Pregnancy and Body Image in the (still!) 20-Something Grad Student

September 10, 2011 § 9 Comments

I have just nine days to claim that I am still a “20-something.” Sure, I went kicking and screaming into this decade, terrified to lose the hard-won title of “teen.” And now? Now I’m clinging desperately to the last nine days of 29. In the meantime, there will be celebrations and hoopla, but I’m still digging my heels into the ever-shifting earth, gritting my teeth against reality, and squeezing my eyes shut to the truth. On September 20th, 2011, I will turn 30.

As I reflect on these last nine days, I’m struck by some very real disappointments. When I was eighteen, I had made a plan. I decided that I would pursue my PhD in English so that I could become a world-famous scholar. (Little did I know what that job really meant.) I would graduate with my PhD in English (with honors and utterly hyper-involved in committees and other CV-building activities) before I turned 30. In fact, I determined, it would be possible and highly probable that I would graduate with my Master’s in 2006 (done!) at the age of 24, and then I would graduate with my PhD in 2010 at the age of 28. Silly, adorable girl. I had heard tell of some true scholars, masterful experts in their fields, who had completed their doctoral degrees in four years’ time. I would be one of those overachievers. Easy-peasy. I had also decided that I would begin my family prior to turning 30. I would already have two children, the oldest around the age of 2.

It’s an adorable, pie-in-the-sky fantasy, isn’t it? (The worst is that not one person told me I was naive, that I was underestimating the work load and overestimating my ability. Where were the cynics when I needed them? Was everyone truly just watching, waiting on the sidelines to see if I actually would do it?)

Between the ages of 22 and 29, I gained 80 pounds. (If you go further back…to the ages of 20 and 29, it’s a gain of 100 pounds.)

The weight fluctuated, as weight often does, so that I would lose loads and then gain it all back with interest. As an undergraduate, I dated twice. The first (2000-2001) was an utter disastrous mistake. He knows he was a mistake because I informed him of that the night I ended it. He warped my mind, my self-perception, left me shaken, confused, and insecure. The second (Spring Break of 2004) was a fling. He kissed me in a way that made me tingle and made my heart race. But he was as dull as dishwater; he wasted my limited cell phone minutes with hours of one-sided conversation…all from my end of the line. I also suspected that he had limited brain matter, so I quickly grew bored of him in a matter of a week. I lied to him on the day that I ended our little dating experiment, telling him that I had definitely been accepted into an out-of-state Master’s program. (I had only been wait-listed and was in the heart-rending process of begging my way in.)

I dated no one during my Master’s program. I put my head down, convinced myself I was unloveable, and dedicated myself to my plan of scholarly pursuits. (I figured if I could at least get the doctorate before 30, then I wouldn’t need the family portion of my plan to see fruition.) My weight steadily increased (except for a couple of months here and there of intentional weight loss), and I knew I was ugly and undesirable. I developed feelings for a fellow Master’s student, but he failed to notice me. I knew it was because of my weight. I entered my PhD program confident that I had lost all opportunity to find love and fulfill any dream of becoming a young-ish mother and scholar, so I stopped looking with interest. Robert came around in January 2007, and that history has been fairly well-documented. I continued to struggle with my appearance, so utterly confused as to why this man found me not only physically attractive but also worth expressing love to.

When I was sixteen, I told myself on my darkest days that it would get better when I was married. When I knew someone was voluntarily linked to me, I would feel better about my appearance. I wouldn’t care so much about my weight. And then a decade later, as a twenty-six-year-old fiancée, I told myself that pregnancy would cure me of my body image issues. (You’re supposed to look fat when you’re pregnant, right??)

As a twenty-nine-year-old four-month pregnant wife (who still doesn’t have a doctorate to speak of, and who is nine days away from 30), it slowly has dawned on me that I may not be curable. I may never feel confident about my body. As I lay in bed beside my husband who rubs my expanding abdomen, I try to hear his voice over my own. I try to hear him telling me that I am beautiful, sexy, extremely feminine. The din he unwittingly competes against rumbles on that I am fat, disgusting, ugly. That I don’t even look pregnant…just fatter.

The worst of it is that this is my first pregnancy, so I have no idea where this dialogue has come from. I certainly hadn’t spent years perfecting the self-loathing pregnancy track in order to destroy my confidence as I grow our baby. (And, as a side-note, I should clarify that, in utter and unabashed paradox, I am thrilled to see the swell of my abdomen because it means the baby is growing. Have I become so detached from my body?) But it strikes me. These aren’t my words. These aren’t my original thoughts. I am not that creative.

No, these are the words of the world around me. These are the values of the society to which I succumb while I attempt to work my way through a brand-new physical experience. In the beginning, Robert and I had agreed that I would lose enough weight to feel confident (we guessed around 130 pounds, which would bring me to a weight of 135, comfortable for my 5’3″ frame). And last year, when I wasn’t writing, I began that progress and lost 40 pounds. And then gained it all back plus an additional twenty. I knew I couldn’t ignore the drumming in my head any longer, the pounding against my skull that begged “babybabybabybabybabybaby.” At the beginning of the year, far from my pre-pregnancy weight loss goal, I gave voice to that drumbeat. Robert was concerned because he knew what I saw when I looked in the mirror. He knew that I would only gain more in order to grow a healthy baby. He worried about whether or not I would enjoy the process of pregnancy.

He was right to worry.

