The Body as Essay (Part 1)

Caroline Hagood
May 11, 2017
Comments 9

In Ancient Greece they spoke of a wandering womb as the root of hysteria. The uterus is like women; it’s capable of so much but still has to defend itself against absurd accusations. But now I see the womb’s wandering quality in a literal sense: after birth, mine had to contract back to its original size, retreat after a stunning victory. Making life is the ultimate win for the uterus, of course.

My body’s an accordion. I tell it, “grow big with children and then shrink back again.” And it tries to obey, but usually brunch wins. This is all to say that my womb’s magic and it terrifies me.

When I feel overcome by my post-birth transformation, I imagine my body as a written form and then try to guess its genre. I decide it’s an essay. I want to be able to catalogue it to keep it ideologically under control. I think this still involves the Dewey Decimal system, but I’ll have to ask my local librarian.

Becoming a parent pushed me beyond my own margins in ways that both thrilled and stung. I saw immediately I had to adapt, to evolve millennia in that first day I became a mother. There was mother, and there was me, and she was infinitely bigger than I was, so I had to stretch my body to fit hers. It was transcendent. I was transformed. And it hurt like hell.

In many ways I changed the moment my first baby started growing inside me, and then that alteration doubled the second time around. I guess this answers the question of when I grew up: when I startled awake, realizing I wasn’t alone in my body anymore.

I was the only thing connecting this fig-sized homunculus to the oddity called the outside world, a place I understood so much less than those squishy spaces within. They still baffled, but at least they made some sense in their gurgles, audible only when husband listened for baby and heard only grilled cheese.

When you’re pregnant, with all that fluttering, you’re never alone. It’s enough to make you understand postpartum depression before you even have it: it’s loneliness coming back again.

It’s easy to picture the structure of my essay body as following a linear pattern, so that either my head is the introduction or conclusion. But what of other ways of conceiving of the body’s structure? I confess I haven’t figured it all out yet.

Early in my son’s life, I emailed myself a command to finally write an essay about this whole motherhood thing, but I wasn’t ready yet. The whole experience felt too bonkers to fit in the pretty little box of a Word document. Maybe I was still too stunned by the whole thing—too overcome, too cranky, too in love. Maybe I still am. But perhaps this is the beginning of that essay.

This is the first installment of a series on writing and motherhood.

9 thoughts on “The Body as Essay (Part 1)

  1. “When you’re pregnant, with all that fluttering, you’re never alone. It’s enough to make you understand postpartum depression before you even have it: it’s loneliness coming back again.”
    It’s powerful, insightful lines like these that make Hagood a writer to keep your eye on. Can’t wait for part 2!

  2. This is my favorite line: “I was the only thing connecting this fig-sized homunculus to the oddity called the outside world, a place I understood so much less than those squishy spaces within.”

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