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A word of advice to new moms and a passing amusement for the more experienced mamacitas: this parenting gig has been more physical than I'd anticipated. (Actually, it's more everything than I had anticipated, but one of my New Year's resolutions is to just focus on one thing at a time, to simply live in the moment I'm in and damn the consequences. The odds of this happening are close to nil. I know this. Anyone who knows me knows this. I suspect even the mailman knows this. Still, it's good to have goals, no matter how unrealistic.)

You expect that the hard labor will end with, well, hard labor. The lugging around all that extra weight and the squashed organs and the varicose veins will vanish after the child is delivered. Again, it's good to have goals -- like, say, my goal of losing all of the baby weight by the time the Diva was six-months-old. During my last few weeks of pregnancy, when I would find myself leaning against the kitchen counter and eating a dozen Krispy Kremes dunked in a pint of lukewarm Ben and Jerry's, I would simply tell myself that all of this poundage would melt right off by the time the tot could sit without aid. I would immediately get back to weekly tennis games and wise food choices. My pre-preggers clothes would fit by my six-week OB appointment. Ah, magical thinking at its finest. All that was missing was Tinkerbell.

Those who have actually delivered babies are chuckling up their sleeves right now, amused by my naivety. I admit that I now do the same, when first-time moms tell me of their plans to be back in fighting trim by three weeks post-partum. Good luck, I say, and mean it.

But for me, the physical surprises really kicked in after the baby came out. Simple things, like having control over my bladder, were suddenly an unforeseen challenge. Not only would I sneeze and pee, but I could also stand and pee or walk and pee. It's not something that is explored too much by the baby books, which instead focus on the rapture you'll experience when you see the baby for the first time, not the soul-crunching horror you'll experience the first time you break your own potty-training. 

(An aside: let me assure you that I am thrilled to have had such a wonderful child. It would have been swell, however, to have had a little more hard information on what happens to you after the fact. This may have all been made clear if I had sisters or good female friends who'd already done the birthing boogie, but I didn't and was at the mercy of the *What to Expect* fear-mongers and Vicki Iovine, who hinted at the whole bottom-related unpleasantness yet failed to be truly explicit. Of course, if you really told a mom-to-be what to expect, she'd probably curl up in a ball [as best as she was able] and stay like that until the bundle o' joy was in college.)

My OB shrugged off the weak bladder. "Sometimes your pelvic nerves take a bit to bounce back," she said. "Do more Kegels," she added, her favorite suggestion for every maternity-related aches or pain. Feet swollen? Do more Kegels. Sleep-deprived? Kegels. Covered in breast milk and poo? Kegels. 

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The random incontinence, while a shock, wasn't as surprising as what my belly still looks like over a year-and-a-half after the blessed event. If I were a more pragmatic woman, I'd install a zipper and use it as an overnight bag. The skin just sort of hangs there, like a newly deflated balloon. It's worse now that I have lost a bit of the baby weight that was helping to plump it out. From breasts to hip bone, I look like a Shar-pei. I should try some Kegels.

I thought the damage would end once all the birth-related wounds, like the episiotomy and the sluggish pelvic nerves, healed. After that, I could get back on the diet-and-exercise horse, free in my knowledge that my body would remain further unblemished by the baby. Heh. Not only did it take a heck of a lot longer for the visible scars to fade, there was also the emotional wackiness and simple exhaustion to tackle. Overwhelmed people don't have the mental wherewithal to make a well-balanced meal once a week, much less daily. No one wants to go for a brisk hike after three hours of sleep. Simply trying to find your shoes is an all-day affair. Leaving the house becomes a miracle. 

Even after the new-baby grind lets up, the physical challenges never end. So far, the Diva and her big round head have given me a series of near-concussions and nearly knocked out my front teeth. One of her favorite tricks is to lean back as you rock her, then fling her herself forward so that her skull and your face collide in interesting ways. After the first few times, you start to look out for this painful little move. But, still, sometimes late at night, she'll catch me (literally) napping.

In addition to the bruises, there have been stitches. I've carped about that enough, however. Suffice it to say that it has healed and makes for good kaffeeklatch conversation. "Oh yeah," I'll say, "little Jimmy gave you a black eye? Look what the Diva did to me." And then I whip out the impressive scar. Nothing like a little one-up- womanship to keep a bitch-session flowing. 

The latest physical abuses have been the illnesses. In the last year, I've had two stomach bugs, countless colds and a couple of ear/sinus infections. The Diva gets them too, of course, and it is our penance for putting her in day care, no matter how much she enjoys it. She is generally sick for 24 hours, then bounds merrily away to find a new challenge to smash into submission. I mope around for two weeks, then have 24 hours of snot-free thoughts before smashing into the next germ. Half of the grocery money goes to tissues, Vap-o-Rub and chicken soup. The upside is that I've developed a voice that sounds not unlike Kathleen Turner's. I also suspect that there will be no illnesses left for me to catch by the time I'm 40-so there's that to look forward to. 

And so I huskily say -- give yourself a break this year, mamas. The continual physical-ness of this job can catch you by surprise and make all of your grander intentions impossible, no matter how many Kegels you do.
About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper and pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. She is a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse and recently picked up an AAN award for feature writing. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and crams knowledge into the heads of college students in Upstate New York. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, and wife to Scott. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com


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