My Body, Myself
by Charlotte Finn
June 24, 2024
Charlotte Finn today

When I graduated from high school in 1970, the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” hit the shelves and caused an instant sensation. Young women like myself, who up until then had only brief and whispered discussions about sex, could read in bold print and see explicit photos about their bodies, both explained and glorified. The book informed me and relieved some of my confusion, but it would be years before I fully appreciated the intricacies of my body as I learned about my body and myself.

Younger Charlotte in bathing suit and capI didn’t have any idea then how much my body would become a dependable source of my most exciting, gratifying, and pleasurable accomplishments, beyond sex. My body has shifted and changed over the ensuing 50 plus years, and I have adjusted to being a bit slower, less vigorous, and less bold. But I remain appreciative that it continues to run smoothly with only a few minor repairs needed thus far.

I remember my first inkling that I wasn’t in charge and that my body was when my husband and my dream to go to Nigeria with the Peace Corps was quashed. I had missed a period after some careless contraceptive practice but a frantic pregnancy test was negative and we breathed a sigh of relief. But after missing a second period, a doctor looked around my bent knees on the exam table and shattered my dreams. I was indeed pregnant.

How had my body let this happen? It was not in our plans. I was indignant and crushed.

With the Peace Corps out of the question, we created our own version of adventure by moving across the country from Virginia to Oregon, as far as we could go, and reluctantly and half-heartedly prepared our small apartment for the addition of a baby.

We began to explore our new environment with enthusiasm as my body slowly transformed from the normally fit and thin shape to what a few friends humorously described as “an olive on a toothpick”. My waistline disappeared, my breasts were swollen above the expanding bump that finally and unmistakably announced to the world that I was with child. I was shocked that my body took over so completely in its preparation of a cozy incubation for a separate little being.

Younger Charlotte running in a raceThen six months into the baby construction, I became fascinated and obsessed with how my body was responding, how it knew exactly what to do. I read everything I could, I attended Lamaze classes, learned to breathe correctly, practiced pushing, and believed with my whole heart that something so natural as giving birth should really not be complicated or painful. I naively concluded that women who screamed and writhed in pain during birth had not learned to relax and work with their bodies as I would do. I was a somewhat smug 22-year-old, fit and healthy, and I had prepared myself and my body. I would join the ranks of women all over the world and throughout time who had delivered babies without the interference of the medical profession, I said with pride to whoever would listen.

Then childbirth gave me another lesson.

The contractions started much like strong menstrual cramps. I breathed deeply, trying to relax my body to go with a process that didn’t particularly frighten me. I was confident that my body would take over and I simply had to cooperate.

And indeed, my body did take over –– and very quickly. As I waited for admission to the hospital, a wave of excruciating pain passed through. But I was only halfway there, the nurse advised. Hours later, after enduring hours of shocking, all-consuming pain, it would take all the power and resolve I could muster to wait for that final, powerful push. Then I took the warm, slithering baby boy to my breast and gazed at his tiny face with fascinated disbelief and instantly fell in love.

Once again, my body took over and became a 24-hour feeding station in a blur of leaking full breasts, rocking, pacing, waking up many times a night to nurse my sweet, squalling baby. Simultaneously, I was loving with a passion I hadn’t imagined, and yet dismayed at how my beloved child had completely taken over my life.

Younger Charlotte in life vest at a sports eventIt was a time of exhaustion, elation, obsession, confusion, regret and perfect love all wrapped up in one hormonal mix that took me to a new place in my own development. Life became less black and white and I became more open, more giving, less in control, and more in wonder. I was catapulted into what is often referred to as “maturity,” as my child’s needs overshadowed my own.

Eventually, my body started to ask for more attention.

My restlessness from two years of inactivity and a desire to get my body back in shape motivated me to take fast walks, then short runs around the neighborhood. Having never participated in sports, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I embraced athleticism. Neighborhood jogs became the gateway to my athletic self, which would become a big part of my life. Three or four times a week I’d take to the streets with walk/runs that soon became runs of 4 or 5 miles. I was hooked. The solitude, the brief respite from motherhood, just being just myself again.

Younger Charlotte holding a paddle A few years later, my body again took over the baby construction business when I was pregnant with our daughter. Jogging was shelved for many months. After another natural childbirth, this one done with more realistic expectations, I was back to jogging the city streets. I nursed my daughter as I had my son for two plus years. My body had continued to become a source of pleasure, strength, nourishment, and resilience.

Initially exercise was a means to a sense of well-being, fitness, and fun. But soon I was running in races, biking long distances, river rafting, swimming in lakes and rivers, participating in triathlons, backpacking long distances, skiing on slopes and trails, and climbing mountains. I swam early-morning laps for years after dropping off the kids at school and before showing up at work with still-damp hair. If an activity involved being physical, I was game. My body responded to my fitness routine by getting stronger and more accomplished in physical endeavors.