Although I am enjoying (most of) the new sensations that accompany pregnancy (this week I am confident that I have felt the baby squirm at least once a day), I am not enjoying the changes in my own body. I lamented last night that I did not understand how my pants could get so tight that I couldn’t fasten them (typically a sign of at least 8-10 pounds gained), yet I’m still one pound under my pre-pregnancy weight. How could it be that my total pregnancy weight gain is -1 pound, but I’ve already started to wear waist-band expanding contraptions on my pants? To my great frustration, I cannot reconcile my logical brain (“the baby is the size of a navel orange, and your uterus is the size of a cantaloupe…your pants will not zip up over that”) with my emotional brain (“but…they fit fine last week!”)

And, as I said, I realize they’re not my words. They’re the words of this ass-backwards, utterly mind-fucking society. Just look anywhere and you’ll see messages of doom and gloom for the woman who gains weight throughout her pregnancy, whose belly swells.

On July 28th, this year, the Today Show aired a segment where they examined a growing trend of anxiety-related weight problems with pregnant and just-post-partum women. If you’re not familiar, please take a moment to watch it, here:

On July 28th, I was 11 weeks pregnant. I was gripped with anxiety about losing the pregnancy, despite a healthy ultrasound just sixteen days prior to watching this segment air. I had lost 11 pounds since becoming pregnant. (Utterly unintentionally, but I was delighted.)

I immediately felt guilty. I am one of those women who is worried about gaining too much during her pregnancy because I am already so very obese. Dr. Nancy chides those who are concerned about weight gain, telling us to focus on the fact that we are actually capable of conceiving when there are so many unfortunate women who struggle. I wanted to dig a hole and hide into it. Where was my compassion?

In the seven weeks since that time, I’ve found myself still just as anxious about my weight and appearance as I was on July 28th. How could I not have gotten the message? What was wrong with me?


"Wow! Victoria Beckham Debuts Slamming, Size-0 Post-Baby Bod." From US Weekly, 9.3.11. Posh Spice lost all of her pregnancy weight before her baby was 8 weeks old.

(image courtesy US Weekly)

And this:
Jaw-Dropping Post-Baby Bods!” from US Weekly (a whole gallery of celeb moms who lost it all in an incredible amount of time.)

And this:
Hollywood’s Hottest Moms” from InStyle (another gallery of svelte post-baby celeb moms; gives the impression that the only way to be a “hot” mom is to be wafer-thin and runway-ready.)

And this:
Hey mama! Post-baby body secrets of celebrity mothers” from New York Daily News (apparently one of the best ways to “lose weight” is to breastfeed. Except when you realize that breastfeeding mostly just shrinks the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size by releasing a specific hormone. Sure, it burns some calories, but it can’t combat poor nutrition.)

But I’m not the only one! Read this interview with new mom Elaine Schoch on MSN Health
Celebrity mamas fuel post-baby body blues

These are the images that bombard me when I turn on the television. When I go grocery shopping. These are the tales of weight-loss victory I hear in the waiting rooms of my OB. On the radio when I drive to work.

I know not to lose weight during my pregnancy. I also know that as an obese woman, I should not gain too much weight. I’m proud of my -1 pound of gain in the past seventeen weeks. But I don’t intend to keep it up. I intend to gain only when I need to…and hopefully, that gain will primarily come from Baby Hab. In the meantime, I do feel confused and frustrated. As a woman who has spent most of her adult life despising when clothes begin to feel tight, I am not sure how to feel when the numbers on the scale don’t indicate a gain but when the pants won’t zip.

I don’t fit into any maternity clothing because they seem to be mostly designed for already small women who just happen to get a little pooch. I’ve been seeing a change in my actual body composition…my upper legs are a little bit larger, my ass is certainly more spread out. And, of course, my abdomen is beginning to swell. Not fitting into the clothes meant for women who are purposefully expanding is disheartening, humiliating, and degrading. I begin to worry that nobody will know that I’m pregnant. I have been purchasing clothes that are simply a size larger than my pre-pregnancy size. Nothing I have purchased falls into the “maternity” category. Nothing shows off the increasing swell in my abdomen. And I’m not sure it ever will.

These are my insecurities. And sources of deep confusion. As well as guilt. I realize what an ironic blessing it is that I even have the ability to complain about the changes in my body.

I wonder if it will change…or when it will.

Gynecological Origami: or, the art of humiliation

May 19, 2011 § 7 Comments

This post is Tori’s fault. You see, a few months ago, she bravely recounted her trip to the gynecologist for her annual exam. So you know what? Inspired by her womanly courage, I’m giving you my own recap today, you lucky, lucky people. (You can direct your generous gratitude HERE.)

In preparation for my annual embarrassment, I took a thirty minute shower. I soaped up and rinsed off my body three times. I shaved my armpits and legs with the care reserved for first dates…and gynecological visits. I washed my face and scrubbed behind my ears. No way in hell was I going to be the “stinky” patient today. No strange smells were going to emanate from my body. No funny-looking hairs would peek out from shredded paper gowns. No siree bob. Everything I could control was going to be freaking controlled.

I pottied before taking my shower–no stray toilet paper fuzz in embarrassing places. Definitely no smells. I would be clean as a whistle!


The nurse weighs me (since I already know the answer, I look away) and invites me to provide a “sample, if [I] don’t mind.” Mind? Me? Shucks no! Just point me to the cup and laundry marker, and I’m revved and raring to go!

Except I wasn’t. Because I had already pottied. And I had forgotten that I’d give a urine sample.

