Five years later, I can look back and see I went into labor with more than a giant chip on my shoulder. It was closer to a canyon. My first trimester fear of a cesarean sent me down a rabbit hole of research that ultimately led me to believe hospitals were anti-women and anti-baby and if I wanted any chance of a surgery-free birth, I would have to avoid any and all interventions at all costs. My original OB didn’t help matters when, at my twelve week prenatal appointment, he answered my questions about crafting a birth plan with this story:
“Let me just stop you right there and give you an idea of how this goes. For example, last night I was on call and we had a woman come in in active labor. After about an hour or so, she was dilated to 8 centimeters. We checked her again 20 minutes later and she hadn’t progressed at all, and my shift was nearly over. I came in and said it was time to talk about getting this baby out. She hadn’t progressed in a bit and I was concerned she may not dilate any further and that it could result in her baby becoming distressed. I told her we could go ahead and prep for a cesarean and meet her baby very shortly.”
“Was her baby in distress?” I asked.
“No, everything was fine. I was just 15 minutes from going home, you know.”
“Did she ask any questions? Was a c section what was best for her and her baby?”
“Most women don’t ask questions. They just trust what their doctor is saying,” he explained with a smirk I kind of wanted to smack right off of his face.
Was I being hormonal, overdramatic? I thought maybe so. But I left that conversation with a feeling of disgust deep down in my guts. And my morning sickness had mostly faded by this point , so that wasn’t it. That doctor did not care about me or my baby at all. I crumpled up my paper loincloth thing, pulled my yoga pants up over my beer gut of a pregnant belly and stormed out of that office, never to return.
But this birth story starts even earlier than my twelve week prenatal appointment. That chip I mentioned earlier began manifesting itself before I can even remember, I am sure.
What I do remember, though, is spending much if not most of my childhood feeling like I was supposed to hate my body. I perceived this in the way my mother looked at her own half naked form in the mirror, said something like, “Ew, “ or, “I am disgusting,” loud enough for me to hear, changed her outfit a dozen times only to conclude, “I look fat in everything.” She probably had no idea how deeply I was absorbing her self-deprecating habits and adopting them as my own, but this is how I learned to view myself. If I ever said, “You look pretty, Mama,” she would reply, “Ew, no I don’t.” I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about.
Our cabinets were always overflowing with boxes of sugary cereal, every Little Debbie’s snack on the grocery store shelf and an assortment of chips and dips. Dinner was usually a bowl or two of cereal and/or a can of Spaghettios. Cooking was for fancy people. I believed vegetables came from cans and were saved for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, where it was custom to shove them around on your plate to make it look like they had been tried and forgotten, because, well, there was pie! Pies, actually—every kind of pie you can think of. Why waste any room in the elastic of your pantyhose waistband on soggy vegetables?
Despite what was available to me and our fend-for-yourself mealtime policy, my mother often got in moods where she made me feel, well, straight up terrible about myself.
“Jordan, do you really need those?” she asked upon entering the kitchen as I opened a box of cookies for an after school snack. I was probably seven or eight, and there was no fruit in the house. I look back now and think, What were my options, Mom? But then all I knew to think was, I guess I don’t.
Later I would examine myself in the mirror in the same way I had watched my mother do hundreds of times before. I pinched my stomach and looked at the posters of teeny tiny pop stars on my bedroom wall and thought, I am disgusting.
I was nine the first time I made myself throw up after a meal. I had been experimenting with skipping dinner for months. No one noticed, since we didn’t eat together. Some days after going straight from school to Girl Scouts to soccer practice I felt unbearably hungry, and I had read about bulimia in one of the magazines my mom purchased religiously every week. I remember she always read our horoscopes out loud and acted excited when they predicted something positive but claimed, “Good thing we don’t believe in this stuff,” when they didn’t. My poor mother, a young thirty-something herself then, still trying to figure herself out, like I am today. And poor young me, who took everything she said as absolute truth.
I lost twenty five pounds in about a month. I was in the third grade. I came home and did all kinds of ridiculous jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, and whatever else I had seen on TV during the time I once used to read a book over a bowl of cereal at the table. My parents praised me—”You must finally be out of your awkward phase!” (I wasn’t—fifth grade was coming.) My teacher bragged to other mothers after school. “Have you seen how skinny Jordan has gotten?”
I have arrived! I thought. This is how I am supposed to be.
The next school year, my period made her unwelcome first visit when I was out in the backyard playing baseball with my little brother. I ran inside to pee, pulled down my panties and screamed, “Mom!”
”Oh, Jordi. You are a woman now!”
I was ten, and suddenly forced to sit still while my mother shaved my legs and tweezed my eyebrows. “I was never this hairy,” she constantly reminded me. “And my sweat never smelled this bad.” I was disgusting, again, and I couldn’t figure out how to control it anymore. Puberty was bigger than any after school workout routine or puked up dinner. I started wearing sweatshirts over my t-shirts to try to hide my armpit sweat and my weird new boobs my mom told me she “really hoped would fill out more eventually.”
By fifth grade, my weight was up again. “Oh, Jordan, you would be so pretty if you weren’t so chunky,” my aunt visiting from Iowa told me. She was holding both of my hands and looking at me closely, her eyes full of pity.
Later that year, I went out for club soccer after my longtime recreational coach insisted.
“You will be bored and frustrated if you keep playing at this level,” he told me in front of my father. Decision made.
