My Pillowy Mountain of a Body

Me and Baby V

Me and Baby V

August 25, 2015 - I had prepared myself for a long recovery. I had no expectations of my body “bouncing back” after giving birth so I was surprised when, after constant nursing, a natural birth, swimming daily for months, etc, etc, my big belly became a small pillowy belly in a couple of weeks. I took photos in our long mirror and documented the rivers of pink and purple, my tiger, warrior stripes all over my tummy and hips and thighs. A day and a half after walking this fire of labor, with blood from the birth still dried on my skin, I cried in the shower when I allowed myself to commune with My Inner Wise Self and do some self talk - Your body did this! You're incredible! You can do anything! I rode this surge of divine female confidence for a while until The Fateful Farmer’s Market last Saturday.

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

We go to this smallish farmer’s market every weekend since it re-opened in May. They’ve seen my belly grow as the snap peas go out of season and we’ve made friends with Barry from Barry’s Tempeh and Aditi from Calcutta Kitchens. I love going to the farmer’s market. The fresh food is awesome (though expensive) and tastes so good and I like talking to people. It’s a very social experience for me.

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

This was the second time that we visited the whiskey and rum tasting table. I hadn’t sipped any booze for almost a year so I was excited for my postpartum tiny cup of their brew. Jen, who serves and sells the liquor from Van Brunt Stillhouse, is so incredibly warm and friendly. I had my little, tiny cup and hung around to chat.

These two women came over to check out the free samples and realized a baby was wrapped to my chest. Like most people, they were excited to see such a young baby (or shocked, I’m not sure anymore). And then, The Unsolicited Advice and Comments. One woman was floored to discover I had had a totally natural, unmedicated home birth and jokingly said she was afraid of me which I laughed at. I actually liked this because there is something to be revered in a person who has birthed a baby naturally and walked that fiery rite of passage. The other woman... I can’t remember the exact words but something like Well, now you gotta watch that belly and exercise and get rid of it. I couldn’t believe she made a judgement on my 3 weeks postpartum body. My body that was already significantly smaller than it had been when I was the living, breathing home for this rainbow baby. Jen and Aditi, shocked, immediately said I think you look great! We were all shocked. I think most people wouldn’t say this sort of thing but I’m sure it’s on people’s minds.

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

I’ve had a lot of conversations in my head about this during my daily shower. I’ll hang up fabric over the mirrors and then take them off again. I don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see my body - I don’t want to judge myself. But here I am, I’m doing it. Looking at those stretch marks, are they tiger stripes? I barely remember that that is what I call them now. Look at the lines, look at my belly. Well, I always had a belly - But Look At It! I have a belly. I have a body. I am a person. I am a person that gave birth to a baby 3 weeks and 5 days ago. How am I supposed to look? How am I supposed to feel about this body? This body that created a miracle. This body that made magic. This body that walked through fire and hell and has the scars to prove it. This is my body. I love my body. My body is earth, mountains, rivers and trees. My body is the site of an ancient tradition of life on earth. I love my body.

My Radical Home Water Birth / My Spirit Walk Through Fire (PART I)

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

There are many shrines around our home including this one, dedicated to my father, Victor Hong Chu Look Kin. 

After having my baby on Friday, July 31st at 5:46am, on the Full Harvest Blue Moon, I get asked a lot, What was giving birth like? Now some people ask and actually really, really want to know. Others are just going through the motions. I have the short and the long answer. The short answer: It’s like a Spirit Walk through fire and hell and when you emerge, you’re a Warrior Mother.