“Sure….” I say, because there’s no other choice than to say “sure.” She sends me to the bathroom and I sit. And sit. And sit. And sit. And sigh. And sit. And wonder if she’s standing outside the door waiting to hear the tell-tale sounds of peeing in a cup. I take a deep breath, envision drinking all the water my bladder can hold…and squeeze. I’m utterly empty, but what I’ve produced should serve enough for the test strip. I put my labeled cup on the shelf with all the other labeled cups. Mine is the least full.

First Instance of Humiliation: Inadequate urine sample.

Next, as my gynecologist’s nurse administers the super-comfortable and enjoyable blood pressure test, she begins to tell my fat ass about the new weight loss clinic our women’s clinic has opened specifically for its female clientele. I take deep breaths and smile at her as she explains how useful it will be for me to sign up. “It’s only $150 for the consultation,” she begins. When she looks up and sees my panicked expression, she stops talking.

My blood pressure registers as “pre-high.” 130/80 is no longer an average blood pressure. I’m now apparently prehypertensive. Fabulous. I wonder if I should get points off because the nurse was talking about my big fat ass?

Second Instance of Humiliation: Prehypertension brought on by discussion of weight.

The nurse takes me to the exam room and hands me two stacks of paper towels that look identical to one another. “This one’s the top, which opens to the front. That one’s the bottom. She’ll be right in.” The nurse draws closed the curtain around the exam table and walks out of the door. I toss a furtive glance to the handle for a lock. No such luck. Even though it is extraordinarily common for doctors to politely tap once on the door as they are walking in the room, it is not extraordinarily common to see a lock on this door handle.

In my gynecological experience, one of two things can happen: 1. the doctor walks in while I am in the middle of undressing/figuring out the paper gown or 2. I hurriedly change only to wait for half an hour to hear the tap.

Today was a second scenario day.

I gently unfold (and manage to tear in two places) the top paper towel stack. No sleeves. That must be the blanket for the bottom half. Sure I am running out of time, I fumble with the other paper towel stack. Tearing this in a key location (right in the middle of the left breast), I finally manage to get into the front-opening paper vest. I sit on the edge of the table (recalling that I’m always encouraged to scoot down), spread the paper blanket over my lap, cover every last instance of flesh, and wait.

I am reminiscent of a toilet paper bride from one of those bridal shower games. Minus the veil, paper flowers, and huge smile. Every time I breathe, my paper configuration falls open in one way or another. I fold it, pull it, tuck it, and hold onto it until my paper gown origami is nothing more than a wrinkled reminder of what it once was.

Third Instance of Humiliation: Required inadequate paper apparel.

And then I am left waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

I hear voices outside the door, and, like a pound puppy, I am just certain that one of those voices belongs to my girl. She’s going to swing open that door and rescue me from this hellish experience. The voices dissipate down the hall. Other doors get knocked on. Other patients come and go. A.Hab. is left in her pile of paper towels, behind an un-tapped-on door, trembling from anxiety, embarrassment, and a slight chill.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, I beg in an endless cycle.

I swing my feet, admiring my super-clean soles as they ascend and descend rhythmically. I’m glad I washed my feet so well, I congratulate myself.

My thoughts turn dark. What if my urine sample is showing something bad? What if she’s gathering armloads of materials for her super fat patients? What if she’s working up the nerve to tell me that I have to lose 100 pounds before I should conceive? At this last thought, I feel a prickling behind my eyes.

Okay, A.Hab! I straighten my sore spine (of course today of all days, I have a sore back). You have got to stop thinking like this.

I return to my “c’mon c’mon c’mon” chant.

Half an hour later, as though purposefully summoned by my meditation, my new gynecologist taps once on the door as she enters the room.

Fourth Instance of Humiliation: Infinite waiting in the nude.

She introduces herself to me without shaking my hand. I’m actually relieved at this because my hands are sopping wet from wringing the ever-living life out of the paper towel spread across my lap for half an hour. She encourages me to scoot down. “And once more,” she tells me. “And…again.” I never scoot down far enough on the first try.

As I lay back and put my heels in the stirrups, my knees instinctively meet.

Dr. Gynecologist smiles warmly and says gently, “I’m going to ask you to relax your knees, just a little bit.”

I know what “just a little bit” means. I slowly let my knees fall to the sides. I can feel my heartbeat in my throat.

“Lots of cold and lots of pressure,” she warns soothingly.

A chill shoots through my core. “Whew,” I titter nervously. “That is cold.”

“And lots of pressure.” She sees me gulp. “Are you okay? Does that hurt?”

“N-no,” I respond, trying to sound convincing. I concentrate on picturing myself in the car driving home. And it doesn’t hurt, not really. But it doesn’t feel particularly good either.

Three sharp swipes and she’s out.

Hovering over my shoulders, she presses on my breasts, searching for lumps. We chit-chat about my husband, about how our anniversary is next Monday, about how he is an amazing man. How I’m lucky to have him. I relax immediately. And the exam is over.

She tells me that everything looks good, that I’m all clear.

She was in and out in under ten minutes. Yet, I climb into my driver’s seat an hour after I parked there.

Fifth Instance of Humiliation: Realizing that I was so utterly worked up for nearly an hour over nothing.

It’s a damn good thing these visits come so infrequently. Of course…I do realize that if I intend to squeeze out a human being from my nether regions, I’m just going to have to get the hell over this anxiety.

In the meantime, Robert’s my safe word. Plain and simple.

And now for something a little bit different!

