One day, we wake up screaming as we are kidnapped from our home into the arms a stranger. Our naked bodies are covered in blood and vernix, a waxy coating to protect us from life inside the womb. We belonged there, connected to our mothers so she could pass us food and oxygen. Now we’re lying on her chest, crying because the comfort of our home is gone and it’s cold here and there are fingers on our backs and we probably, subconsciously, know how confusing and terrible a place this new world is.
Then our bodies belong to both of our parents. They strap us into highchairs and feed us a mix of broccoli, pears and peas (in one blend), they change our nappies and bathe us. We’re incapable of basic human needs and if we didn’t surrender our bodies to them, we would die.
We get older and we learn how to get dressed but we still have little accidents so we share our bodies with our parents, like a part time contract. When we fall asleep on the couch, they carry us to our bedroom and tuck us but in the morning we throw a tantrum when they don’t approve of the way we’ve tied our hair up that day. “It’s my ponytail and I like it.”
Then they bring us to Sunday School and we learn that our body is a gift from God and we’re only borrowing it for a little while before getting new ones later. It’s a little confusing but we quite like going to church – we have lots friends there and God seems pretty nice – so we listen to what he says about our bodies. We’re 18 and our liver is clean and our lungs are strong and we can run a mile in six minutes.
Then we start university and we realise that our body is our own and we are allowed to make decisions about it. We take home a backpack full of feminist literature from the library, listen to angry slam poetry performed by pretty girls and then get a handful of small tattoos we’ll probably regret later. But it doesn’t matter because the body is ours.
And then we fall in love somewhere somehow and we’re back to sharing the contract. “Take me,” we say. And they do and for a few hours every now and then, we are in syncopation entrusting them with our bodies. And they are entrusting us. And then we separate and go for coffee and try to talk about anything other than the imprint they have left on our skin.
And then we’re 29 and we discover that we are pregnant. And suddenly the body that was once new and wrinkly, a shared contract between us and our parents, God’s, our own, a lover’s… is now a home for someone else. We’ve come full circle. We watch what we eat, we resist a glass of wine with dinner, we join a yoga class. We want to make this home comfortable and safe. We need to deliver another body that has ten fingers, chubby knees and cries a lot.
We’re unaware of it but we find a balance between everything and realise our bodies never belong to one thing all the time. With different days it has different needs. Sometimes we share the contract and let our mothers come round in the evenings to cook meals for us and fill our hearts up with good company. Sometimes our husbands run us a bath and trace lines over our shoulders until we fall asleep. Sometimes we are reminded that we’ve been gifted with a healthy functioning body so we eat well and take care of it, listening to the wise advice of many centuries. And other times, we hear our own personal rhythms and are protective of what our female body tells us. And all of these different impulses and contracts help us build a safe place for a new life.