I’ll start by saying that as a new, full-time working mother I am incredibly grateful I can still dance. When I was a soon-to-be mama I feared having to give up doing what I love, and not having the time for me. I feared getting fat and not feeling like I could step into a ballet class again because my body wouldn’t be what it was. The first thing I Googled when I suspected I was pregnant, was “dancing while pregnant”, “pregnant ballerina”. The examples to follow were few and far between – mostly articles about professional dancers with waif-like bodies that simply “snapped back” – although for many baby-making did end their career.
This kind of dancer is not me. I’ve been in ballet since the age of 3, but I pursued other things. Now dance, while more second nature than what you learn in formal education, is just a hobby. Despite this reality – in addition to my too large breasts, love for eating and flat feet – dancing has remained central to who I am, and now, again, as a full-time working mama of one, I’m very lucky to have the support network that permits me to keep this long-time hobby going.
But of course dancing constantly reminds me of my post-baby body. My body has always found ways to create obstacles for me in ballet, but these post-baby ones are unpredictable, surprising and full of mystery. Pre-baby, my feet used to cramp up throughout the first 30-40 minutes of a class. I’d spend much of that time between exercises trying new stretches and rolling the flat bottom of my soles over the barre to massage out the kinks. Since returning to class, those cramps that followed me since I was 12 have completely disappeared. While every class I wonder if today will be the day they return, in their place are new obstacles that also disappear as quickly as they arrive: a weakened pelvic floor and tight achilles for at least nine months postpartum leading to near accidents during jumps, and the inability to rise on my toes more than halfway… sudden leg cramps on Sunday but not on Friday, and breasts that no longer bounce but flap up and down when I jump and leap.
And there’s that thing called fat. This is not a real obstacle, but I’ll look in the mirror and see rolls getting in the way of my leg going as high as it once did. It’s not easy to simply accept body positivity as much as I want to jump right in and cast away everything that has told me “you’re supposed to be…” So there are days when I am less grateful than others. But then there are days like last week when the choreographer says, “do a couple push-ups!” Those non-mama dancers groan, and I suddenly surprise myself with how strong my arms have become from carrying my son. The fat doesn’t matter so much when my partner accidentally drops me, but I have the power to catch myself and jump right up laughing.
And there’s the best “fat moments”. These happen outside of the ballet studio when I’m home and my son is nursing. If my shirt is rolled up or off he loves to explore the folds and hills of my new body, poking and prodding the fat, and closes his eyes in relation or smiles around the nipple in his mouth. I love that he finds comfort in my body without having to be inside of it. It’s as if he is just checking, to make sure his (my) body is still there for him to cuddle.
So I’m not sure I can confess to love my post-baby body just yet. And yet I am most certainly grateful. I’m more than appreciative and most importantly happy to know that I don’t have to look like the pre-baby one to still dance and give my son the love and fighting example he deserves.
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