Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy to be Female

Being pregnant and having a baby made me happy to have a female body.

This sounds like a truism, or something any mother would say. For me, it’s a bit more complicated. I don't take being female for granted anymore.

When I was born, I was labeled female and given a female name and raised as a girl. I don’t remember ever feeling strongly about my sex or gender identity until recently. My sense of self and my perception of how my physical body and how society expected me to be meshed well enough for me to get by.

I think I went through my tomboy and princess phases. I might have even insisted that I was a boy once or twice, but never had a long lasting discomfort with my cisgenderness.

During my undergraduate days, I took some courses with a great professor which provoked me to more closely explore my sex and gender identity: am I really who I’ve been labeled?

I decided I was cool where I was. I could see advantages on either side of the artificially binary gender fence, but I could accept being a ciswoman. I didn’t care enough to go through a transition; I mostly just accepted it and moved on.

Fast forward another decade and my male partner wants to have a baby. I’d long discarded childbearing as something I didn't want or need to do, but he provoked my interest. My biggest fear, I realized, was of replicating my mother's abuse and neglect. Once I decided I would overcome that, I jumped in.

I was fortunate to fairly quickly be able to conceive and carry a baby. While I was pregnant, I became very aware of this femaleness and womaness that I had taken for granted. It was all I could do not to be overwhelmed by the sensation of being happy to be able to become pregnant.

In my head I was all "look at my belly/breasts, isn't this awesome?" I revelled in a bikini on a beach vacation while pregnant. (That's me, above, 34 weeks pregnant in Barbados having a grand time)

There was a moment late in pregnancy when I looked at myself undressed in the mirror, and thought “oh, I look like a mom.” It was a very certain thought. Not parent, not caregiver, not beached whale, but mom, a role I’d never considered trying out for until recently.

After giving birth and getting to know my little one, this new sensation continues to develop. I don’t think I’ll ever feel ambivalent about being female again. I’m so glad to be female. I guess I didn’t really care much before, but I’m here now, and reveling in it.

My breasts are lopsided now, larger and floppier than they used to be, and they are a source of both comfort and nutrition to my baby. I love them. My belly was never a loved part of my body. It is more or less the same size that it used to be before pregnancy, but with a lot of extra skin. It was my baby's home before she was born and I try to love it now. I treasure my body and what I have been able to accomplish with it, and I treat it much better now than I used to.

I want to add a disclaimer that of course women who can’t or won't reproduce for any reason, whether choosing not to, not having the right equipment or the right equipment not working for any reason, or not being allowed to become a parent, are equally women or possibly more so than I, in that they consciously chose to be women, or chose not to birth their own child, or may continue to have to fight to be recognized as complete, as whole women.

Have you struggled with your sex or gender identity? Was there a moment where it just fell into place?

This post is participating in the Body Image Carnival being hosted by Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! and MamanADroit who will be posting articles on themes pertaining to body image all week! Make sure you check out their blogs everyday between April 12-18 for links to other participants' posts as well as product reviews, a giveaway, and some links to research, information and resources pertaining to body image.