August 1, 2013 by Katia
A turning point in my life was when someone 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, if you’re willing to overlook my sleep fetish. The boob stepper was my four-year-old son, who relies on two categories to classify his questionable actions: 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 tired 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 a possibility. My body is no longer private and autonomous and I don’t get to call the shots. You might be thinking “well duh, isn’t pregnancy kinda, yano, supposed to prepare you for this?? You share your body with another human being for nine months, yada yada, the end?” 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 me, like the bad communist that I am, getting a bigger share than the rest, whereas in reality it turned out to be a dictatorship and I was the subordinate. So, yeah, I was prepared. Totes.
Before having kids, I was able to anticipate but not fully appreciate nor understand 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’s a bunch of buttons, no gravity and they have to catch their food because it floats, right? I understood lack of privacy, as far as I could tell, because I knew the meaning of each of these words and could use them correctly. I may have even foreseen the current family meeting 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’ but expect the unimaginable of the ‘these boobs are made for stepping’ variety.
I recently wrote: 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, an on accident punching bag. By allowing the occasional furious temple hair pulling or not being quick enough to duck when a remote control device was being launched repeatedly to my forehead I’ve become an interactive learning toy, of the developmental kind, call it a Baby Piaget, facilitating my sons’ learning of what their little hands are capable of.
Some of these may not represent bodily autonomy loss at first glance. The decision to breastfeed was all mine but in becoming someone’s food you lose some autonomies, chief among them for me was freedom of movement. As food I was constantly scared of leaving home and eventually didn’t. 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 represented my 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.
You may not be surprised to hear, that loss of internal organ privacy was involved as well. I no longer own my brain, and oh, how I long for at least an hour of solitude with it, so I could finish this post. Neil Gaiman should update 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 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, always so much more meaningful than the rest. It’s the feed I want to be as responsive to as possible, because it’s the feed that feeds off of me, and it’s CONSTANT, the four-year-old feed. His thoughts, questions, observations, jokes, brags 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 honourable and gratifying roles, but it’s also one of the most demanding ones, making me wish I could just get some alone time with my brain for a few minutes, 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.