Long before I was pregnant, I was unsure if I ever wanted a child. As young as sixteen, I really didn't have a dedication to the idea. I had a few names picked out just in case, but I mostly dreamed of a wonderful life spent without children. A life spent with the person I would love, unencumbered by a small human's constant needs. I would travel the world and do things I wanted to do, whenever I wanted. I remember once relaying my feelings to my mom who responded, "I can see you not having children. You're selfish enough."
Then, when I did think about having kids, I thought about what it would mean for my body. I wouldn't breastfeed, never even considering the health benefits for the child, lest breastfeeding leave my full and perky C-cups sad and saggy. And even if I did breastfeed, I would never be one of those women who breastfed in public. What a terrible, rude thing to do. A woman using her breasts for the exact purpose for which they were made, to feed her child. In public. How dare these overtly sexual women do such a thing? In front of me and my significant other. Gross. They should cover up, those harlots.
I thought about childbirth and how I didn't want to ruin my pristine vagina; I would definitely elect to get a C-section, leaving my precious, just-for-my-man lady parts unscathed.
I look back now and I feel sorry for my past self. I was such a fool, so influenced by society, by the messages I was receiving that my body was most valuable when it was physically beautiful, sexual.
I couldn't see the value then in birthing and feeding a child. I didn't see the beauty in the work, the effort, the sweat, the tears. I had a hard time seeing these things because of porn.
Wait. What? What does porn have to do with any of this?
I knew that most guys watched porn. I knew (or believed, I guess) that those women were the desired ones. Porn never made me directly feel bad about myself. I never had thoughts like, "Oh man, that girl is so sexy and hot, and I am so ugly." But it did distort my view of myself and my purpose, as a woman. I developed a lot of anxiety over those on-screen images, from the time I started dating at sixteen and discovered that online pornography was the norm for males.
I don't believe every woman's job is to birthe babies and breastfeed for fourteen years. But I do believe that I lost sight of the things I was naturally capable of, things I came to despise that were inherent to womanhood. And that was directly because of pornography. It made me value only one aspect of myself and detest others.
How could I still be sexy if my husband saw a baby come out of my vagina, or if my vagina tore in the process? How could my breasts still be sexy if they filled and emptied milk to a hungry baby?
Being a woman in this life is really hard. We have to put up with all kinds of shit. We have all sorts of fucked-up messages and hateful things coming our way. Sometimes they make us feel bad about who we are, but sometimes they also make us feel bad about the things we can do. And we end up rejecting those parts of ourselves.
If a woman chooses to not breastfeed or to not give birth naturally, those are choices she is free to make. I just hope that no woman ever makes those choices based on the "belief" that she is physically better or more beautiful to a man/men if she doesn't.
Luckily, by the time I got pregnant, I had reconciled these feelings. I had worked them out with myself, and with my husband. Of course, it also helps to be with someone who really respects women, who is a feminist, who has (at least begun to) shed centuries of archaic ideas about women, who is a progressive thinker. By the time I gave birth, I was able to embrace my feminine body, not just for its pornographic, over-the-top sexuality, but for its incredible ability to create and sustain life. For its ability to birthe. For its ability to feed.
My body, now, is a source of strength. When I think of why I feel proud of myself or what I find beautiful, it's all the same physical attributes. But it's because of what those things have done and continue to do, not because of how they look to anyone else.