It begins with language
A brief preface:
It feels strange to be writing and sharing my work during an incredibly heartbreaking moment in world history. I don’t know what the right approach is. I am feeling powerless and heartbroken at the same time. I hope that this can relieve you of the endless doom-scrolling and the anguish the news has put on our mental health. If this newsletter can provide you a brief respite from that, then I am very grateful.
My sports medicine doctor tells me my core is too weak. It’s why I’ve sustained this throbbing hip pain I’m dealing with. It’s hard to have a man look me in the eye and use the word weak, in whatever form he’s using it. I feel the need to defend myself. The animal in me awakens, the one who shows up for you when your regular self knows a conversation is crossing a boundary. Sure, that can be dangerous, to let the animal self steer the conversation, but I don’t turn my back on my feelings anymore. I’ve learned the hard way there’s no reason to.
I am wearing a paper gown over my body but have kept my bra on. I’ve also kept my basketball shorts on. I know I must perform tests of strength to this bald wrinkled man, like squats and deadlifts and crunches. and I would at least like to perform them with my girls secured and my coochie secured. I mean, i’m still leaking baby juice and pee. Underwear, I have learned, in this process of postpartum recovery, becomes insufficient. It is a flimsy piece of fabric that cannot contain the rage of my wounded vagina. My coochie is swollen and recovering from war. The beauty of a woman's body and all her juices. The story of everyone’s origin began with a body like mine.
Sitting here, wearing this paper gown, affirms that I am in a lot of pain. It’s my fifth time in this office, of having him analyze me and my movements. I’ve had a cortisone shot, twice, and it didn’t do much. I would rather give birth for the third time, this time with no drugs, than to have a man evaluate my body and tell me everything that's wrong with it. But I am in a lot of pain and it’s hard to raise two kids when you’re in pain.
This man works with sports teams, football and hockey. He analyzes big husky men, their flaccid penises in a cup, male ingenues who use their bodies to slam their fellow male ingenue to the ground. Perhaps the animal is awake in them at all times, as if their human selves are asleep. I imagine my doctor doesn’t need to care about language when he’s analyzing these kinds of patients.
Maybe I can’t blame this doctor for the language he chooses. As a woman I show my strength differently, it’s subdued and moral and always at play, not just during a game or at practice. This is probably something he’s lost sight of, or never even had. Women have the right to not let him in and explain this, our strength. A right I am justly using during this appointment.
“I’m looking at your MRI,” the doctor says as he swings open the door, swings it shut behind him, to straddle his little wheely stool. “First thing I notice is your IUD, that seems to be good and secure, huh?” One thing I’ve learned about men is that when they are pleased with themselves and their silly sexualized thinking, you cannot force the smile that you’ve been forced to wear your whole life. My animal self speaks to my human self: You have to tell your mind to refuse the smile. I know you just want to get on with the appointment and go home to your babies with an answer on how to feel less pain. But bitch, if you smile, you and me, we’re going to find ourselves in a lot of problems down the road.
I am 5 months postpartum and my core is a wrinkly flabby roadmap of stretch marks. My belly button is sad and droopy, as if it’s come home moping a hard day's work. My pelvic area is now home to much extra skin that has nowhere else to go but stay put. My kids vacated my core and now my core is a lethargic thing that just hangs around, extra skin and all, and a thing that gives straight men something to criticize. But, since this is my second child, my belly and I have developed an enlightening relationship. We’ve come a long way, me and my person. My person and I have worked through enough kinks where I can show men my midsection, the place where babies come from, where they thrive, where their real home is. My core. My core is the aftermath of a life inside another. I promise you, there is no weakness here.
Recovering from birth is confusing thanks to situations like these. You have to keep your head on straight. You have to let the animal come out. Your survival depends on it.
