Bodily autonomy is an interesting idea to me. It’s an oddly abstract idea. Maybe something that other people experience, but not something that I possess.
I remind myself that, once, before I had Fiona, I had this strange property. I, too, could say to anyone, “No, please do not touch me.” It was my unassailable right.
Then there was Fiona, and everything changed.
We nursed. This meant that my body was no longer for me, no longer mine in any meaningful way. It was hers. If she needed to eat, that was the end of any need to simply not be touched. It was that easy. It was that hard.
She nursed constantly. Even when she was done nursing she held on for comfort sake. She would fall asleep at the breast and when I tried to move her she would wake up and bawl and nurse again until she slept. There were more days than I can count that I nursed her with tears rolling down my face because I was so sick of it, because it hurt, and because it made me angry and resentful and that made me feel guilty.
And then we had to wean. Literally overnight. It was a medical necessity. I felt relief, and I felt guilty for feeling relief. This sense that there was nothing of me that belonged to me would finally pass. Except it didn’t.
She still needed touch. She may always need touch. She is a high touch person. So, when she couldn’t nurse, she cried. And cried. And cried. And finally I wrapped her in my arms and moved my shirt so that her face was on my tummy and gave her a bottle. And it was like magic. Suddenly she wasn’t heart-broken anymore. Suddenly, she could deal with this harsh transition.
And from there we’ve progressed. I think that her relationship to my tummy is unique. In so many ways it’s like a nursers relationship to the breast. And, in others, it is totally her own.
We were laying on my bed this afternoon, playing. Rough-housing until we were both laying on our backs panting. She sits up abruptly, and says to me, “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh, you do?” I smiled at her. “What is it?”
She smiled, “It a cake!”
“Oh, wow! Thank you!” I hold out my hand to her to take a piece. She lifts my shirt away from my tummy and pretends to grab a piece of it, which she places in my hand.
“There you go. A piece of cake.”
I fight back a laugh, “My tummy is a cake?”
“Oh.” I pretend to eat my cake. “This is yummy. Strangely cannibalistic, but yummy, ” I say.
Over time the cake turns into jelly fish, which I don’t eat, but instead pretend to spit out. They both come from my tummy though.
So much seems to come from my tummy for her. We lay back down, and she rests her face on my tummy. She looks up at me, “I love you, Mama!”
“I love you, too, Baby.” I say, stroking her hair.
She pats my tummy, “I love you, too, Tummy.”
I’m pretty sure my tummy is something different to my daughter. It is its own entity. Something separate from me. I’m pretty sure that, to her, it is a thing in her world that can be possessed and that she has claimed ownership of it.
Often, this makes me want to scream. So many days, the lack of bodily autonomy makes me seethe and resent and feel like crap. I know that someday, eventually, I will get myself back. So, I soldier on. Someday, I will be just mine.
Not today. Today, my belly is a cake.