May 6, 2011 § 8 Comments

…but only a little bit.

In honor of my final final, I wanted to do something a little bit different. But what should it be? After a brief and still hysterical conversation with my sister (wherein she quickly emerged from her house like a shy wren from a cozy nest, twirling to show her haircut to her sister who was passing by that very moment on a bus home), I knew what I had to do.

There will be time, I told myself, ignoring the stomach-clenching paranoia.
No…, the paranoia protested back. Something will come up!
I’ve been doing really well on my post-a-day challenges. Nothing will come up! I insisted back.

So, I (perhaps foolishly) ignored my better judgment, lowered my laptop cover, and went to the grocery store with Robert. And then we hung out with V for a little while. And then I remembered I hadn’t eaten dinner…and it was almost nine. And then I still wanted to do that small change.

Here it is, folks: I am nearly late turning in today’s blog (and I know it’s arbitrary, but I still like it). I can still say “nearly” because I’ve another hour to go before my time is officially up. Anyway. Here it is, for real:

I colored my hair tonight!

Nothing major. Just a slightly deeper shade of red (I think…it’s still wet, so we’ll see what it looks like in the morning). If it comes out purple, I’ll panic…and then go to my hairdresser and beg her to help me fix it. But, I’m telling myself, it’s still wet. And red almost always look purple when it’s wet.

What I don’t understand about myself is that I seem to always color my hair (all four times I’ve ever done it) at night. Like…late at night. Close to bedtime. Which means I have to go to sleep with a wet head (I have super thick, super frizzy curly hair…it doesn’t do well with a blowdryer…think…Simba on crack cocaine).

But tonight was the worst time of all.

This time…I colored blind!!


In the past, I was much more consistent with wearing my contact lenses than I have been lately. So, in the past, I was able to see just fine. This time…I had to remove the glasses.

It’s fine, I told myself moments before sliding them from my face. I can go by feel. It’s supposed to feel like shampooing my hair.

You know what it feels like to color your hair with gloves on while blind?

A little like this:


Because I couldn’t see, my hair was going all over the place, which meant that it was indeed passing in front of my face (mostly so that I could see the ends and make sure they were getting color on them). I literally thought I was going to die at one point. I’m not even kidding. The odor smacked me in the face, and I started to cough. Which caused me to breathe in more. Which caused me to stifle more coughs. Which caused my eyes to well up with tears. (I eventually caught wise and turned on the exhaust fan. In the immortal words of Brita from Community and Charlie Sheen: duh-doy! Maybe the fumes killed a couple brain cells….)

Also, waiting for 25 minutes while the dye works its magic is worse when blind. I absolutely believe that. I mostly played on my phone…holding it as close to my face as it could get without bumping my nose, and kept checking about every minute or two to make sure the alarm hadn’t screwed up. It hadn’t. Only seven minutes had passed. Keep waiting, A.Hab.

Finally, finally the glorious moment of rinsing out arrived. And I was a wreck. I ended up having to cry for Robert to come help me. (I was in desperate need of a giant claw clip…which neither of us could find, and I least of all. It’s gone. Apparently. But he found other clips, which helped.) As I rinsed out my hair, he gathered the materials I rattled off to him in a frenetic and utterly bizarre list. For what I can only imagine is the first time in his entire life, he read instructions for coloring the hair. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing a step.

He’s a good husband.

As for the verdict on the hair…Robert likes it. I’m holding my breath until it dries. And then we’ll see.

But it’s just so typical of me to end something major and then do something minor to acknowledge it. Coloring my hair tends to be my go-to “thing.”

Do any of y’all have quirky habits you employ when you’re celebrating a milestone (however small or large)?

At long last: the moment of truth

May 5, 2011 § 10 Comments

Last Friday, I went to get an MRI done on my lower back.

Today, we read the results, and it’s good news!

I have a disk protrusion at L5/S1, which is touching against the scar tissue near the sciatic nerve from my previous back surgery in 2008 (May 6th, as it happens). The protrusion is apparently not a fully-blown disk (hooray!), which means that it is a non-surgical issue. With medication, it should resolve itself and return to its place between the two vertebrae.

I’ll divulge more later, but I wanted to at least get the good news out there. 🙂 No surgery. Just more anti-inflammatory meds.

Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement! 🙂

And then I was abducted by aliens…

April 29, 2011 § 13 Comments

It’s the knocking and the laying still that are the worst.

Crap. I’m too fat for all my clothes. I’m going to have to wear a too-tight shirt. The one that essentially says “I tried.”

For some people, it’s the claustrophobia. The coffin-like structure reminds too much of impending doom.

“I want to see what’s going on in there,” he had said. “Just to be sure.”

The dulcet tones of Kenny G’s sweet soprano sax waft into my ears in between bangs and squeaks. Somehow, I am not soothed by the smooth jazz. Maybe I should have gone with country. Or even R&B.

“You can have a seat right there. I’ll just go over some quick protocol issues with you. You don’t have any heart issues, no stints, no metal in your body, tattoos, piercings?” I tell the nurse no. “You’re not claustrophobic or pregnant?” Again, no. “No history of surgeries, implants of any nature?” I pause. Back surgery, May 2008, for a herniated disk in my lower back. She jots down the note. Sends me to a room to change.

Laying here, my back begins to hurt. I can feel it tightening. I rotate an ankle slowly, trying not to move, trying not to prolong this process. The banging comes in a specific series. There are pauses. Warnings. Warm-ups. The clicks indicate adjustments. I’m convinced the aliens will come for me soon. This contraption is too bizarre not to be extraterrestrial.

