A turning point in my life was when somebody stepped on my boob and opened my eyes to what my body had become — or more accurately to what it no longer was.
No, I’m not into kinky stuff, unless you count my sleep fetish. The boob stepper was no other than my four-year-old son, who categorizes his questionable actions as: “on purpose” and “on accident.” While the boob steppery was definitely an on accident, I remember the chain of vaguely formulated thoughts, crawling through my sleep-deprived brain: ‘ouch my boob, ouch my self esteem, um shouldn’t this be over yet? OK that just happened’.
Yes, this was definitely ouchy, but it was more than that, serving as an illustration to something I’ve long felt, but haven’t until that moment clearly defined, or admitted to myself.
My reality, no matter how much I protest, correct or discipline, is one where something like that is possible. My body is no longer private and autonomous and I definitely don’t get to call the shots. You might be thinking “well duh, isn’t pregnancy kinda supposed to prepare you for this?? The whole sharing your body with another human being for nine months thing, like he-llooo???”
Oh sure, theoretically I was totally prepared, but the vision I had was more along the communism lines, where we all get to share this body of mine but I, like a really bad communist, get a much bigger slice than everyone else and we all live happily ever after. Instead it turned out to be a dictatorship and I wasn’t even the one running it. So, yeah, I was prepared. Totes.
Before having kids, I was able to anticipate some of the ways in which I was going to surrender control, but it was an awareness akin to that of what goes on on a space shuttle. There are lots of buttons, no gravity and they have to catch their food because it floats, right?
I knew that lack of privacy was a thing. A parenty thing. I may have even foreseen the current family time situation previously known as my trip to the washroom, but boob stepping? Really??? Does that ever cross anyone’s mind in preparation for motherhood? I couldn’t imagine that motherhood’s lack of privacy had an extension, autonomy loss. That seemingly insignificant boob incident became symbolic of not simply ‘expect the unexpected, mom’ but expect the unimaginable of the ‘these boobs are made for walking’ variety.
Becoming a mother made me function in unexplored ways, as an object, as a noun, as so many things I am not, things that humans are not. I’ve learned what being someone’s food felt like. I’ve served as a comfort object: a pillow, a blankie and a white noise machine. I’ve become instant entertainment at your disposal: a squishy toy, a ladder, a trampoline. By allowing my baby the occasional furious temple hair pulling or not being quick enough to duck when a remote control device was being launched repeatedly against my forehead I’ve become an interactive learning toy, of the developmental kind, call it a Baby Piaget, facilitating my son’s understanding of what his little hands are capable of.
Some of these may not represent bodily autonomy loss at first glance. The decision to breastfeed was all mine, of course, but in becoming someone’s food you lose some autonomies, chief among them was freedom of movement. And, yes, I knew I could always pump. So I did. Always pump, that is, just not at first. Loss of bodily autonomy also meant surrendering the ability to make body-concerned decisions that reflected my own will. The unbearable pain I’ve experienced during the first month of breastfeeding while my mother in law was staying with us to help, created circumstances under which I was no longer able to decide who gets to see my private parts. I still don’t get to choose when and if I shower and did we talk about sleep yet? I call violation of human rights!
And then reality went: I’ll see your boob-stepping incident and raise you a multi-participant pumping schedule discussion, moving me even further away from the notion of autonomy over body and demonstrating that what I perceived as “my body” was an inertia-based idea, completely irrelevant now. This kind of autonomy loss felt somehow even more invasive. My body – no longer just a vehicle for the benevolent dictatorship of little boys, but now also channeling the practices of democracy of grown ups.
Along with that came the loss of internal organ privacy. I no longer own my brain, and oh, how I long for at least an hour of solitude with it! Neil Gaiman should really update his book American Gods to include the God of Feed, because that deity’s everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, email, RSS, the news feed, the commercial feed. We live alongside the feed, flooded by it, often not even aware of our active blocking of its attempts to monopolize our brains. And then there’s another kind of feed, more persistent, sometimes vocal and demanding, sometimes soft and curious, so much more meaningful than the others. It’s the feed I want to be as responsive to as possible, because this feed feeds off of me, and it’s CONSTANT, the four-year-old feed. His thoughts, questions, observations, jokes, brags, concerns never stop pouring in in a constant stream. Always starting with a curious, irresistible mama? Being the filter through which he processes the world is one of motherhood’s most honorable and gratifying roles, but it’s also one of the most demanding ones, making me wish sometimes to just get a few minutes of alone time with my brain, please?! I need it to continue cultivating my sleep fetish.
It’s not that loss of bodily autonomy is the devil, but it’s definitely a loss of bodily autonomy. I am food, entertainment, comfort, learning, filter, everything. I am everything to my sons, but one day I won’t be. The autonomy over body will be gradually restored, at least for a while, and so will the autonomy over brain.
And then as I’m all alone with my thoughts again, I’ll have something new to complain about.