After my first tryout, the coach pulled me aside and walked me over to my parents.
“I am going to go ahead and sign you to the team,” he said. “Because I know if I don’t, our rival club will. They tend to like bigger, more aggressive girls. But you are probably even bigger than any of their players, and slower because of it. I am going to take you, but I need you to lose 15 pounds this summer.”
My dad shook his hand, signed the papers, and I was on the clock to lose weight. After all, my dad was now paying big money for me to play, and if I sat on the bench because I was fat, well, that would be a massive disappointment. I had to go all in on controlling my eating.
I lost 35 pounds that summer.
My middle and high school years were full of similar experiences and more experimenting with disordered eating. I was a size five my freshman year, which most of the time felt almost tiny enough but not quite right. When I broke a vertebrae and ended my soccer career the next Spring and then followed up my injury with a nasty case of mono, I ended up bedridden and out of school for something like two months. By the end of it, my pant size was in the double digits and my self esteem was impossible to locate.
I was also, conveniently, in my first physical dating relationship. All that time I once spent at soccer practice and other extra-curriculars was suddenly free. I filled it by lying on the couch with my new boyfriend, who often skipped school to come be with me even earlier in the day so we had more hours to just lie there. My body that once belonged to my mother and then my soccer coaches transferred ownership to this high school boy with greasy hair who taught me too much about it, but it was all always for him, not for my own pleasure. I never really let him see me, though, as the voice in my head screamed I was grosser than ever and he would surely run if he knew what I actually looked like. We spent our days together fully clothed, hands roaming under shirts and waistbands, and I could only hope he was picturing something he liked instead of the reality I knew and hated underneath my oversized sweatshirt and pajama pants. I look back and feel like I somehow gave all of myself and nothing at all to this boy.
We broke up senior year and continued messing around off and on until he moved away for school. I wish I could hug the girl who snuck out onto her trampoline in the middle of the night because she didn’t value herself enough to say no. She didn’t know love then because she hated herself, and she was sure the only thing that could make it feel worse was someone else hating her, too.
I started a long distance relationship with a close friend halfway through college. I was determined to be desirable to him because I felt like he was way too good for me. Maybe if he could love me, I could feel worthy of love. Maybe I could love myself.
Three and a half years later, we married. I put on lingerie for the first time and felt flushed and embarrassed when he arrived back to our rent house after running a few post-wedding errands. I believed sex was mostly for men and my body now belonged to my husband. I enjoyed making him happy because, again, I believed he was a better human than I was and I was somehow proving something to myself.
Two months into marriage he went on a five day trip and came back to me wearing fishnets and heels, our house lit only by a few candles. I was still afraid to let him see me, but I knew he wanted to. I wanted to try for him, to meet him halfway.
I didn’t know we were actually trying for something else. Ten days later, I took a pregnancy test after a week of obsessively googling early pregnancy symptoms. I had been diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis years before, another bodily disappointment of mine that didn’t surprise me at all at the time, and we weren’t careful because we believed I probably couldn’t get pregnant without medical assistance. I came out of the bathroom with a pee covered piece of plastic in my hand, trying not to have any particular look on my face, but failing.
”No,” he said, his eyes wide. “No, no, no, no, no, no, noooooooo!”
He wanted to travel, enjoy our early marriage season. We had only been living together a few months, our wedding memories still fresh and sweet. I didn’t care—I was a mother immediately, in that very moment. Come on, body, I begged silently. Please be good enough for this.
I had changed my diet a few months before the wedding (to lose weight) and discovered I had a few severe food sensitivities that had been making me sick for most of my life. The weight came off easily, as it never had before, and I was no longer running to the toilet after every meal. Even so, I was terrified to balloon up during my pregnancy as I always pictured I probably would if I ever carried a baby. I controlled what I ate, quit my job and worked out for six plus hours a day. I told everyone I was preparing for the unmedicated birth I had planned, and I was, but at each prenatal appointment the midwife would say something like, “Wow, you didn’t gain anything!” or, “You only gained one pound again,” and I would jump with joy inside. My new husband wasn’t ready to have a pregnant wife so early on, surely he would lose all interest in me if I became a flabby pregnant wife.
We found out our baby was a girl after a week of hell, believing she had a potentially fatal birth defect and getting transferred out of the birth center to a high risk hospital doctor. After our original anatomy scan, we were told baby would be born with her vital organs outside of her body. The survival rate was fifty percent after a cesarean, and if she lived she would immediately be sent in for multiple surgeries and a long NICU stay. I spent a week in bed sobbing, sure I was killing my child prematurely with stress but unable to cope with the idea of her imperfection after growing her for five months. After the doctors realized I wasn’t going to stop calling to try to get my appointment moved up (they scheduled it six weeks out!), they got me in for a second opinion before the ultrasound clinic even opened the next morning, a week after we received the original news.
”Your baby looks perfect,” the doctor told me as I lie there on the table, cold gel covering my belly. “And she is definitely a girl.”
On our due date, I stopped answering family members’ phone calls. It was clear I was disappointing them, like I was somehow sitting at home squeezing my legs together so my baby couldn’t come out to meet them. I was actually spending all of my waking hours doing the opposite. Stairs, curb walking, sitting wide-legged on my yoga ball, squats, squats, more squats. I wanted to meet her more than anyone.
Birth story coming this week <3