My too-tight shirt and bra are off. In the shirt I got with a gym membership, the one that declares “hey, I tried,” my boobs look obscene. They are a prominent feature. Something to be hidden. I should have done laundry. In the hospital gown, my boobs hold the shape from the wired-bra for a moment before beginning to sag. I realize that I have boobs. Not tits. Tits are smaller, perkier. On prettier girls, slender girls. No, mine are massive, vulgar, udder-like boobs. I sigh and emerge from the changing room.

The banging comes to a sudden stop. Kenny G cuts short his arpeggio run. I hear a faint beep. Something stirs deep in a repressed memory and I wonder if it’s over.

The MRI technician enters the room, all chipper, and exclaims, “All done! You did great!”

“Oh, good,” I laugh tensely. My voice sounds strange in this machine. I can feel my body moving forward. “I was afraid that I might have moved when I took really deep breaths.”

“Nope! You were perfect.” She can’t know this, but an insecure spot deep within warmed up momentarily. “So…when do you come back to read your scans?” Did she hesitate? Did she see something?

“Thursday,” I reply, sharply attuned to her tone of voice and facial expressions. I am reading her. Or I am reading into her.

“Good, good.” She is either pleased that I already have an appointment established, or she knows something.

I laugh. “Why? You didn’t see anything, did you?” I immediately regret what I said. She laughs nervously. “Sorry!” I say, matching her nervous laughter. “I know you can’t say anything…liabilities.”

“Yeah…” she replies, helping me to sit up. “And what level was your previous back surgery?”


“Okay. Okay,” she says. Again, I scrutinize her face. She is indiscernible. I’m frustrated and beginning to panic. “All righty, sweetie, you can go get dressed now. And your insurance has covered the scan for today, so you can just walk right on out! Have a great day!” I offer a feeble reciprocal reply, utterly ensconced in my own worry.

Bring on the six days of self-inflicted mental torture.

Combine sea salt and EVOO and what do you get? Sexier legs, that’s what!

April 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

My friend Vikki has done it again! Last time I stole a blog post of hers, it was in honor of her awesome powder laundry detergent recipe. (By the way, I’ve now washed like five loads of laundry in it, and I am in absolute love with it!) This time, though, I am leeching off of Vikki to share a sneaky little trick of the kitchen that leads to a delicious joy in the shower. And…the title of this blog is misleading. I’m not about to talk about sexier legs. Ahem.

If I have any gentle male readers…now might be the right time to avert thine eyes and leave the ladies to their gossip. Trust me. Uhm, same goes for my more innocent female readers. If you’d like to retain your innocence, I’ll understand if you just leave it at this. See you tomorrow. « Read the rest of this entry »

Something’s wrong.

March 24, 2011 § 21 Comments

Something’s wrong! My brain shouts me awake. Something’s wrong! it insists again.

I’m lying in bed at two in the morning, it’s the middle of Spring Break, and my hip…no, my gluts…no, my knee…no, definitely my shin…is painful. It’s just my hip, I tell my brain. From last Monday, ten days ago, when I hyperextended it in personal training.

Several moments go by. I’m breathing in for six, out for eight. I’m soon asleep.

No! Something’s wrong! Again, my brain’s insistent claim jolts me awake.

As do the pain signals now radiating…radiating?…shooting?…squeezing?…throbbing?…from my hip to my shin. The pain is indescribable, but I recognize it. Shit.

I roll over, prop my left leg on top of my right leg which is now crooked in such an odd way one would wonder how I manage to find comfort in the position at all. I fall asleep, imagining someone expressing shock at my ability to resume REM as quickly as I do. Try writing a dissertation, I might respond. It works wonders on insomnia. Also causes it. It’s a mysterious beast.

Pay attention!! Something’s really wrong!! My brain is now really starting to piss me off.

It’s 2 a.m. Nothing to be done about it now. Shut the fuck up, I bite back. And it does.

For the next few days, the pain in my leg comes and goes. It can’t be that, then…when that happened, the pain never went away. I’m afraid to say the words, even in my mind. I don’t want to revisit thatplease, not that.

By Sunday, my left leg feels as though it is in its own private torture device. Radiating pain in the hip. Rolls down to tightness in the gluts. Rolls down to tightening in the calf. Rolls around to burning in the shin. Rolls down to squeezing in the heel. The pain isn’t as bad as it was back then, but I do find myself sitting down more often than not. Sitting hurts. Walking hurts. Standing hurts. Laying down hurts.

Please!! Am I shouting at the Heavens? Not THAT again!!

I flow through V’s yin yoga session. Everything’s fine. I know the modifications; my body naturally flows to them in order to protect my left leg. It’s time for savasana. Corpse pose. My favorite. V instructs us to roll down gently onto our backs. I tuck my legs in and begin the roll; I’ve done this a thousand times. I struggle. I collapse, but I don’t think I was really loud enough to disturb others’ descent into their restful meditation. I slowly slide my feet to the end of my mat and reach up with my arms. Something’s wrong. I ignore it. Breathe in for six, out for eight. Practice your ujjayi breath, your ocean-sound breath. V tells us to tense up all our muscles on our inhale, and release everything all at once on our exhale. Twice. Three times. There, I reprimand my brain. See? Nothing’s wrong. I settle into my savasana, my breathing slows. My brain begins to relax.

