Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman’s life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we’re considering how we experience our bodies and fertility as single and married women—with and without children. Read Rebecca’s reflection about her body and fertility as a married woman without children here. Read Meg’s reflection about her body and fertility as a single woman here. Read Teresa’s essay about her body and fertility as a married woman with children here. Today, they respond to each other’s experiences.
Rebecca (married without children) responds to Meg (single) and Teresa (married with children)
In a strange way, it’s comforting to me to see that the grass isn’t always greener, as it were; women in all stages and walks of life are just trying to figure out how best to live with the bodies we’ve got, no matter what our specific goals and experiences are. It’s the constant of womanhood, I guess: and I’m glad that we as a community have such rich and varied experiences to share.
I think it’s interesting (and maybe telling?) that our stories play to our strengths—or, perhaps, we become uniquely strong because of what our specific stories require us to do. In each of our differing circumstances, our bodies have met us where we’re at, despite rollercoaster-worthy changes in routine, shocks and surprises we didn’t want, and plot-twists that (now, in the thick of it) feel wholly unnecessary.
I don’t know about you two, but whenever my body does another odd thing or shows signs of weakness, my first temptation is to feel wholly alone, betrayed, and confused. Your stories gave me a gift: those moments where we feel small might be the moments we have most in common with our metaphorical sisters. Honestly, even though we’re three different people with differing goals and circumstances, during each of your stories I found myself going—wow, yep, I get that, been there—even though, strictly speaking, I haven’t. I’m wowed by the strength you two have had in going through wild, scary, and confusing times—and the little glimpses of what we have in common give me heart, allow me to believe that I’ll be courageous, too—no matter what the future holds.
I think—particularly in light of our stories—my main takeaway is that it seems the female body adapts to what it’s given. We’re flexible—we’re supportive. What I need to focus on is my responsibility in nourishing my body, regardless of whether it meets whatever constraints I’m giving it. To paraphrase that lovely Wind, Sand, and Stars quote: That’s good stuff, our bodies are made of—and that’s the first principle we’ve got to work from, no matter what.
Meg (single) responds to Rebecca (married without children) and Teresa (married with children)
It seems like one common thread through our different experiences with our bodies and our fertility is “surprise.” For good and for ill, the bodies we live with day and day out still surprise us. I like Rebecca’s “odd, dissociative” phrase, “my body and me.” Sure, we’re not not our bodies. But, at the same time, they’re still kind of terra incognita, and we’re still learning to be at home in them.
Teresa, I loved hearing about the pride you feel for your body for all that it has accomplished through pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing. It is miraculous! It was more surprising—but good for me—to hear how the postpartum experience was not just physically draining for you, but in a sense disorienting as you navigated postpartum fertility tracking and the demands of others on your body. I had not considered how the physical job of being a mother could leave you feeling, as you put, like your body doesn’t belong to you—even as you admire the beauty of its function. Motherhood is not a silver bullet for learning to love, admire, and feel at home in our bodies.
Rebecca, I felt acutely your description of feeling betrayed by your body—as well as your description of your body receiving the brunt of your anger. “Why am I like this? Why can’t my body just get something right?” I’ve definitely thought (or shouted) sentences just like this—usually with a few expletives thrown in. But, while I’ve been frustrated by my body for many little failures (too slow, too weak, to creaky), I don’t know the experience of having such a dearly held hope, the desire for children, frustrated by my body. I admire your ability to acknowledge the many things that your body does “perfectly right” in the face of that disappointment. I was also struck by the faithfulness you are showing to your body in caring for it through sickness, not simply as a means to an end but because it’s yours, and it’s good.
Teresa (married with children) responds to Rebecca (married without children) and Meg (single)
I was inspired by the reverence for your bodies that I saw in both essays—in spite of and because of the hurdles in your way. Learning about someone is an essential way of expressing love in any relationship; Rebecca, you have learned so much about your body, and you continue to honor it with your attention. And Meg: choosing to preserve your fertility for its own inherent goodness struck me as an act of respect. In a culture that often pits us against our bodies, it was refreshing to see that reverence in your perspectives.
As someone who also practices fertility awareness, Rebecca, I found your experience of “strategic” sex familiar. It’s difficult when intimacy is always at the mercy of where you are in your cycle, and I appreciate feeling less alone in that. I also related to your struggle to define yourself as more than your fertility or infertility; often I feel like my role as “mom” threatens my pre-children identity, the one that has all kinds of interests and goals and hobbies outside of taking care of my kids. But we are both more than what our bodies do or what our families look like.
It was also striking to me that you mentioned seeing your body as a victim of infertility, too. While I’d imagined that women struggling with infertility might feel the mistrust and sense of betrayal you also described, your compassion and gentleness in learning to release that blame surprised and, frankly, amazed me.
And Meg: I related to the way you described your former perspective of your body as something to overcome with mental toughness, even an opponent at times. It’s a trap that I didn’t realize I often fall into until you named it—whether by pushing myself to exhaustion in trying to fit too much into my days or simply by failing to appreciate what my body is doing as I exercise.
Most of all: after reading both your essays, I’m left feeling in awe of the multitude of ways our bodies take care of us day in and day out.