doughy, fleshy mass of sad-looking mush: an unsightly albatross clinging to my guts like maternal guilt.
“You had a baby!” is what supportive do-gooders say. To your face, that is. Behind your back, it’s more like, “Whoa—she had a baby…but why does she still look like she HAS the baby??”
And look, I get it. I had a baby. In fact, I’ve had two of them. Maybe I should cut myself a break. And really, the way I see it, I can ride that whole “I had a baby” excuse out for as long as I’d like. If I play the “I am mother” card, no one can really talk shit because, well, I’m peopling the Earth: what the fuck are you doing with your time? And really, as long as we’re milking things around here—which yes, still happens seven to eight times a day here at the Dairy Queen— I’m gonna milk that excuse as often as I’d like.
And as long as it’s confession time, I’ll come right out and say it: while I hate my new stomach (a word I use loosely here that simply stands for—medically speaking— the Fleshy, Unrecognizable Mass of Horror that serves the function of linking my esophagus to my small intestine), I firmly believe that the person who invented maternity pants deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I understand that it’s probably not socially acceptable to wear cheap, hideous pants with elastic waistbands and enjoy it as much as I do, but if this is a fashion sin? Well, damn it, make me a sinner! How could something that looks so wrong feel so right?
Quite frankly, I want to wear them the rest of my life. And look, if eight-year-olds can wear pants that shout “JUICY” from their asses, surely I should be allowed to wear a harmless pair of sad, pathetic maternity cargos, right?
The very fact that I wrote that last sentence may very well make today the darkest day of my personal history.
My second confession is more disturbing than my timelessly unfashionable preference for maternity pants, though. It is this: I am owning the move that I like to call “the Granny Hike”. And I’m doing it all the time.
It’s official, folks: I’ve finally reached the dismally low point of an adult woman’s life when I instinctively and eagerly pull my pants up over my belly button the second I sit down in a chair, as shame-faced mothers of every generation before me have done. I like the illusion I can create for myself that I’m just tucking my fat away some place safe for a rainy day, and that if I shove that unsightly muffin top (let’s be honest—it’s more of a baguette in its entirety now, isn’t it?) far enough down, I can forget that it exists and go on surreptitiously eating handfuls of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins at 9 PM, hoping that if the kitchen lights are off, the calories won’t count, and I will miraculously wake up looking like Beyonce, shaking my hot ass in a brilliantly choreographed dance video that instantaneously unfolds in my kitchen. Black leotard optional.
Realistically, it’s more like “Baby Got Back” in my kitchen. Possibly “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard.” Just replace “milkshake” with “breastmilk” and “boys” to “babies” and “yard” to “Graco Pack n’ Play”.
I know what you’re thinking: “now THAT is hot!”
In spite of my love of maternity pants and my Granny Hike solution, in my heart, I know it is time to fix up the remnants of my stomach “muscles,” which is, again, a term I use loosely as it seems to suggest that muscles, in fact, ever existed in the middle section of my torso. How do I know it’s time to get to the gym? Yes, the belly perpetually jiggles. And yes, that’s upsetting. But more recently, I swear that in the past week I have heard my gargantuan, gaping mouth of a belly button inexplicably whisper “Liverpool” with each step I take. (Incidentally, the breast pump also mutters “Liverpool-Liverpool-Liverpool” as I pump, which may indicate that some day, something truly terrible is going to happen to me there.)
The belly is talking, and it’s time to take action.
Six weeks post-partum, and it’s time to go the gym.
I’m just going to say it: perhaps going to a class called, “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body” was not the best choice for my first foray into physical exercise.
Thankfully, I went to the class with my sister, who gave birth to her daughter a mere forty-eight hours before Eliana was born. This means that both of us exist in the same hormonally psychotic state that makes us able not only to tolerate but also appreciate one another’s neuroses. Together, we were ready. Solidarity, Sister.