No! Something’s wrong! Now I feel it. Now I feel a tweak. I’m on my back, on the floor, and I feel it. V encourages us to find rest in any pose that is comfortable to us, recommending us to try supta baddha konasana, reclining bound angle pose, mostly because it feels good on the lower back…and because she likes saying its Sanskrit name. I slide my feet back toward my rear-end and, keeping my feet together, allow my knees to fall to either side. My hands rest beside me, palm-side up in order to receive peace; I feel my fingers just brush the inside of my hands.

I can’t feel that any more. I float away, listening to my friends practice their ujjayi breath, wondering what they’re meditating about. I meditate on them. On my joy to have such friends. On my gratefulness to V for being who she is. On my love for Robert and the tiny two-person family we’ve created. For a minute, I am still.

On Monday, I work out with my personal trainer. I tell her, hesitatingly, reluctantly, not yet wanting to say the words, on the verge of tears…about how I feel like something’s wrong. We regard one another. Is she reading my face to see if I’m just trying to get out of it? No, surely not. That’s just my own insecurity. She chirps (yes, chirps at freaking 7 a.m.), “Not a problem! We’ll do arms and legs today!” I watch her write in all capitals “NO BACK EXERCISES,” on my training chart. She underscores it twice.

Something’s really, really wrong! It’s almost 5 a.m. today. I’m dreaming about Dr. Cuddy…from House, M.D. She’s in pain, too. To alleviate her pain, she is resting on a pool table with her legs and arms hanging off the sides. House berates her. She ignores him, or cannot hear him, because all she can think is something’s wrong. Why is she on a pool table? Is the hardness of the table even helping? Or could the gravity pulling on her legs be making the something’s wrong worse?

Robert wakes me up. For a minute, I don’t want to move. I’m Dr. Cuddy resting on the pool table. Except my bed isn’t as firm. I slowly roll over to my side, suddenly sad.

“Something’s wrong,” I mutter to myself.


Many of my friends are probably sick of hearing about this, but it might have reared its ugly head again. For those who are gloriously not in the know…sorry, but I’m about to tell you about it. You won’t be not-in-the-know for much longer.

In 2008, my L5/S1 disk herniated (bottom of the lumbar, top of the sacrum–located essentially where the spinal column begins to meet the hips). I treated friends to pictures of my MRI scan, showing off (in my pain killer haze) how that little pillow disk looked like a thought bubble protruding from my spinal column, pushing against the sciatic nerve, which sent pain signals shooting down my leg. From February to May 2008, I was on pain killers because there is no such thing as “paid medical leave” for graduate teaching assistants. I had two choices: take a “medical withdrawal” from the university, receive no pay, and be behind one full semester in my trajectory in order to have surgery; OR float around doped-out for three months, feeling the pain but not giving a rat’s ass about it, teach and get paid, and stay on track to finish my coursework. I chose the latter option. I like money. I need money. Money makes the world go round and keeps the lights on. Money’s gooooood. On May 6, 2008, my disk was removed. I was put on more pain killers, but I took the first half of the summer off. I begged my surgeon to release me to work in July (so I could be paid for summer teaching), and he reluctantly agreed, with several admonitions of being careful. I was careful.

Until I received my medical release to exercise. Once I was released from recovery and could reignite my smoldering desire to lose weight, I hit the gym. I felt amazing. No pain, no restrictions. I was loosey-goosey. I could walk! I could stand! I was thrilled that now I faced a future where I would march down the aisle with my father holding onto my elbow for pictures and not for stability. I wouldn’t have to get a wheelchair wedding dress. I was awesome!!

And now? Now, three years later, something’s wrong. I don’t want to speak the words yet, but I’ve made an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Surgeon (he’ll be called), for next Wednesday to just…see.

I’m trying not to jump to conclusions. I’m struggling even more not to destroy myself for possibly causing this. (I gained so much weight, you see.) I feel terrible, both emotionally and physically.

And still…if it comes to surgery, it will just have to wait. Dissertation and graduation come first above all else.

Even if something’s wrong.

Yoga with a budding yogini

March 20, 2011 § 13 Comments

My friend, V, is training to be a yoga instructor–she’s already a Level 1! And tonight, she led four of us through a “gentle yoga” (or “restorative yoga” or “yin yoga”) practice that she choreographed and set to music herself. It was both instructive, peaceful, and absolutely restorative.

I am so grateful to V for helping to recenter me. I have been out of my yoga practice since last August…which is embarrassing, considering how far I’d come since last February. Since I started practicing in 2004, I always come back to yoga at some time or other in my life. And, coincidentally, it seems to find me when I’m at my lowest, most stressful places. There’s a saying among the yoga practitioners that “yoga meets you where you are.” It does. It meets you when you are tired, sore, stiff. It meets you when you are stressed, sad, unmotivated. It meets you when you are flexible, energetic, centered. It meets you when you are calm, rested, happy.

Yoga meets you where you are, and you are left to answer: are you ready to meet yoga?

Thank you, V, for tonight’s practice. I needed it, and I’m confident I will be prepared for tomorrow’s demands.

You know you’ve hit a low point when…

March 18, 2011 § 25 Comments

…when you wanted to spend money on new capris, realized you couldn’t fit in any of the sizes you’re willing to house in your closet, went home utterly dejected, and decided to spend the new clothing money instead on an online membership for Weight Watchers.

Am I ready for this? No. I don’t feel like counting points and working on my diet. God knows I barely have the wherewithal to remember to eat in the first place, let alone counting points when attempting to remember to eat.

