I’ve spent the last two years in physical therapy.
And I blame my kids.
A long time ago, I watched a make-over reality show where a woman, lank hair, tired eyes, clothes that didn’t fit, sobbed, “I just let myself go after I had my children!” I remember thinking, “Pathetic! Who allows that to happen to themselves?”
Fast-forward seven years and two children later: me, that’s who.
“Letting yourself go” is not simply defined by what you look like, it encompasses a total lack of self-care, physically and emotionally. I could have been the star of “Gone, Girl” – where did I go, where did I go? An echoing question.
I am the luckiest mother in every possible way, but I sacrificed myself for my family.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in physical therapy – or PT as the initiated call it – it’s that one malfunction causes a chain of malfunctions, a domino-effect of bodily wreckage: my knee is injured so my quad muscles are weak which means that my knee cap shifted which means that I can’t go up or down stairs and running hurts so I’m over-compensating on my hip and that really hurts and my IT bands are tight and my shoulders have rolled out of their sockets and I have no range of motion and my posture sucks and I’m sway-backed like an old horse and my butt sticks out and my ribs stick out and I thrust my neck out like a peckish chicken.
PT is a recognition of everything that’s wrong. I learned that I was standing wrong, walking wrong, my balance was wrong, my feet were wrong. It was educational and deeply emotional. I was angry. Why was this happening? Who was to blame for my body’s betrayal? Like any victim defined by pain, I wanted the facts: I never recovered from my knee surgery because I got pregnant; I never rebuilt my leg strength because I was taking care of a baby and then another baby; my shoulders collapsed inward because of breastfeeding and carrying children.
Rationally, I know that my injuries today stem from a skiing accident. Irrationally, it’s easier to blame my children. They are here in front of me and that guy who lost control on a mountain in Colorado is not. This blame is a big, heavy feeling I carry silently and it feels worse on my shoulders than carrying a 40-lb toddler.
Not coincidentally, I started suffering from anxiety around the same time that my body started falling apart, which was around the same time as my second child. Suddenly I was diagnosed with a bizarre congenital eye condition, I was grinding my teeth, and I was so terribly tired.
My children didn’t break the camel’s back, but they were the really heavy straws that the camel couldn’t carry anymore. No longer able to care for my family, I was finally forced to care for myself. I stopped waiting for someone to step in and make me, like Mariah Carey’s publicist, cancel my world tour because of exhaustion.
Despite being on the same trajectory as my 90 year-old neighbor, despite thinking at least once a day, “Oh, the burden of being upright!,” I learned a profound appreciation for being upright and assembled a team of people to help me remain so: I found a good massage therapist to help my hip, a good psychotherapist to help my mind, a good pilates instructor to help everything, and a good babysitter and a backup babysitter and a backup-to-the-backup, aka grandpa, to help me get to all of these appointments.
I learned to appreciate the simplest of movements. To accept that I might not be able to run again. To accept that my shoulders and my posture and the way I stand will be life-long issues because – wait for it – that is the way my body was made, so sayeth the physical therapist, amen!
I stopped carrying my 3 year-old every time he demanded it. I took more naps. I did leg-lifts and leg presses and shoulder exercises and bought a roller and ankle weights and a thera-band because the fear was enough to propel me. The fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my boys, to one day explore the world with them, much less climb the stairs to my own bedroom.
Most importantly, I realized that “mother” does not mean “martyr.” That putting myself back in the equation does not mean taking away from my children.
Today, I no longer go to physical therapy sessions. My shoulders are back in their sockets. Most days, I can walk upstairs without pain. But saying goodbye to PT was hard. I was scared. Would my body work correctly without guidance? The ultimate question: can I care for myself by myself?
I can, but of course, I am not by myself. All the queen’s horses and all the queen’s beloved men – the 3 year-old, the 6 year-old, my husband – put me back together with love and good humor.
Motherhood might have cracked me open, but it heals me too.
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