Initially, we approached the enormous task of making our stomachs look semi-normal with both gusto and enthusiasm. Why? Truth be told, we were going to work out at the JCC. As anyone who has ever been to a JCC gym can tell you, many of the group exercise classes are largely comprised of retired old women who are taking an hour break from berating their daughters on the phone in order to stave off heart disease or osteoporosis while simultaneously trying to score it with a sun-spotted old guy on the rowing machine named Stan who is lapping it up because the rest of his competition is dead. Admittedly, in my past experiences at the JCC gym [including but not limited to 1) Zumba with the grannies and 2) watching Dr. Oz while exerting minimal energy on the elliptical], I enjoyed shimmying with these octogenarians like we were drunks in Havana in 1951. With our shared lunch-lady arms undulating in the wind to the tunes of Marc Antony, I—Gym Hater Extraordinaire—felt sexy. Some people like “sweating to the oldies.” Personally, I prefer sweating with them.
I was ready—eager, even—for that experience once more. But where were my granny comrades this time around? I assure you they were not at “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body.” They may have been at “Eat a Bagel, Pick Up the Dry Cleaning.” Surrounding Sister and me were many—gasp!—normal-looking women who were in their thirties, like us. Normal-looking women who seemed to know what they were doing. They were picking up strange objects that I think are called “weights”. As they reached for their fancy five-pounders, my sister and I exchanged somewhat apprehensive glances. Silently, we communicated, as we have done our whole lives.
One pound weights for us, please. Sister was feeling like a hero, so she got two-pounders.
Then the women started getting these bouncy half-ball thingies that I subsequently learned are called “BOSU” balls. Sadly, when I heard this term, I began thinking about mozzarella balls—I had recently seen some exquisitely delicious-looking ones at Shoprite— and how much I would rather be eating them than standing in a gym class surrounded by people who 1) have stomach muscles and 2) give a very convincing impression that they know exactly what they’re doing with something called a “BOSU” ball.
I am much more comfortable with a cheese ball.
Before the class started, Sister and I laid all the cards out on the table for our teacher/torturer, Sharon. With an unassuming, please-go-easy-on-me smile on my face, I said to Sharon, “We both just had babies and this is our first time back at the gym…just so you know. Oh, and we both have to leave early because we have our post-partum check-ups right after this, so…yeah.” Which was true, but the second I said it, I recognized that it sounded like a huge lie, and I hated myself for sounding like I was making up an excuse even though it happened to be the truth. What sicko would lie about having her vagina probed postpartum rather than choosing to stick it out in some lame-o JCC gym class? The answer was obvious: people like me.
I’m that sicko.
Sharon smiled at us—a sick, Cheshire cat smile that made me very, very afraid. “Don’t worry.”
That was when I started to worry.
She turned the music on, and that was when I should have known we were in trouble. Loud and clear, her music selection was a smack in the face—a punch in the non-existent abdominal muscles. That bitch had chosen Shakira.
What kind of manipulative monster chooses the soundtrack of the world’s most famous belly dancer after two women have just told her they had babies?
A deranged lunatic, that’s who.
Things went from bad to worse. As I glanced around the room at all the normal-looking women, it was clear that they all knew what they were doing. She told them to kick their legs, and these women did it. Where were the sad grannies I was used to working out with—the ones who had once upon a time transformed me into Angelina Jolie among their sea of Betty Whites?
Sharon, however, was unimpressed. “What, you all got a case of the Mondays or something?!” she shouted at all of us. Some women—women clearly with little joy in their lives—laughed.
Sister and I exchanged glances. It was clear we both wanted to hurt Sharon. Badly. The only thing worse than going to an exercise class is going to an exercise class in which the teacher somehow manages to weasel in a Garfield reference.