I couldn’t imagine what I’d do without participating in my various sports. But finally, at almost 60 and after several knee surgeries, one from a ski accident and the other a bike accident, I finally, reluctantly and woefully, gave up running –– after 35 years.

Charlotte with dragon boat paddlersNow a decade later and in my 70s, my body is far from the well-oiled machine it once was. I’m aware that it is getting closer and closer to its code date. Apprehension of further injury and fear of moving the code date closer keep me from pushing my body as hard as I used to. But it’s okay. This level of caution and moderation of activity has become the new normal. As my body ages, I’ve adjusted to this lower ceiling of athleticism and to my body having the final say as to what is possible. It’s been a slow and sneaky process, often accompanied by denial. The athletic glory days are over, and I’m left with some shiny medals and great memories. I’m grateful for my body’s service all those years, and I remain active and fit and enjoy my pursuit of the physical.

But other less physical endeavors have become a priority.

I have diversified and now happily put my energy into meaningful volunteer work, travel, time with family and friends, and emotional and spiritual growth. Breathing in the crisp morning air as I take a brisk walk in my neighborhood while listening to a book and feeling my body move on the ground beneath me is a great source of pleasure. Many mornings I join a group of friends my age to paddle dragon boats on the Willamette River where we move together in rhythms of friendship and laughter while experiencing the joy of being outside in nature. The blustery, rainy, and chilly mornings are especially thrilling as we congratulate each other for our toughness and fortitude.

Charlotte with her family - children with spouses and grandchildren grandchld

Charlotte – back row R, daughter back row center, son front row 2nd from L, spouses and grandkids

Getting older has also changed the ways I define myself. It has meant letting go of my professional identity and many of my physical abilities, but it has also opened many new doors to adventures in learning and growing. Letting go is not just about loss. It is a creation of space for new endeavors and new places of wonder. With gratitude for all the pleasure I’ve had from my body, I continue to take care of my health and get the most out of physical adventures –– just done with a bit less vigor.

I have an awareness that my body, like everything, is transitory. I try to live fully in each wonderful moment. I’m in continual awe of nature, friends, and family, and the things that seem to work out without interference from me. I’m doing a slower walk with life, being more thoughtful, mindful, and grateful these days. I take solace in my belief that I’ve learned a few very good lessons along the way that will serve me well in the years I have left to live with meaning and purpose, love and connection.

Charlotte is a retired mental health therapist who lives in Portland, Oregon where she hikes, bikes, paddles, kayaks, skies, and swims. She is a world traveler with a passion for experiencing different cultures, reading, and writing. Her favorite volunteer job is teaching adult English learners. She has written a memoir “When Nowhere is Home” about the complex relationship with her adopted daughter from Guatemala, which is available on Amazon.

9 Comments

  1. Karen

    Loved this life story (I think all natural birth Mom’s can) and your beautiful writing.

    Reply
    • Jerry Lanz

      I loved your description of your awakening body to its athletic potential. Also reading a mother’s description of
      Pregnancy.

      Reply
  2. Annie Bennett

    This is excellent and so truly reflects changes in one’s physical sense of self as the decades and various experiences that involve our bodies, evolve.
    Char’s writing brings us close to her specific journey through the physicality of life.

    Reply
  3. chad

    I’m so incredibly proud of you, mom. You have always been, and always will be, my greatest teacher, role model, and hero.

    Reply
  4. Bill Burgel

    Being a man, this article brings home what a woman’s body must go through to deliver a child. Witty at times, I laughed out loud at Charlotte’s realization of magnitude of these changes as well as the pain of childbirth! Great story!

    Reply
  5. Amy

    Charlotte ❤️your article- well written and well said 🐲

    Thank you for sharing you story and spirit with us 💙💜💚🧡

    Reply
  6. Joan

    Thanks for sharing so many wonderful ways you have lived a physical, mental and emotionally present life. Live and Learn.
    Knowing time and physicality are limited on this earth, your positive and present appreciation are the way to proceed. Kudos!

    Reply
  7. Nanette

    Well done, Charlotte. You captured & communicated the importance of being fully in the moment. Your sense of awe & spirit of fun render you ageless. Many thanks!

    Reply
  8. Ann Sandvig

    Char – What an interesting and well written article on life, our bodies, the beauty of athleticism and the changes that come with aging – which are not all bad. After two natural child births, intense physical pursuits probably don’t seem all that bad. Cheers to staying active regardless of age!

    Reply

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