Farewell to Boobies — Part I

I know it’s not entirely true, but I feel like the hardest part is done: yesterday I went to see a plastic surgeon to talk about breast reduction surgery. I know that the surgery itself will be harder physically, but it took me years to work up the mental and emotional courage to make and keep this appointment.

Whew.

I’d like to think that I have some nice things to say about my boobs, but it’s sort of hard to come up with anything right now. I am so over them. So, so over. They’ve been like this — unwieldy, heavy, jiggly, huge — for so long and I am just ready to be done with this nonsense.

Yesterday before my appointment I was trying to remember any sort of happy memory — was I anxious as a teenager to get boobs? Was I happy when I did? Not that I can recall. I must have been 13-14 when my mom first suggested that I should wear a bra and she was prepared with one — nothing fancy, white, a bit of lace. I fondly remember a white cotton bra with pink hearts on it that I was able to wear for about a month before it got too small. I kept that bra for a few years, thinking my body might change, or I would lose weight, but who are we kidding? That never happened.

Now that I can afford fancy, lacy, colorful things, I take full advantage, but I remember long, long years of beige-y nothingness when it came to bras, the endless frustration of finding the right fit, the soul-crushing humiliation of asking for my size and to be told “we don’t carry special sizes.” I don’t remember having a lot of self-confidence issues because of my size, or at least not more than the average teenager — but these shopping trips always crushed me. Nothing makes you feel like a freak faster than being told that you are a “special size.”

I know that men were — and are — fascinated by them, but I have to admit is also worked the other way: I had one boyfriend who was afraid to touch them because of their size. Was he afraid that they might explode? And sure, the boobs have brought me pleasure and attention — the welcome kind. I don’t deny that there are times when they make me feel sexy, not to mention that I can rock a low-cut shirt like it’s nobody’s business. But they failed spectacularly at breastfeeding — I know size does not dictate milk supply, but come on! They could have at least been good at that.

Lately all I can think about when I look in the mirror is pain. Some days I don’t even notice how much pain I am in — searing through my shoulders, my neck, my head — until I get into bed and find all of my muscles sore and in knots from carrying this load.

It is time.

Yesterday my surgeon was gentle and kind and reassuring. He talked to me while I was still dressed — I had to remember to unfold my arms and lower my shoulders as we talked so that he didn’t assume that I was ready to hide and/or attack him with my defensive pose. We talked for a long time before I had to change into a hospital gown. I sat high on an exam table and he sat in front of me on a low stool as he took measurements — carefully lifting and moving my breasts, as if they were fragile. I wasn’t sure where to look — the whole situation was so ridiculous. But I know it was necessary.

At the end of the exam he told me that this surgery will change my life. He wasn’t boasting — I know that he is right. I went to bed last night (in a bra), thinking about how nice it will be not to wear one at night, and how nice it will be to go sleeveless, or to shop for a non-special size, or to just not have to think about them.

I can’t wait.

What remains

A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post where a soon-to-be first-time mother was worried about whether she was going to lose herself — her true self — once she became a mother. I can’t find the blog post anymore, but I remember that my initial reaction was to brush off the question. Who has time to worry about this?

Despite my initial, sort of cocky reaction, the question stuck with me. Have I lost myself? It’s not something I ever thought about before becoming a mom — I expected change, turbulence,  transformation, but not loss. I knew that my routine would change, possibly my friends, but not who I am.

But how many small changes can you go through before they add up to a whole new person?

Now that raising my son does not take up quite so much energy as it did in the beginning, I think more often about my old self. For the past four years I haven’t given much thought to what makes me happy beyond the short term satisfactions: naps, ice cream, a free afternoon by myself. I definitely have not thought about my career, long-term plans, retirement, the state of my relationships. The “why” of it all. Now these questions are bubbling to the surface when my brain is not in mommy-mode. I expected motherhood to be all-encompassing, but never expected that by having so little time for small daily indulgences — long showers, uninterrupted phone calls — my need to address the big things in life would become so urgent.

I think I sort of expected that having a child will answer a lot of life’s big questions when it comes to purpose and being a part of something larger. I don’t know if that’s true for others — and I am glad if it is — but that has not been the case for me. Does my life have more purpose and direction now than it did when I was single and childless? Sure. Do I feel like my child satisfies every possible mental, physical, or emotional need or desire in my life now and forever? I am afraid not.

Lately I have felt like I am emerging from some kind of a haze or a very long dream, and now I want to know what is next. I know that I have a LOT of work ahead as a mother, but I also know that it’s not the only work I want to do. For the past few years I was satisfied in my comfy, flexible job but now I feel an itch to move on to more adventurous, challenging careers — even in fields that I would not have considered pre-baby. Maybe it’s experience, or maybe it’s age, but I feel emboldened in a strange way, daring to imagine a life that I am not sure I would have imagined for myself before I had a child. Instead of feeling like I lost myself, I feel like I am in the middle of finding an entirely new me.

I have lost some things for sure: the ability to throw caution to the wind, to be selfish, to not think about what impact my decisions will have on the little life growing beside me. I have lost sleep, smooth skin, firm belly. I have lost lazy Sunday mornings, late night parties, long hours with a book or a movie. I lost the certainty that comes with inexperience and ignorance and youth.

But what remains hidden deep under the jiggly body and the sometimes muddled mind of motherhood is desire — for more, for better, for excitement, for challenge, for the next big thing. What remains is not completely unlike the person I once was, yet unrecognizable in many ways. What remains is a vague outline, filled in with colors that were mixed painstakingly during sleepless nights, emergency room visits, and play dates.