Do I have to do this? Yes. It’s bad. I didn’t keep to my original plan to lose weight (I would be almost 30 pounds lighter than I am right now), and now I’m feeling kind of like I want to be sick. I feel so gross.

Will I be successful with Weight Watchers? Considering this will be my fifth time to join, yes. I always lose weight on Weight Watchers. I am incredibly successful on this program. The problem is that I never stick it out long enough to get to the maintenance phase. I typically get about a week or so away from maintenance (which means I’d be rather close to my goal weight), and then I just stop doing the program entirely. So I never learn how to maintain the new weight I’ve reached.

So there you go. A.Hab. feels like a big fat cow (and doesn’t really want to be comforted at the moment, but thank you in advance for any and all kind sentiments), and she desperately needs to make a change, no matter how inconvenient that is for her right now.

Edit: Before anyone asks or offers recommendations, I thought I should catalogue the programs I’ve already attempted and when and to what success:

1. Weight Watchers: the first time was in tenth grade and I lost all the weight I intended to lose; the second time was a couple years later when I started college, but I was unable to cook my own meals so I quickly failed; the third time was another year or so later when I moved to an apartment-style dorm and could cook my own meals, I did lose weight but failed to keep it off; the fourth time was at the beginning of graduate school, and I lost a great deal of weight because I was also starting a personal training program, but again, I gained it all back plus a great deal more.

2. Atkins: of course, like everyone on the planet who tries this or other low-carb programs, I was immediately successful. I was on this in between the second and third tries with Weight Watchers. I was kind of a bitch on it, though. Turns out that my niceness comes from carbs. Big FAIL for low-carb programs.

3. Jenny Craig: I was on this after the fourth time with Weight Watchers fell through. I was successful with this as well, and I was keeping up with an exercise program. It was during my time on this program, though, that my L5/S1 disk herniated, so my exercising came to a screeching halt once the pain was agonizing. I found myself lying to my over-the-phone consultant about my weight loss. I wasted a lot of my parents’ money buying food that I never ate.

4. Counting calories/low-fat: in the interim between programs I’m almost always doing some form of this or other…until I become utterly dejected and depressed. I am less successful on these sort of home-grown programs (the kinds where you’re accountable really only to yourself and the expanding gut in the mirror). Technically this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. But once I fell into a good routine and started to lose weight consistently (averaging between 1.5-2 pounds a week) last year, I eventually stopped because I grew bored with the foods I normally ate.

Since the time that I was 15 and a half, I have always been on some weight loss program or other, which is quickly coming upon half of my lifetime with my 30th birthday approaching in September. I started too early. When I was 15 and a half (and starting Weight Watchers), I weighed 126. I remember that number because it horrified me so much. Now, I weigh 247. And I want to hide in the darkness of my bedroom and never see the light of day again. Or so much as a morsel of food. I will never see the 120s again, and I don’t want to. I was adorable at that size, but I was still growing my breasts and hips. Now that I have them, I’d like for them to still look womanly…just not…grotesque. Google search images for the “Hottentot Venus,” and you’ll get a general idea as to what I look like right now. This woman was paraded around in Europe as an example of a typical exotic African woman. Today…well, I can barely look at myself in the mirror without seeing her reflected back at me. It makes me want to be ill. Seriously ill.

Before I weighed 126, I hated my body too. I compared myself to the other skinny girls in my ballet classes and at school. In fourth grade, when we were seated around the floor in a circle to watch a movie, my friends and I would lay our bony, undeveloped forearms upon one another’s, and I would rejoice to myself when I discovered that I had the skinniest wrists in class. (The same was true for boniest ankles, most observable collar bones, and most prominent hips.) I was not beautiful then either. But I wasn’t looking for beautiful. I was looking for skinniest. Skinniest meant best. And then I hit puberty and all that Sicilian genetic coding kicked in, and I grew breasts and hips. When I was in sixth grade, I weighed 101 for the first time, and came downstairs after a shower in tears, begging my mom to explain to me what this pouch was on top of my abdomen. She calmly said, “That’s just your body growing into adolescence, Amanda. You can’t have a period without it.” I got my first period a year later. And I hated my body from the time it weighed 101 pounds and had a teensy little pouch over the abdomen all the way up to the moment I am writing this post.

I have never loved my body, not even when I was young, undeveloped, and skinny.

Daily I wonder and worry that I might have a mental disorder that will prevent me from ever seeing my body as beautiful and worthy of self-love. Will I ever be a weight that will be “good enough”? Or have I already destroyed my sense of physical self from the tender age of eight (the age I first began dancing and comparing my body to the other girls’)? Am I doomed? If I am doomed to always hate my body…then what is the value in losing all this weight in the first place? Sure, I want to get to a weight where the doctors will stop telling me how obese and disgusting I am (my word, not theirs…they say “dangerously overweight” and “borderline for major diseases”). But once I reach that weight, then what?

Ah, these are the thoughts of an A.Hab. driven crazy. Turns out her white whale isn’t a dissertation, friends. It’s actually aligning the image that Robert must have of her with the image she sees reflected in that horrible, horrible glass.

Confusing Sexualities: a confession of presumption from someone who claims to be open-minded

March 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have committed sins against my alternative genders/sexualities brothers and sisters. You see, while on one side of my mouth I have preached open-mindedness and equality for all, on the other side of my mouth, I have expressed shock at discovering that someone who dresses a certain way or speaks a certain way or moves a certain way is married to someone of the opposite sex.