I listen to the animal in me and I keep eye contact with my doctor. I show no expression. I stare at him the way I stared at a boy for kicking my sister in the shin during soccer practice in 8th grade. I followed his movements until he got to the bleachers and then I kicked him in the shin. Unfortunately I’m an adult now and can’t kick this doctor in the shin. I also need to stop feeling so much pain and he may be the quickest resolution. So I just stare.
My doctor is looking for a response. Once he realizes he is not getting one he looks down at my file, my MRI to be exact, which I imagine is only to break eye contact. “Women tend to be their weakest after giving birth.”
I understand that doctors don’t have a way with words, and when they put their words together to make a sentence, I understand it’s the best they can do to relay the message to their patient. The problem I find myself in, however, is that I don’t like the way this doctor is putting his words together.
My baby has blue eyes. Kaleidoscope eyes. Some days they’re green, or gray, or cornflower blue mottled with navy. When he drinks his bottle his eyes open wide so they can look up at me. We have our staring contest. I lay him in his bouncer and his eyes follow me around the room. He never blinks when he looks at me, he always wins our little games. I wonder if one day these kaleidoscope eyes will objectify me, in the same way all the men that have come before him have. I think about how I’ve brought two boys into this world, and that they’ll grow to become two men, and suddenly my job as a Mother just got a lot harder.
“How so?” I decided to ask him this question, just as a way to get inside his mind. Also as a hopeful way that he’ll pick up on my euphemistic tone.
“Well, there’s a woman on my team, who’s working on strength training for postpartum women, and that’s what she tells me,” he says. “There is no science on it that can tell you for sure, but she is working on a program that’s gentle enough for a postpartum woman in recovery.”
I imagine the reason he decides to clarify to me that there’s a woman on his team, and that there is no science that can pinpoint to a woman’s weakness after birth is because he is a man that uses language that’s dismissive and empty. It becomes clear to me that he knows he is out of his lane, the lane that is attempting to claim authority on his knowledge over a woman's capacity to give birth and recover.
“I have two boys of my own,” he says with a very toothy grin, one cheek raised higher than the other. I watch His crows' feet grow in real time like the grinch. His mask stretches upwards as this happens. “They’re both in college now, playing football.”
Oh fuck, I say to myself. It comes to my immediate attention that I have two boys that can potentially play football at college level and suddenly I don’t know how that makes me feel. If someone calls me weak I can take it up the coochie and read my oppressor for who he really is. If someone calls my boys weak during a game that consists of exuding their physical strength, I don’t know how they would take it. Where would their mind go? How much mothering does a mother need to do so that their boys don't inherit male fragility? I kiss them and care for them, I’m at home, at bequest to their needs. Is this how misogyny begins? Is football a device invented to take out rage on what would be women?
I may be a narcissist, to think that it all begins and ends with me. But it’s true. It does. Women carry the weight of the world. I've said this many times.
The point of all this is that this is commonplace. Casually being objectified, having to navigate through male violence. It’s just part of living a life, it’s just something I need to get through so I can get my hip to stop throbbing.
Male on male violence is something I need to look into more, something I tell myself as this man rambles to tell me everything I do wrong with my body. I think he’s telling me I need to do more crunches, more crab legs, more hip flexors. The problem is that I'm not paying that much attention anymore. I decide at that moment that I need to be seen by a woman and this will be the last time I sit in this man’s office in a paper gown to perform tests for him.
Male fragility is the thing wars are made of, a man sits in a quiet room and decides to destroy entire cities, force millions out of their homes. It’s the animal that comes out and stays long enough that he forgets his human side. The animal turns into a beast. The beast collects all his hurt and shame. His shame makes him feel stupid. You will ask him what the fuck this is all about, but the beast never has the answer, the hurt goes too deep to know. So he launches missiles and air strikes and kills families in their own homes to project his shame.
My two boys, I must rear their emotional ambivalence into something good, before it turns into something bad: a war on cities, a war on women, a war on me. My baby will look at me with his kaleidoscope eyes and see strength.