Our Changing Bodies

I’ve been thinking a lot about my body lately. And not just the usual must-do-more _______ (fill in the blank with any of the following: sit-ups, core training, aerobic exercise, weights), or hair maintenance issues (getting it cut/colored, plucking eyebrows, shaving legs), or even fancying up efforts (putting on makeup, blowdrying hair, finding something to wear other than my usual comfy jeans and a t-shirt). And this despite, as most of my friends would attest, definitely being on the low maintenance side of things. No, I’ve been thinking about my body as it ages.

I remember periods of my life when I’ve felt invincible. Rollerskating, biking, and running around as a child. Winning swimming competitions in high school. Hiking into (not out of!) Havasupai. Walking all around Paris. My body felt strong and powerful, as if that was the way it should be forever and ever. I still occassionally get these flashes, though they’re fewer and farther between, now that I’m closer to 30 than 40. And nowadays, when my mother offers me some of the most recent wrinkle cream that she got on sale or at Costco and is trying, I listen more carefully and gratefully accept, instead of shrugging her off.

Nowadays, I’m trying to get my body in shape for a trip to Nepal. On the itinerary are general touristy things in and around Kathmandu, a visit to do some hiking in Chitwan National Park, three days of trekking in the lowlands, and a week-long humanitarian aid project with Singular Humanitarian Experience. Yes, it sounds exciting. And it will be. But I scaled back the trekking from a two week trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary when I had a wake-up call while hiking in Yosemite earlier this year. Not only am I getting older and slower, but I live at sea level, which makes the air feel particularly thin everywhere else.

A woman’s body (and man’s, no doubt), go through so many changes. Infancy and childhood, with their amazing physical leaps and bounds. Menstruation and puberty. Growth and fulfilment. Monthly cycles. Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation for some. Injury and disease. Aging. Wrinkles and age spots. Menopause. Physical decline. Death. And yet, there’s something to be said for old-er age. Maybe, instead of mourning my 20’s, I should be looking forward to my fifties?

The fact is, life just seems to get better with time. Sure, sometimes I focus a little too much on those age-old high school issues … popularity, the IN thing, looking good, dating, etc … but most of the time I’m just enjoying life and re/discovering things to be enthusiastic about. Family. Friends. Career satisfaction. Church and spiritual matters. Travel. Dancing. Learning new things. I’m coming to terms with my changing body and life. Those grey hairs I’ve had since my teens are bothering me less and less …

Sometimes I wonder what my body will look like in the eternities. Will I assume the form I had when I died? Will I be able to choose what “age” my resurrected body will take? Will there even be aging in the eternities? Or will everyone assume the form of their strongest and best body? I don’t actually have any answers, but I am comforted by the fact that my body will be made whole. I look forward to having perfect vision, not being plagued by a bad knee, and all the other things I will be glad to leave behind in my mortal body. I look forward to having an immortal body that’s been made whole and perfected.

What about you? Have you any stories to share? Bodily experiences that horrified at the time but now make you laugh? Current experiences you’re having trouble with? Wisdom you’d like to impart? Questions about something you foresee in the future?

Dora

Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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6 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    This is a great post, Dora.

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, particularly since I gave birth to my second child 10 months ago and have yet to lose a lot of my baby weight. I’ve come to the realization that my body is just never going to be what it once was. Always before there was at least some hope that I could get really fit. But now… even if I lost a lot of weight, everything has shifted. It’s just not going to go back. It’s not been an entirely traumatic realization, there’s just been a sort of wistfulness in knowing that that part of my life is behind me.

  2. I’m glad you have a positive attitude and think that life just gets better with time. I’m not feeling that way at all at the moment. In fact, I feel like I just become a worse and worse person with more problems as time goes on. Sigh.

  3. Jana says:

    A friend told me recently (in jest, I think), that I need to wake up and realize that I’m not 20 anymore. I’ve been chewing on that thought a lot the past few days. Maybe I’m in denial. Or maybe I just don’t feel 39. And does it really matter, anyways?

  4. Dora says:

    Thanks Caroline! I think that “shifting” is inevitable, pregnancies notwithstanding. Then again, would you give up your children to have your old body back? Probably not. They were a choice that you and your husband made together … to bear and raise children. On the other hand, I will probably never bear children from my body. Sometimes I get a little wistful at this thought, but I realize that it’s been mostly a matter of choice for me as well. I oft time wish it weren’t so, but I don’t actually have any regrets.

