Today in therapy, right at the end of the hour, we finally stopped talking and started doing. My therapist walked me through a bioenergetic grounding exercise, which involved me standing barefoot on the carpet, in what I would consider my “default” posture, and taking inventory of my body, from the feet up.
I noticed that focusing on the feeling of the carpet beneath my feet made me want to straighten and spread my toes so that that feeling would become more even. I noticed that I consciously bend my knees, one at a time, thanks to so many years of choir having taught me that locking your knees back is a bad idea. (“It also blocks the flow of your energy and makes it more difficult to become grounded in your body, when you’re locking up your joints like that,” my therapist said. “It creates a disconnect between the lower part of your body and your head, which lets your mind start running away from the present.”) I noticed that my hips felt as though they were turned inward – if you can imagine a pelvis actually curling in on itself – and made a possibly inaccurate, but seemingly obvious, mental connection between my low sex drive and the observation that my legs seem to be magnetically drawn towards each other. (But then, I am straddling the corner of my chair as I type this, so who knows.)
Then we came to my stomach. “What do you notice?” my therapist asked.
“Besides that I’m hungry? Um… I tend to, whenever I notice or think about or focus on my stomach, suck everything in and clench all the muscles.”
“What’s your reason for doing that? Because society puts so much value on being thin, and…”
“Well, yeah,” I interrupted her. “But more like… Because I am thin, if I don’t do it, my stomach sticks out in this perfect little belly… and I don’t want people to think I’m pregnant.”
“And if they did think you were pregnant, what would that mean?”
“It would be like… Sometimes customers will come up and ask if I’m in school. And they’re not trying to be mean, they’re just trying to make small-talk, because I look young, and they’re trying to figure out my place in the world based on how I look. Or they’ll ask whether I’m married or have kids or something, and, I dunno. It’s just awkward, because I’m none of those things. My place in the world is this in-between place, waiting for something better.”
“And so if someone were to ask if you were pregnant?” she prompted gently.
“It would be heartbreaking.”
“So you keep all this armor in front of you, to protect you, but I wonder. What if you just held your stomach – let it out, and put your hands on it, close your eyes if you like, and just breathe. What does that feel like?”
I tried it. As long as I was breathing – focusing on the breath, like in yoga – it was fine. But the act of actually cradling my stomach felt weird, somehow misplaced.
“I’m a little resistant to this,” I told my therapist. “This is what pregnant women do: they hold their bellies like this, or rub them – and that makes me uncomfortable, because it’s such an intimate thing. When they do it, they’re holding the baby that’s inside their bellies. When I do it… Well, also, there’s nothing here for me to love.”
“But your belly has experienced a loss. And when people experience loss, don’t we hold them to comfort them and show our support?”
“There’s nothing here to love,” I repeated. “Maybe if I had a really flat stomach, if it was something to be proud of – if it was a way to make the pregnant women jealous of me, to even out the playing field… But even my stomach itself, when I was on the pill, I had digestive problems for like five years. I remember saying all the time, ‘My stomach hates me.'”
She let it go. Not that I hadn’t seen her point. Since the beginning of our relationship, Doug has had this annoying habit of pulling up my shirt and kissing my stomach. And it makes me uncomfortable – like this part of my body is more private than my actual privates, and he shouldn’t be touching it without my permission. Even before my pregnancy, I’d tell him it was weird because that’s what you do to pregnant bellies, and I wasn’t pregnant.
“So?” he’d retort. “You will be one day. Someday my baby will be in there.”
(When I told this anecdote to my therapist, she observed, “He loves the house.”)
Since my miscarriage, Doug still kisses my stomach against my will, but he doesn’t say things about his unborn children anymore – it’s too sad, for me, or for him, or for both. But he’s still very tender, nurturing, forgiving of this part of my body with which I seem to be constantly at odds. He loves the house. He wants to comfort it.
My therapist did eventually let me leave the subject of my belly, although I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of it from her, and instead gave me the following take-home exercise: to lie on the floor with a pillow under my lower back and, keeping my back on the pillow, rotate my pelvis forward and back while breathing deeply (forward on the inhale, back on the exhale). Since we were running over our time, I’m not entirely clear on how long I’m supposed to do this for, or how many times, or even what I’m supposed to get out of it. I think the purpose is to take my body out of that “default” posture, and then…?
I guess I’ll have to trust the process. At least she didn’t ask me to walk around with my belly hanging out.