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On Tuesday, July 28th, my “due date”, I got ready to go to PT (physical therapy) for my hands and wrists. For the past 4 months I’ve been swimming increasingly more and more to the point where it was daily, sometimes 7 days a week if not 6 days at our local NYC Recreation Center pool. People come from Queens to swim in this pool, it’s that nice. Well the pool is nice - the locker room is pretty disgusting and falling apart because the city doesn’t put enough money into it. And people steal the rings that hold up the shower curtains and sometimes steal the shower curtains as well! Ruby, who often cleans the bathrooms, told me this. I see her literally every day. She says How are you doing mama? and I tell her. There are other regulars, mostly swimmers, the old Chinese ladies, actually a lot of them are in their 40s and 50s and really what do I know. They swim faster than me even though we're all in the slow lane. I have a lot of swim buddies and some kind of recognition with the life guards. For a while there was Jose who was like a father figure and looked out for me. But when summer started he was sent to supervise the beaches which made me sad. The three times I’ve been to the beach before giving birth, I’ve kept an eye out for him.

So I was swimming because my hands were swollen from the pregnancy and I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a result. No, I wasn’t typing a lot. I wasn’t doing anything to aggravate my hands - I was just pregnant! Everything below my neck was swollen. So I started swimming to help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. It worked for a long time until it didn't and then I really, really had to get a PT.

I started seeing Phaeleau at Spear Physical Therapy in mid-June. I went to their location in midtown because they could see me sooner than the one closer to me. I wasn’t planning on continuing there since I had to literally walk up 4.5 flights of stairs to exit the subway but I stayed because of Phaeleau. Phaeleau is the hapa papa bear of the mid-town PT location. He’s the senior staff there and the head hand physical therapist. A native New Yorker, he has a daughter who’s going to start high school in the fall and grows a tomato garden outside of his window in Brooklyn. He’s super friendly as is everyone there - these people really love their job and their coworkers! I’ve never seen it before so it’s such a unique and lovely environment. PTs are talking to each other and their clients and clients talk to other PTs and other clients. There are a lot of conversations going on at once and it’s so fluid. It’s a beautiful thing.

For the past couple of weeks before I went into labor I had to reduce my bi-weekly appt to once a week, a Monday or Tuesday, because it was just so crazy hard for me to get there. And because I’m so cheap (read: thrifty!!) I refused to take a cab until I did. I had my session and it was good. Another PT whose been there every time recently took the course to tape up people’s arms so I worked with him as well. He had asked when I was due and at this point I just knowingly would say Soon. It’s like that scene in Beetlejuice. Lydia asks what his name is and he says Oh I can’t tell you that because then you’ll tell your friends and I have to show up at the mall and sign autographs and shit. You feel me? I said Soon because otherwise I’d have to deal with bull shit comments like Any minute now! which I actually used to say until it was actually really true. Or Any day now! Or (in an elevator I accidently pushed another button in addition to the ground floor button) Don’t go into labor! So, it’s Soon. But to this PT I whispered, Don’t tell anyone but I’m due today. I explained why I was being so private and he totally got it. He also asked the other question that people just ask, I’ve asked!, but which is really unempathetic and insensitive: Is this your first? I said No, I had a miscarriage last April but this is my first rainbow baby. He totally got it and didn’t get weirded out that I just told him that a baby died in my tummy. This was such a refreshing reaction considering that 25% of all births result in miscarriage (or more). I always have fun at PT and this was another great appointment.

I took a cab home and when I got inside the apartment I felt different. Like really subtle tiny differences. I’ve been having Braxton Hicks rushes (read: contractions) for like 2-3 months but it wasn’t that. This felt like tiny, miniscule cramps in my tummy, like more body feelings in some more places than before. Moments after getting home, I transformed our bedroom, with its one ocean blue accent wall peppered with my watercolors, into a space of complete mediation. I covered up the mirror, the table with the fish tank on it and the bookcase. Every surface had a Venus of Willendorf/Animal/Mama Earth shrine on it with plants, candles, my hand held goddess sculptures I made in ceramics class, incense, lavender, shells. It was so peaceful and beautiful. After I set this up, I began to doubt myself - Am I in labor? I feel like I have so many days before. But I knew I would know instinctively and if I had done this to our bedroom it must be true. Uncertainty, however, is what pregnancy is all about.

Tuesday, July 28th at 4pm, the very earliest of changes were felt in my body signaling the beginning of early labor. The following day, I gave a tour of how I set up our bedroom to prepare for my home water (natural) birth.

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Stay tuned for Part II!

xo