My hair was knotted, my abdomen still too weak to hold me upright, and I was bleeding as I stepped into the most comfortable and undignified part of the Postpartum Mother’s uniform – the adult diaper. He held out his hand to help me out of the bathtub with a gentle touch and I felt fragile. I felt like a brittling petal, my movements were careful and slow. I was studying the floor for places to put my feet when I heard him smile as he said, “You’re so beautiful.”
I was wearing a diaper, y’all.
I did the head-tilt, the scoff of incredulity, the “thanks, weirdo” smile, but he wouldn’t relent.
“You’re like a prize fighter after a championship round,” he said. “You’re all beat up, recovering, but you’re strong and you glow.”
He has thanked me through tears at each of the births of our three children. He has whispered against my sweaty head through every labor that I was our family’s hero. Some days he comes home to my spent, tired body curled up around my phone stealing some moments of feigned solitude while I pretend not to know that the kids are watching another movie or dumping water out of the bathtub. And even on those nights, after we put the chaos to bed and I can’t help but kiss their chipmunk cheeks, we close their door and he tells me, “You’re an amazing mother.”
He is deliberate and says them with conviction; he doesn’t just speak, he bestows. He hands me these gilded words and even when my head hangs, when I can hardly relish in the title, he holds my arm up and declares me Mother.
I looked in the mirror at my hunched over figure, my loose skin, the dark circles under my eyes and what could have been my shame became my glory. My emptied womb felt full, my matted hair a crown. I was weak because I had given every ounce of energy I had for my son. For the third time I had sweat and screamed and kept from dying while I gave another human a shot at doing good in the world. I’d subjected myself voluntarily, for love, and I’d lost blood to the same human who will one day, I am sure, take even more than that.
Childbirth is terrifying and painful and exhausting, that’s obvious. It doesn’t matter how you do it – vaginally or cesarean, in a hospital or at home, medicated or unmedicated – another human being leaves your body. If that is not worth a giant, gaudy, gold plated victory belt, I don’t know what is. And motherhood leaves marks, leaves us often bruised and worn and ready for someone to just call it already – come on, I forfeit, I’m done.
And regardless of what fills our hours, we all need someone in our corner to mop up the sweat, smack a butterfly band-aid on that head wound, squirt some water in our mouth, and tell us to go back out there and get it. We need someone to tell us we’re in it and we’re doing alright. Someone who sees the blows we take, hears our bones crack, and doesn’t shake in their conviction that we can do this living thing.
He helped me down the hall to where my brand new baby lay snuggled up in my mother’s arms. I settled into bed and collected my squishy prize. This round was rough, but this round got me you. And I felt beautiful, I felt strong. I felt the 8 pound, 3 ounce weight of Glory in my arms and around my waist I felt my Title Belt.
I wore a diaper, dammit.