Surprisingly, the Garfield reference got the crowd going, and soon, their legs were kicking higher in the air. That was when Sharon demanded that people pick up their weights and start jumping with them, which is something I’m pretty sure they made the detainees do once upon a time at Guantanamo Bay. (Obviously, forcing the detainees to do a “Feel the Beat, Feel Your Body” workout was never really publicized because it clearly flies in the face of government sanctions against torture.)
That was when Sharon glanced at me and Sister and shouted sweetly, “If you can’t use the weights because it’s too hard, just do the motions!”
My sister was not willing to accept the insult, but I was. Cheerfully, I dropped my weights to the ground and began doing strength-training exercises…without weights. Hey, this wasn’t so bad, after all! Minus the feeling that I was a total loser combined with the sensation of my belly fat jiggling lock-step with each rep, I was “working out”. Eat your heart out, Richard Simmons. Eat your fucking heart out.
Then it was time to get on the BOSU balls.
“Lay down—and for those of you who are new, just put your butt way down, close to the floor.” Sharon glanced at me and Sister. “Some of you may not even be able to feel your muscles. Remember, we’re trying to work your core. Remember what a core is?”
At that moment, I hated Sharon with the very core of my being.
As I lay down on the Ball of Stomach Upheaval, I started to curse the world in my head. With each attempt to raise my body to create the semblance of a “sit-up,” I grew angrier. Angry that I couldn’t feel stomach muscles. Angry that I could feel rolls of fat mushing up against each other with each angled move. Angry that my stomach and belly button closely resemble a bagel now in terms of physical appearance. Angry that a Rubenesque figure is no longer ideal. Angry at Kate Moss and the entire 90s for ruining what “normal” should look like. Angry that I was basically working out only so that my stomach looks semi-normal for the off chance that should I happen to bump into someone from high school or college they won’t think I look like I am the “Before” picture in a SkyMall ad for some weight-loss drink. Angry that I feel this weird societal pressure to make my stomach look like Rihanna’s, when, realistically speaking, the only celebrity stomach my own stomach has ever resembled is the Pillsbury Doughboy’s. And he’s never even been in the “Stars, They’re Just Like US!” section of US Magazine.
In the middle of my mental tirade, that was when Sharon screeched, “MUFFIN TOP!!!!!!”
And she was looking straight at ME.
At that very moment, I looked at Sister, and she knew what I was thinking. We walked out on the class and any hope for my abdominal muscles faster than you can say I-would-get-a-tummy-tuck-if-I-had-the-money-and-wasn’t-afraid-of-dying-from-the-work-of-some-shitty-doctor-who-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-doing-and-what-if-I-decide-to-have-a-third-baby-then-the-tummy-tuck-would-have-been-a-total-waste-and-really-I’d-rather-go-on-a-really-awesome-vacation-instead-but-Europe-is-so-expensive-anyway-but-I’d-rather-sit-on-a-beach-and-read-shitty-magazines-anyway-who-am-I-kidding-we-need-that-imaginary-money-to-pay-for-daycare.
Sister swears up and down that Sharon actually said, “From the top!” but I swear to you, I heard it loud and clear: Sharon, screeching at me like an exercise bulimia banshee, “MUFFIN TOP!” It was like that last scene in “Streetcar Named Desire” when Marlon Brando screams “Stella!” Just as there would be no mistaking “Stella” for “Blanche,” there was no mistaking “MUFFIN TOP!!!!!!” for “FROM THE TOP!!!!”
Please—I’ve lost my abdominal muscles. Not my mind.
Sharon may have won that battle, but that bitch didn’t win the war.
This week, I’m going back to the gym. I will not “feel the beat,” but yes, I will shake it with my grandma friends. I may even go into the pool and do “Aqua Cardio” to the sounds of Josh Groban with my fellow old ladies. We will swing our lunch lady arms with pride, and maybe, just maybe, old Stan will hit on me, and I will be reborn.
Stomach be damned, I am only six weeks post-partum. The show’s not over till the fat lady sings, and I’m just clearing my throat.