I woke up with a groan, the baby crying in the bassinet next to our bed. Everything hurt, and all I wanted was to go back to sleep. I went to sync my new TempDrop before getting slowly out of bed to go make a bottle, and it wouldn’t sync. Feeling the tears already gathering, I slowly made my way to the kitchen to make the bottle as my husband brought our daughter into the nursery to change her diaper. My stiff hands struggled to open the formula container, but I made the bottle—while bursting into tears.
Granted, tears came more easily in these postpartum months. But the frustration these tears revealed was real. When my husband asked me what was wrong, all I could say was, “Everything hurts and my body is broken.”
My fibromyalgia symptoms had become practically nonexistent until my pregnancy. An anti-inflammatory diet and better managed anxiety seemed to make the fatigue and pain go away. Pregnancy, of course, brought back some chronic pain, but I thought it would go away once the baby was born, or at least after that much-talked-about “fourth trimester” was over. But, as my mom keeps reminding me, it took nine months and a brutal several days for me to bring a baby into the world. Why would I think it wouldn’t take at least as long for my body to recover?
Add to this scenario my PCOS, which has been making postpartum charting even trickier than normal. I’d started using the TempDrop to help clarify what I was seeing, but it didn’t seem to be working. (Turns out the first one I’d purchased was broken; they quickly sent a replacement, but I kept forgetting to turn it on! It’s working fine now, but it takes a while to establish a pattern with any new form of fertility awareness charting.)
On one of those difficult mornings, I came across this Public Discourse article by Elizabeth Regnerus, a student at the University of Dallas. Most days, I would have been saying a vehement “Yes!” to Regnerus’ thesis, that the female body is good and that our society has lost sight of that truth, particularly when it comes to fertility and reproductive health. In that moment, though, my first reaction was anger. How could I believe that “the essence of humanity, the unity of body and soul, is undermined when we fault the body and attempt to distance ourselves from it” when it felt like my body was at fault? How could I cultivate this sense of wonder and respect for my body when it wasn’t working the way it is “supposed to”?
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ, though fully God, was fully human. That human part is sometimes more difficult to believe than the God part; as the Catechism notes, “The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism)” (CCC 465). It’s sometimes difficult to imagine the Son of God with a cold or a stomachache, but what a gift it is that we know Jesus suffered physically as we do—more than most of us ever will, in fact. Yet he was divine. Why, then, do I look at my own body with such disdain?
I don’t really have any answers, at least no definitive answer to how to overcome this challenge. I’m no theologian, just a struggling Christian. We don’t have perfect bodies here; everyone, whether he or she has a chronic illness or not, is struggling in some way physically. Poor body image, dysmorphias, chronic and acute disease … dissatisfaction, contempt, or even hatred of our body is something many, if not all, of us deal with at some point. Our humanity includes a broken body—and that brokenness is something the Lord himself chose to take on. If he did, why wouldn’t we?