    Michelle, I’m sorry you aren’t feeling very positive these days. I don’t actually know you, but I wonder if maybe your statement could be amended? Do you really feel that you become a worse person over the years, or that your circumstances become worse over the years? I wish I could tell you something that would help you feel better. What would you suggest?

    Oh Jana. Well, if it provides any validation, I don’t feel 37 at all, either. Or, maybe it’s that sometimes I connect aging with the idea of increasing limitations. Certainly, there are the physical limitations that come with each successive decade. However, the reality is that I feel more free now than I did when I was in my 20’s. And I feel more at peace with being myself, rather than trying to be someone else. Maybe in another decade I’ll feel the full force of middle age, and do some rather inappropriate things to proclaim my everlasting youth, in a last ditch burst of denial. Then again, who knows what amazing adventures await me in the next decade of life? Maybe the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Maybe it’s plenty green where I’m standing right now …

  5. Naismith says:

    I write from the perspective of one in her mid-50s, who read the post at the Taiwan airport as I was coming back from a physically demanding trip to Southeast Asia (climbing up all those temple ruins, long bicycle ride into the countryside, etc.).

    I guess some people are lucky that they don’t have health issues by my age. But I was not lucky, despite doing strength training and aerobics and following a low-fat diet. I am functional because of aggressively seeking health care, which means going to numerous practitioners before finding someone who can actually help (and yes, I am fortunate to have good health insurance–not everyone can afford to do it!). Physical therapy, occupational therapy, two surgeries, custom orthotics, and an amazing chiropractor have helped me overcome the toll of five childbirths and stay functional. Some of my cohorts have already had a knee replacement etc. and have a similar list of ailments and hopefully solutions as they also defy genetics and age through modern technology.

    The thing is, few women have more than one or two children where I live, and physicians have totally missed issues related to childbirth damage, that could have been corrected early on. My first surgery was to rebuild the top of my stomach, because my diaphragm had been torn open by carrying 8 lb. babies in a petite frame. It wasn’t properly diagnosed until 7 years after the last birth, when I lost my voice due to acid damage to the larynx, damage that is permanent and will never be quite the same. A plus of that surgery was that my problems staying asleep, which experts at the Mayo Clinic said was psychological, also disappeared–it turns out that silent (no heartburn) nighttime acid reflux is a common source of sleep problems, but they didn’t bother to consider that because I appeared to be just another neurotic SAHM. When I had back pain, the male orthopedist assumed it was the kind of disc issues that men get, not realizing that my loose sacroiliac joint (which is never the same after childbirth) was the problem. So for months I faithfully did the assigned exercises, a third of which were making it WORSE and I ended up dislocating my pelvis. Fortunately, a wonderful chiropractor helped with that. She was livid when she read the scans that the orthopod had taken, that he missed it. Also when physical therapy for urinary incontinence no longer worked, I considered the surgical options for that as well. (And that is a much bigger deal than one might think, because women suffering from incontinence tend to limit their fluid intake, which can cause MAJOR problems in so many ways.)

    Maybe out west where families are larger, the medical community is better at picking up those childbirth-related conditions?

    So anyway, if you can afford healthcare and are lucky enough to find the right people, that helps to fight back against the clock.

    I don’t mourn my pre-baby days because the only curves I had were my knees. My figure after the third child was fine.

  6. Dora says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Naismith. It’s so important for women to be able to turn to each for help. Maybe there are others who are dealing with the same problems, who will be able to approach their health care professionals with questions, because you were able to point them in the right direction.

    After she gave birth to my oldest nephew, my SIL was weighed down by the amount of time she spent breastfeeding. The kid just seemed to need to be at the boob all the time. In her frustration, she asked me if that was normal. I had no idea, since the children I work with generally aren’t well enough to breastfeed, at least while in the PICU. I asked a couple of friends at work, and they said that generally, unless there are problems with latching on, swallowing or reflux, infants should satisfy their stomachs in about 20 minutes; the rest of the time is probably just getting oral comfort. And of course I told her to consult with their pediatrician. Anyway, if was a huge comfort to my SIL that the kiddo wasn’t going to need to be glued to her chest for 1-2 hours at a time in order to be well nourished.

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