The pine wood ceiling was blonde and beautiful, the boards stacked evenly, knots glossy and dark. From my position on the floor, I breathed in and tilted my pelvis. Everything about this gym was nice. This is where I made my first friends in this new city. This is where my oldest son goes to preschool. This is where I came three days a week for yoga as my body rounded with growing Reece. This gym is the last place where I felt him kick me while I sweat on a stationary bike. I relaxed my hips, and lifted my head, pressing my fingers lightly into the gap that was unmistakable. Diastasis Recti, the thinning of the abdominal walls. It was a mark of being pregnant.
I was suddenly struck with a flashback from the previous year. At this time a year ago, I was merely paddling to keep my head above water with my two young sons, one of which was a fitful sleeper and very demanding otherwise. Our nursing relationship was rounding to a year and I was finally coming out from under the weight of mothering an infant. I was working with a personal trainer, Julie, to regain strength I had lost in my pelvic floor and core from being pregnant and delivering babies.
A year ago, I was on the floor of another gym, staring up at the aging drop-tile ceiling while I did my tiny exercises to close the gap in my abdominal walls. I had lived with diastasis recti for years and had no idea. It was finally healing and regaining full strength just as my baby was about to turn one. I remember sitting on a yoga mat later with Julie and asking her if she thought it was fully closed. She checked the gap and said I was really close.
Then I told her. I was six weeks pregnant. She guffawed in good nature. I was terrified and angry to undo all my hard work but she assured me to wear my brace and be mindful and I could prevent damage. Julie had become a friend, my fitness guru, and a mentor of sorts. When we discovered Reece was a boy, I was in grief. Surely the one baby that barged in on our lives would be the daughter I didn’t know I needed. Not so. I contacted her to guide me through mothering three boys: she had three of her own and lived to tell about it. She assured me female friends and girlfriends would be waiting “for adoption” as I raised my sons. Like all my challenges in motherhood before, she assured me that everything would be fine.
Suddenly, snapped back to now, a year later, I felt myself melt into tears, lying there on my back. We had conceived Reece one year ago. Everything was supposed to be fine. But it wasn’t. Same condition, same exercise, different gym, different woman. I am different now and not all in good ways.
When I was recovering abdominal strength the first time, I was in a big hurry to complete it and be strong again. Now as I tilt my head to see the slight bulge between the muscles, I freeze. This is my last marker for pregnancy with Reece. My arms are empty. My breasts are empty. My abdomen is empty. Some days it is as if he was never here. There is no physical evidence, it seems, of him being here. Just a squishy midsection that could just as easily be too many donuts.
Recovering strength that’s been gone for many years is not easy or simple work. It takes diligence and determination. Pair that with the sense of “erasing” the proof of my pregnancy and it’s really hard to even get started. It sure is easier to take time out to lie on the floor when there is a squishy baby gurgling nearby from his bouncey seat. Reece would be my good-natured scapegoat for all my woes: loneliness in a new city, driving a giant vehicle, having to rework all my abdominal strength. And in another year, he would be coming around to weaning, my body finally mine again. Ryan and I would raise our strong cups of coffee in a toast to our haggardness, our exhaustion, and our happiness having made it through Reece’s infancy. But it will never be.
So for now, my stomach has a baby pouch but there is no vanity in it. I’m not competing in a world’s hottest mom competition; I’ve got better things to do. My vanity about my “mom body” left when Reece did.
Julie assures me to take my time, to start when I feel ready. Until then, my body, in all it’s softness, will wait for my heart.