I start off drunk on freedom. The sun shines brighter, my liberated arms clutch the steering wheel. “All I Want For Christmas,” a song I love with an indefensible love, blares on the stereo. I am going shopping, and my six-week-old baby is at home with his papa.
There are about fifteen places I’d like to go, but I have only an hour before I need to be home, since I’m still putting off pumping and Tommy Two-Chins has needs. I settle on Old Navy. Although I’ve lost most of my baby weight, I’m a bit squishy around the middle, and it seems unlikely to evaporate on its own. I recently read to J a passage from Anne Lamott —
"People kept trying to prepare me for how soft and mushy my stomach would be after I gave birth, but I secretly thought, Not this old buckerina. I think most people undergoing chemo secretly believe they won’t lose their hair.
"Oh, but my stomach, she is like a waterbed covered with flannel now. When I lie on my side in bed, my stomach lies politely beside me, like a puppy."
So it’s exercise or roomier pants, and right now the latter feels easier.
The store is a heady experience. They’ve done renovations to revamp it as a sort of Primark, and there are swarms of shoppers and the sort of holiday music you mostly miss when you aren’t getting the department store experience this year. There are stacks and stacks of discount jeans and corduroys, and I grab merrily from piles and racks, guessing wildly at sizes. It feels strange and joyous to be a normal shape again, to be moving through the store with neither a round belly, nor a stroller, nor a baby carrier. I am free. I am me.
I can’t believe people don’t notice I’m different. I’m so used to being obviously, tangibly different, with that big belly or a tiny baby in tow. I’m struck by the same urge I had on my first solo venture after Pip, when I wanted to shout in the pharmacy, “I HAVE A TINY BABY AT HOME, BUT I AM HERE, AND I GET TO BUY NURSING PADS. ALSO, BABY WIPES.”
I’m glad I waited six weeks before facing the fitting room. I haven’t seen my stretch marks in a full length mirror since I discovered them, just after Pip’s birth. I certainly am changed by childbirth, even if people don’t notice.
I find some pants with twenty minutes left. I sternly talk myself out of tiny aviator hats and snowsuits Pip will outgrow instantaneously. I see a girl with a baby Pip’s age or maybe younger, and stare entirely too long.
I have ten minutes left until I need to leave, and suddenly I have nothing left to do, only an ache to go home to my baby. I’d got a pair of pants and a taste of freedom, a chance to feel like the old me and to want the new life, and that, for now, is enough.