Healing Our Bellies
I jumped over my existence as a postpartum person after Wyatt. I don’t know why I did it, but I did. No, wait, I do know why. There wasn’t room for it. There wasn’t room for cozy pjs or slow healing or fourth trimester. There wasn’t room for struggles or pain.
And so I did what so many of us have done: I jumped over it and I masked the “right” kind of postpartum recovery. I leaned in on my job here and I just decided my body would catch up. Or, maybe more accurately, I decided that my body would agree to the fake-out, eventually wearing what I decided healing would look like: Aka, that it was happening.
But, healing wasn’t happening at all. Instead, I was borrowing from whatever resources I had, however slim. I was ignoring the cues from my body that I wasn’t integrated, that things weren’t ok, which was obviously a giant metaphor for the rest of my life. And I was definitely 100% ignoring the fact that the birth injuries to my deep abdominals after Ella and Wren were magnified times ten after Wyatt.
Then, last year, right as the tight grip of the pandemic began to release and Wyatt was in preschool, I decided it was time to deal with my body. I started dreaming up big plans for what sort of help I needed, and even began mapping out the big, exciting work project this would be. And in keeping with my often extreme jump into the deep end, I thought it was an awesome idea to launch this project with an intense Mayan abdominal massage.
Off I went to two of the most incredible massage therapists in town, Angela and Juanita at West University Wellness, led by Dr. Caroline Long. AND - even though I knew that they were the ones to help me, I will confess that I was terrified. I really really really did not want to have anyone touch my belly, in part because I didn’t want to know the truth of it and in part because I knew I was not ready for this level of care. I think I knew it was going to open up a whole world of grief and, well, I didn’t have room for that. I just wanted to get better the heroic way, the smooth way, the glossy way, the possible way.
I won’t go into specifics about the actual session, which I recommend to basically everyone I meet, but what I can say is that what I met in Angela and Juanita was the thing I had needed right after Wyatt was born … right after all my children were born: Care.
Maternal, saturating, unapologetic, direct, confident, loving, wise, clear care.
All people who birth need this sort of presence, immediately, you know? I can’t begin to explain the combined sense of loss and love that I felt in that moment. And as much as I would prefer to say that it motivated me to a path of focused self-care, I’ll confess that I wasn’t ready for it. The exposure it provided to my postpartum survival mode was paralyzing. It’s taken me an entire year to finally be ready to do something about it. An entire year. I just kept pushing it off and pushing it down, even completely avoiding sending Angela and Juanita and Dr. Long a follow-up report and words of gratitude.
I don’t know how to repair all that was and has been for me in my postpartum experiences. I don’t know how to reconcile the stuff that happened for me personally during that time and for us collectively. And then to add in the reality of the pandemic and the effects it has had on our generation as parents, especially those with babies and small children … it’s no wonder we are all a mess right now and trying so hard to catch up, understand, and fix.
My only take-away from this and where I am today, as I Begin Again here in MommaStrong and in my life, is that I can’t just jump over what was. I have to go back to the scene of the fire, dig through the ashes, and pack away in a careful suitcase all the things I need to move forward. There’s a retrieval here and - wow - being face to face with that and understanding that has been a softening experience.
I realize now that there’s no way I could have healed my belly while under so much stress. I have been quite literally braced in my ribs, my upper abs, and my solar plexus area due to a physiological response to that stress. And, the important thing here is that all of the areas I just mentioned affect the function of the diaphragm and - with all I am learning now - it is so clear that without proper function of the diaphragm I CANNOT heal my deep abs or resolve my back pain or respond to stress more effectively.
And, yes, I could teach you diaphragmatic breathing right now. Shit, I have been teaching it and doing it. But, guess what? It’s not really functional diaphragmatic breathing because of the way my body has become immobile in my ribs and upper abs. Just like other things, I accepted a fake-out version of this breathing technique because I didn’t want to slow down and ask for help. I didn’t want to feel all that this part of my body wants me to feel.
Here’s what I know: I am now willing to be where I am, talking about this, being real about the fact that so many people in our generation have not been healed by all the programs and methods out there (including this one here, ha). And the reason for that is because we have been stressed the fuck out. To the max. And still are. Our bellies and our ribs have been wearing some serious armor to help us get through, push on, show up.
My version of being willing to be here means that I am learning with you and am actively diving into this scary subject head-on. I won’t give up until these added layers of our current reality are included in healing. Because this is where it starts. Not with exercises or workouts or specific treatments, but with recognizing that our generation has been run over by survival stress. And we have to stop that chase in its tracks, then reclaim some safety so that we can soften our bellies before we strengthen them.
Join me this month here in MommaStrong as we head into an October Hook called Scary Body Stuff: Healing Our Bellies. I will be introducing some raw, mostly “not entirely complete” but definitely “on the right track” content with a new Di-Recti program. I will also be talking with Jya about all I have been learning over the summer about our deep abs and all that I am trying to do to resolve things, so much of which is transcending all that I taught before.
Come learn with me. Be brave. Soften before you strengthen. Come face to face with all that you have been holding and let me hold it with you.
The October Hook starts on Monday, October 2nd. You can register for it by clicking here - and, if you are a new member, just a heads up that you’ll have to first sign up for our intro offer of $5 first by clicking here in order to get access to The Hook and our content.
OH, and in case you don’t know how a Hook works, you register for it and then we send you weekly emails and weekly community posts that contain a mini podcast episode on the theme, some printable materials, and a summary of all we are learning together. During that time, you also will attempt to show up for daily-ish exercise, which we will encourage you to track by using an old-school coloring sheet. Hooray for crafting while learning new scary habits. :)
I look forward to going through this terrifying ordeal together, one beautiful stretch mark at a time.