I sprang out of bed just before 5 a.m. Brushed my teeth, got dressed, sipped on a cup of coffee as I checked email, hit the loo on my way out the door, and arrived a few minutes early for my workout class.
We were in an open air pavilion — an outdoor gym with a ceiling, but no walls. The January weather was mild, even by our standards in the South. Around us the sky was black as night with daybreak still two hours away. There was a breeze and clouds hovered above.
Fluorescent lights illuminated the wet floor from the rain that fell hours before while we all slept. I said hello to a fellow mom from my son’s preschool, smiled at the instructor, and found a spot in between two puddles in the back.
Class started. The first exercise was standard fare for a boot camp-style class: jumping rope. In my pre-kid days, these classes were my regular. Now it’s harder to find the time for them. Otherwise stated, I hadn’t jumped rope in a while.
I felt a little rusty as I circled the rope under my feet, behind my back and over my head. My body, at its core, felt a little different. Nevertheless, I kept jumping, determined to find my rhythm.
As I counted my jumps and focused on my form, it happened.
I paused at the bottom of my jump. Mortifyingly sure that everyone in the class knew what just happened.
A quick survey found that no one was looking at me. The coast was clear.
I continued swinging the rope and jumping over it like nothing happened. I tried to refocus on the present, but my mind kept wandering back to:
Did that really just happen?!
Good thing my lulu’s are black…
Good thing I’m sweaty anyway…
Good thing the gym floor is wet…
No one will ever have to know…
I imagined myself in A Few Good Men’s infamous scene, being questioned about the event:
Tom Cruise: Did you pee your pants working out?!
Judge to me: You don’t have to answer that question!
Me (as a female, but still gruff, Jack Nicholson): I’ll answer the question. You want answers?
Tom Cruise: I want the truth!
Me: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world with babies and those babies don’t grow on trees. Those babies grow in women’s uteruses. They start out the size of a poppy seed and grow into 4-10 pound creatures. Living, breathing, heart beating creatures in our stomachs who kick, toss and turn to get out. Little creatures who steal our food, our nutrients, and our breath to survive. Little creatures who have to pass through a narrow passage, moving vital organs out of their way to escape. Who else is going to do it? You Lt. Daniel Kaffee? You Lt. Sam Weinberg? I didn’t think so. I’d prefer you just say thank you and go on your way.
Tom Cruise: Did you or did you not pee your pants working out?
Me: YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID!
Amusing myself with this little visual, I continued my work out. Right when I thought I had moved on, it happened again. Same as the first time. Just a little pressure, a little drip.
This time I wasn’t worried about everyone else pointing and laughing at me.
This time I remembered another mother ducking into the bathroom mid-workout.
This time I realized my little secret was probably shared by many others.
When we keep these things — bladder control, postpartum, stretch marks, scars — secret, when we’re embarrassed by what our bodies did and sacrificed, we shame the most fundamental and powerful thing that unites all mothers: we give our body to another human being to bring them into this world.
It is unconditional love in its purest form.
We have yet to meet the recipient of this love, but we give it away anyway unsure of what we will get back. Day in and day out — from conception to birth. As we mind what we eat, change our habits, watch our rest, and dutifully visit the doctor again and again to monitor the development of our little bean.
This superpower, and the emotional and physical transformation that follows, has parts of it that are shamed into secrecy.
There is no part of this transformation that should be shamed into secrecy. Or have us feeling less than.
We are more than.
The secrets we keep about what happens during or post childbirth aren’t things that should shame us, but are things that should be worn like badges of honor. Medals we collect for the amazing things we do as mothers.
The amazing things our bodies do — twist, bend, expand — all to give life. The amazing things our minds do — all to support life. The amazing things our hearts do — all to breathe love into this new life.
Was this the price to pay for delivering three babies? A rather small one by my calculation.