I thought that motherhood would settle me, but as it happens it just turned me upside down and dislodged some hidden dreams and desires that I never knew I had. I can’t really answer whether I lost myself, or whether I just changed in bits and pieces and I think maybe it’s hard to know the difference after a while.  It takes a lot of effort to be true to myself these days — there’s just not enough time to navel-gaze, job-hunt, dream, write, plan. My drive feels more focused, urgent because I have to fit it in between naps and meals and work. I am also more aware of time tick-tocking away as I watch my child grow.

So to new mothers everywhere: I don’t know if you will lose yourself or not, and I don’t know if losing yourself will actually feel like a real loss. It is impossible to push a little person out of your body and not feel like your entire world has turned upside down — and that is both a gain and a loss. You might mourn the person you once were — naive, innocent, self-confident — or you might not. But it is good to know that there will be gains and losses and shifts in your life too big to even imagine. Enjoy the ride.

This week

This week I cooked six meals, packed four lunch bags, polished shiny apples, measured perfect serving sizes, sliced grapes and tomatoes and bread. I wiped peanut butter off the floor, jam off the wall, dabbed a wet paper towel furiously on my new shirt with the fresh ketchup stain. I washed dishes, disinfected sippy cups, stacked plates, swept up crumbs.

I was a firefighter, a policeman, a rock star, a mama-bear, a bumble bee. I wore a helmet, a sword, bright blue beads in my hair, a bib around my neck. I built towers, an airport, a zoo, a bridge crossing an invisible river. I put out fires, dressed and fed the teddy bear, and put a band-aid on the toy monkey’s broken wrist. I drove a spaceship, rode on the back of a motorcycle, operated a bucket truck and a helicopter (possibly at the same time).

I washed muddy, sandy clothes — oh, so many of them! I folded little boy undies and jeans and t-shirts. I cleaned out dressers and closets, making space for yet another size bigger clothes. I ironed grown-up shirts and pants. I fluffed pillows and blankets and arranged stuffed animals in their appropriate sleeping positions.

At my job I “leaned in” and “opted out,” possibly on the same day. I built a website, wrote blog entries, arranged filming schedules, filed files, color-coded Excel sheets. I scheduled meetings. Dazzled my boss. I spoke up, I stood up, I took charge. Then I had to leave early.

I splashed and fished for magical sea monsters. I mopped up the bathroom three times. I shampooed soft, blond hair. I blew bubbles. I changed batteries in the Batman toothbrush and applied the Thomas the Tank Engine toothpaste. I clipped tiny toenails and tickled soft feet.

I sang. I read. I snuggled. I rubbed a skinny, sweaty back. I sang another song. Made up another story — a magical pony named Oakie who becomes friends with a little boy.  I fetched another glass of water. Another blanket. Another song. Just one more hug and kiss.

I held a grown-up conversation for, oh, about three minutes. I watched half of a TV show. Two glasses of wine. Some contemplation of writing, staring at a blank screen. Chocolate. Ah, that helps!

Sleep.

Blissful.

Dreamless.

Too short.

The calm before

I’ve been restless lately. I can’t quite put a finger on it — it could be just the change of seasons, or age, or just the after-effects of everything this year has thrown at me. Whatever it is, I hate this feeling of unease, like something is about to happen — good or bad — but I just don’t know what it is and how it will all go down.

I know that some of the restlessness is self-generated. I think it’s a personality problem — I get bored and distracted easily and after a while it’s hard to tell whether there is really a problem with my life, or if this is how life is — predictable, stable, one-day-after-the-other, boring. I have nothing to complain about. I have a cute, healthy kid, a nice husband, a lovely house, a good job. Life is good. Life is enviable.

Life is dull.

At what point does striving for something better, something more, become an obstacle to appreciating what I have? When I dream about how I will quit my job and move on to this amazing opportunity that might come to fruition — or it might not — do I lose the ability to appreciate my flexible schedule, my amazing colleagues, my laid-back boss? When I feel like my head is going to explode from the plainness of my little city, from the Birkenstock-wearing, fleece-loving hippies around me, do I completely miss out on the fact that I live near the ocean, that the summers are cool and fresh, and that our neighborhood is safe and quiet? When I look at other relationships, other marriages and men around me and notice how from the outside they look so much happier, so much sexier, so much more fabulous than I feel, do I completely negate the years my husband and I put behind us, the family we built, the trust we have?

I clearly know the answer to all of this. Yet the restlessness remains. Somewhere in my head I know that other lives look shinier from the outside than what they really are, and that I would not be happy — or not for long, anyway — with whatever newness might come my way. Eventually that too, will become dull.

So what is it then? How do I balance this need, this urge I have for some excitement, with the common-sense? I try so hard to be excited for things that used to bring me pleasure — solitude, books, shopping — but they just don’t do the trick anymore. It’s like I’ve become some kind of an adrenaline junkie, trapped inside the body of a wife and mother. It’s like my life is a book and I am stuck on the same chapter, month after month, year after year.

I don’t want it to be this way. I want to love and appreciate what I have. I want to remember — every day — that the work I am doing raising a child and nurturing a family is important. I want to feel grateful.

But I also want some kind of a rush to take over me, even if just for a few days. I want my heart to pound, my head to spin. I want whatever is trapped in me to break out and dance.