“Oh vanity! Thy name is ‘pregnant lady’”
– Shakespeare (adapted…like really adapted)
I am really struggling with my changing body. Oh the guilt I feel saying those words aloud! I feel selfish, vain, ungrateful and to be honest, a bit stupid for even thinking that – but it’s true. I am struggling with my ever evolving shape, but mostly, I live in fear of what will become of it. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I am feeling pretty large and in charge already. Compared to many women around the 25 week mark (including that perky little Gina from my Ovia Pregnancy App), I am big and it is SO HARD not to compare myself to others – especially since I don’t have any personal experience to draw from.
But, let’s just take a moment to put this insane pattern of thinking into perspective for a minute – I freaking L-O-V-E being pregnant. I love this belly and all that it means. I love with every fiber of my being, this little boy growing big and strong inside of me. I love, admire and respect what my body is capable of doing at this very moment. I am a goddess bringing life into this world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. All of this I know, and yet I am more terrified of stretch marks, cellulite and weight gain than I am of a freaking demigorgan!
So why? Why is it that I am so worried about these things, when, if any pregnant woman told me they were feeling that way I would grab them by the shoulders, stare intently into their eyes and say, “you are a warrior, a goddess and a mother of dragons – your body is incredible. Do NOT fear the changes, embrace them.” The only answer I can come up with is this – I’m a woman who, like so many before her, has battled with her share of body image issues for most of her life and pregnancy is not going to change that overnight.
I believe that a big part of the way the average woman views her physicality revolves around what she can control. My body has never been perfect, but in the last 10 years, it has found a certain amount of predictability and consistency. If I pigged out one night on pizza and wine, I knew what I needed to do to feel better the next day. If I put on an extra 5 lbs, I knew what needed to get done to shake it off. I knew what to do if I needed a good sweat or a good stretch and I always tried to incorporate activity into my everyday life to keep me feeling healthy and balanced.
My plan for this pregnancy was to eat better than I’d ever eaten before, to exercise daily, to take up swimming and to register for as many pre-natal yoga sessions as I possibly could. I also planned to teach yoga right up until the contractions began. I was so excited to treat my body like the life-giving vessel I knew it would be. To that, my body said, “Ha!” Enter morning sickness and chronic nausea like I never expected. Enter food cravings and general disgust for all things green. Enter heartburn. Enter exhaustion like I’ve never known before. Enter fear of loss. Enter placenta previa. Enter modified bed rest. Exit control, plans, goals, hopes and dreams. Enter fat, lazy, incubator-self.
Pregnancy is one of those things in life that, no matter how much you may want to, or how much you may plan to, you simply cannot control it. As we discovered on our fertility journey of the last two years, you definitely can’t control when you get pregnant and once you are pregnant, you really can’t control much about how that pregnancy progresses. Your body has never done this before, and you literally have another human inside you who is running the show. Even if you have a textbook pregnancy, which I decidedly have not, you will still be faced with surprises around every corner. I’m starting to think nature does this on purpose to prepare you for the complete lack of control you will have over your own life once your child actually arrives. Might as well get some practice in while you can!
When I look at the way our society and the media treats pregnancy, I am equal parts impressed and annoyed. I’m impressed by how we really embrace the pregnant form. There was a time, not long ago, when pregnant women hid their bellies behind muumuus and tent dresses. They wouldn’t dream of wearing a bikini, and form fitting dresses or tops were definitely out. In fact, I would be willing to bet that it’s hard for a lot of us to find pregnancy photos of our mothers and grandmothers – they weren’t big on capturing ‘the bump’ back then. I am so thankful that maternity fashion and our reverence for the pregnant body has evolved and most days, even if I’m feeling big, I’m feeling pretty beautiful.
On the other side of that though, is this obsession with loosing the baby weight and getting your pre-baby body back. Whether it’s celebrating models that walk the runway an insanely unrealistic six weeks after giving birth, or giving magazine covers and oodles of cash to Kardashian’s who drop their baby weight seemingly overnight, we seem to celebrate the loss of our pregnant shape as much as we celebrate the shape itself. On the one hand we are saying, “isn’t pregnancy beautiful” and on the other, “but don’t you dare hold onto that look for too long”. Outside of celebrity culture, our perception is much the same. Every year, everyday women spend billions of dollars on stretch mark creams, pre and postnatal workout plans, maternity fashion, belly bands, laser therapy and surgical procedures (to name a few) all in the name of preventing or reversing the signs that we were ever pregnant to begin with. When you are inundated with such polarizing views of pregnancy it’s easy to feel a bit nervous about the trajectory of your own body throughout this miraculous journey.
While musing about this blog topic, I couldn’t help but reflect on the way we speak about pregnancy. It is mind-blowing to me how free we feel to comment on a woman’s body during and after pregnancy. Typically, the comments are fairly positive and are focused around how amazing you look, but not all fall into that category. Here are a few gems that have been directed at me, or that I have heard or maybe even said throughout the years:
“your butt is getting wider, so you’re probably having a girl”
“are you sure you don’t have twins in there”
“you really shouldn’t eat that”
“wow, your boobs are getting HUGE”
“oh you look so good, you’re all belly”
“you’re so lucky it’s not in your face yet”
“why do pregnant women always crave sugar – not good honey – not good”
“how much weight have you gained so far?”
“I can’t believe you had a baby a month ago…you look amazing!”
Don’t get me wrong, many of the comments made are not hurtful or offensive – many are actually awesome to hear, but what I can’t get over is the freedom with which we say them. It’s like any sensitivity we had when it comes to discussing a woman’s body just goes right out the window. These comments assume that once a woman enters pregnancy, observations about her body are not only socially acceptable, but are actually welcome. Truth be told, I do welcome a lot of these comments and I actually don’t have an issue with unsolicited belly rubs (from people I know…); but I do want to draw attention to the way our conversations about our bodies change with pregnancy, even though our body conscious thought patterns remain the same.
But…and here is the big but (pun intended), I know that pregnancy and motherhood has the potential to revolutionize the way I see my body if I let it. When I first started writing this particular piece, I was really struggling with openly admitting to these thoughts and so I did what I always do, I reached out to a few women in my life for their opinion on the subject. I was hopeful that they would either pat my head and say, ‘there there – stop being such an idiot’ or maybe, just maybe, they would understand my struggles.
To be continued…