Please forgive me, those I have wronged. I am deeply sorry and have finally now seen the errors of my ways.

What led me to my self-revelation, you may ask?

Naturally, it was my dissertation.

I felt this idea bubbling up on Friday afternoon as I talked my way through Chapter Two with my diss-buddy V. I told her what I would say to some of the more conservative (in my opinion, backwards-thinking) antagonists to sexuality, and that was along the lines of, “one’s expression of gender does not automatically indicate sexual preference.” What I meant by this at the time was that just because someone cross-dressed, that person was not automatically gay. This line of logic was first presented to me in 1999 when I saw Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill on HBO…or one of those channels. Izzard gleefully struts across the stage in late 90s fashionable strappy platform heels and carefully clarifies a common misconception of the sexual preference of transvestites:

Oh, Eddie. I adore you.

Anyway…so, Izzard helped shape my developing mind as I prepared to go to college. I was always inquisitive about other people’s sexual orientations, and I never agreed with anyone who thought that those who did not identify as heterosexual were destined for an afterlife with flames and torture; I never believed that sexuality was a decision either consciously or subconsciously made; I never gave any credit to programs that claimed to “heal” individuals of their sexualities. Izzard’s point encouraged me to see gender constructions (gender identities–such as effeminacy and masculinity, and all the myriad gray area in between) in terms that did not dictate sexualities. A male transvestite does not always fancy dudes. So there you go. That makes sense.

So, A.Hab., you may be wondering, what atrocities did you commit against those who express their gender and sexual identities in alternative ways? (Alternative to what? The hegemonic ways to express heterosexuality, I figure.)

Well…I have ashamedly been known to participate in terribly presumptive conversations with other friends. “I can’t believe he’s married with kids! I wonder when he’s going to come out?” “So, that guy got a sex change, huh? Wonder if his faithful wife is a lesbian?” “She’s too butch to be straight. Surely her husband is effeminate.”

I’m embarrassed and truly disgusted to share these with you, my reader. But I feel it’s important to confess these sins…I can’t possibly have you all thinking that I’m awesome and cool with my progressive mind, can I?

So, what’s so wrong with the things I’ve said before? I assumed that just because someone identified as masculine or feminine (in spite of what society would assume their biology might suggest), then that person must obviously be gay. How can an effeminate man want to sleep with women?, I wondered. The tried and true rule is that there’s always a butch and a lipstick in lesbian relationships…but I wonder who is who in this coupling? Oh yes, folks, I’ve had these perfectly horrible thoughts. They’re horrible in their presumption. They’re disgraceful in their need for clear-cut delineation.

Last night, as I was composing the fleshed-out outline for my second chapter, I wrote the following notes:

In what way exactly does effeminacy equal homosexuality in men? In what way exactly does masculinity equal homosexuality in women?

Which naturally led me to the following points:

1. Social fear: seducing the same-sex other–>a woman dressed as a man will seduce other women who will fall for her disguise, thinking they are in love with a man.  A man dressed as a woman will seduce other men who will fall for his disguise, thinking they are in love with a woman.

2. Social representation of wishful thinking (assumption): because I am a woman in love with other women, I will dress as a man because I wish I were a man so that it would be acceptable to love other women.  Because I am a man in love with other men, I will dress as a woman because I wish I were a woman so that it would be acceptable to love other men.

Note: society here is referring specifically to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries England, although I would argue that it is easy to find people today who have the same fears and assumptions.

The first point, the social fear, explains that people who cross-dress (who may or may not identify as transvestites) are sinister individuals who want to trap other people into sinful same-sex couplings. Obviously, Eddie Izzard has already worked that one out and knocked down this fear.

The second point, the social assumption/wishful thinking, ultimately homogenizes sexuality into heterosexuality. Transvestites are desperate to be “normal” and, just like the rest of us “normal” people, find value in heterosexuality. So, they cross-dress to normalize their homosexuality.

Note: I should point out, in case I haven’t already, that in this time, it was not an uncommon notion (at least for some Puritan pamphleteers, like Philip Stubbes) to assume that cross-dressing actually changes physical sex organs. So, a man who wears a dress becomes a biological woman, while a woman who wears pants becomes a biological man. Obviously, this notion is ridiculous.

What makes the second point “wishful thinking” is that it assumes that heterosexuality is the norm, the bottom-line, the natural, and that all things in nature will seek to return to their natural state. So, if a person is homosexual, the wishful thinking goes, then that person will do what s/he can in order to normalize and become heterosexual again.

It was in rereading those points that I realized with horror just how damaging were my previous thoughts, made entirely in ignorant innocence. No matter! If my words have been damaging, the intent behind them is obsolete. Consider this my public apology.

I will endeavor to curb these future thoughts should they arise; I will maintain Valerie Traub’s stance that human sexuality and gender identification(s) are in continual flux and cannot be easily defined and characterized. I will remember that stereotypes, though certainly made for some reason or other, are not the alpha and omega of reason. Just because Hollywood might tell us that a pair of lesbians must fit this exact equation, I will shake my head and laugh in great pity of that assumption. I’ve known a few lesbians in my time, and I don’t think I would precisely know how to characterize one as “the butch” or the other as “the lipstick.” (And how demeaning to whittle down a person’s entire Self to a single word with all of the assumptions and judgments it carries.)

To those who I may have hurt with my assumptions: please accept my apology. I am only sorrier that it has come so late.

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