One of the most difficult aspects of parenting a young infant, for me anyway, is the lack of bodily autonomy. You hear often about how moms can start to feel “touched out” after so much physical contact with another being, but it’s more than just that. It’s something that I struggle to describe to my husband when I’m trying to explain how tired I am at the end of the day, something that surely all other moms experience too but that we lack a concise word for. To put it simply, I can’t move my body the way I want to when caring for a baby. I’m always holding him or wearing him, and that greatly limits my range of motion and physical abilities. I can’t simply bend down and pick something up when I drop it. I can’t carry whatever I need to carry in one easy trip, since I’m often limited to one free hand and arm. It’s hard to raise up my arms to brush my hair or put on makeup. Chores like mopping or hanging laundry to dry become incredibly difficult. Doing something as simple as grabbing food out of the lower shelves of the fridge feels like a workout, since instead of crouching over I have to get down into a squat, and then lift myself back up again as straight as I can while bearing the additional weight of the baby and balancing tupperware containers in my hand.
Always holding a baby makes the most basic tasks so much harder, and no matter how nice of a carrier I am using, I always feel uncomfortable to a certain degree. Always. My beautiful woven wrap might distribute his weight well across my back, but the yards of fabric are binding. The Ergo works well, but it’s so structured that I can’t comfortably sit down while wearing it. Plus any form of babywearing is hot, so I’m always sweaty, and at the end of the day my back and shoulders are sore and tired.
Even sitting and attempting to rest isn’t as comfortable as it used to be, because I’m either sitting with a sleeping baby in a carrier (meaning I’m all constricted), sitting with a sleeping baby balanced on my shoulder (meaning I’ve got to lean just so and keep still), sitting while supporting a nursing baby, or sitting with a wiggly baby in my lap who really wants to learn to sit up.
At night, since we co-sleep, I keep my body curved around him just so, and I don’t move. I don’t stir an inch, and after laying in one position for a few hours I get all sorts of aches, sore shoulders and hips, and even my ear gets sore from having it pressed against the pillow for so long. Compound that with the lingering soreness in my hips and pelvis from childbirth, and when I wake up in the morning instead of feeling rested and refreshed, I just hurt all over.
But it isn’t just physical movement and comfort. I’m restricted in how I move, but also in what I can do. I so often have to stop in the middle of whatever it is I’m trying to do to sit down to nurse or change a diaper or clean up spit up or soothe a fussy child. All of those considerations remain whether we are in or out of the house, so that makes everything take at least twice as long. It takes forever to leave the house, and then forever to make it back home because I’m always having to find a place to nurse or change a diaper.
Since I am constantly trying to get all of the things I need to do accomplished in the brief moments between nursing sessions and diaper changes and toddler meals, I find I never have time to take care of my own basic bodily needs. I can’t ever eat or drink when I want to. Showers are rushed instead of relaxing. Forget about using the bathroom in a timely fashion. It all has to wait until the stars align just so, and I find that on top of whatever soreness and tiredness I feel, I’m usually also hungry, tired, and have to pee.
As if all of that wasn’t enough on it’s own, I’ve got all of the postpartum body issues to deal with as well. Jeans fit well while standing, but dig awfully into my soft, stretched out stomach when I sit. Breasts make too much milk and leak all over the place. Sex is still pretty uncomfortable and I find it difficult to switch out of mom mode, so I don’t even get to enjoy that in the same way I once did.
Since Win was born, I have only had one relaxing moment. I got to take a bath. It lasted about 15 minutes before I needed to nurse him, so I took him in the bath with me. After that Eleanor felt jealous, so she got in with me too. I got 15 minutes of quiet time alone, with no tight baby carriers or stiff denim, no weight on my arms or back, nothing to limit my movements except the sides of the tub. That was so nice that I think about it every day. Ahh…remember that one time, the time I took a bath for a few minutes? That was the best.
Thankfully I have prior experience, and I know my life won’t be this way forever. One day in the not too distant future, Win will be able to sleep on his own, toddle about on his own, and play on his own. One day he won’t need me every second of every day, but for now it’s hard. It’s so, so hard. It’s exhausting and intense and frustrating and demoralizing in the worst sort of way. I can even move. It doesn’t get more basic than that, but I can’t do it. What I wouldn’t give to simply be able to move through space with my sense of autonomy regained. That is the kind of thing you completely take for granted until it is gone.