the weight of becoming a grandmother

By Deb Baer Becker
Woman Newspapers

The thing that my daughter Kay and I have been talking about most, on the eve of the birth of my grandgirl Teensy, is body image.  Kay wants to create a healthy environment that fosters a good relationship with food and a positive self-image for Teensy.  And that means ixnay on the F-word:  FAT.  

Kay said, “I want my baby girl to grow up to be a strong independent woman.”

“Like her mother,” I offered.  

“Like her Mimi, too,” she said and smiled at me.  

We were driving in the car, just the two and a half of us.  She’d invited me to what may very well be her last weekly obstetrician’s appointment.  I drove us across Houston’s six-lane highways, taking Kay into the city for her appointment at the big hospital on I-10.  

Kay said, “Mom, once Teensy’s here we will have to change the way you and I talk about our bodies.  No more fat talk.”  She looked away.

“So I can’t bitch about my fat handles anymore?  What about ‘in case of emergency my muffin top can be used as a flotation device’?” I said and laughed.  That’s some of my best stuff.

Was this fat talk my fault? I wondered, my hands gripping the wheel, while I tried to mind-control the herd of traffic surrounding my Jeep, protecting my very- much-with-child daughter.

Give me some credit for having the early insight to throw our bathroom scale in the trash; outlawed that device from our home forever.  Okay, I wasn’t being noble or even ahead of the curve of our culture’s pervasive and distorted body images of women (and men).  In the same way that we’re told to put our oxygen mask on first before we help others, I got rid of that thing for me.  I trashed the scale to stop the obsessive shaming ritual it brought to my life.  And I wanted to save my daughter and my son from experiencing that kind of self-loathing in the same way that Kay wants to safeguard Teensy.

I’ve carried the weight of having children.  I’ve gained and stretched to accommodate the miraculous life growing inside me.  I’ve lactated like a mini garden hose sprinkler, and eaten like a boss to keep up with my baby’s demand for milk.  I’ve forked down the cold leftover KRAFT Mac and Cheese on my young child’s plate to facilitate faster mealtime cleanup.

I’ve been around the scale’s numbered dial, and I think I can say with certainty that these increases and decreases are real life ebbing and flowing within our feminine bodies.  We are natural, fecund beings from bud to blossom; our body’s shape is attuned to each season of our lives.  

I’ve had a difficult season, a time of sickness that hit fast like a sudden storm.  I endured chemo and surgery and radiation treatments for breast cancer.  My body’s weight fell away fast, from triple to double digits.  I was gaunt and gray and honestly scared for my life.  This dark season taught me many lessons, but most important is the new respect and wonder for my body—its amazing stamina and strength.  Our astonishingly beautiful bodies nourish and feed our spirit like a wellspring. 

I keep a few extra pounds around just in case, even if they hang around my middle.  I’ve given myself permission to go ahead and enjoy the occasional sweet treats of life (read: chocolate), because the goodness of life is so delightful.  And life is always shorter than we’d like.

We arrived safely at the hospital’s parking garage, and made our way up the stairs to the cross-bridge and then an elevator ride to the doctor’s office.  Within minutes a nurse ushered us into a room where a technician doused Kay’s belly with K-Y and then used her magic wand to reveal Kay’s baby girl on the ultra-sound screen.  We heard the quick tempo of her heartbeat and watched as she turned her head back and forth as if to say, “No.”  Her chest rose and fell in mini-contractions, and the technician said, “She’s practicing breathing.”  We were awestruck. 

Her weight measured at seven and a half pounds, and I marveled at the weight of the love I’ll carry in my heart for this little miracle of life.