“Awe your belly is so cute.”
“Look how you’ve just popped right out there.”
“You must be having a girl. You gain weight all over with girls.”
Pregnancy is a trying time for anyone’s body image. Every inch of skin begins to feel foreign, unreal almost. Weathering pregnancy when your past includes brushes with an eating disorder, obsessive exercise and body dysmorphia is especially volatile.
You spend your formative years trying to quiet the obsessive voice in your head. It tells you to eat the salad, skip the birthday cake, run a few extra miles. For a few years in your 20’s, maybe you get to a comfortable place. High school is over and college is accepting. Body positivity is everywhere and it is grand! If you’re lucky, the nasty inner voice shuts up for a bit.
Then, at some point, you fall pregnant. Regardless of the circumstances, this is a time of spiraling emotions. Joy, fear and panic overwhelm every thought. After all, life as you knew it changed from the moment you saw those two lines and even the happiest of pregnancies fall victim to the intrusive statements listed above.
For some reason, pregnancy is a fair game for wandering mouths and eyes. Even those closest to us speak to our changing waistlines as if the evening news made it the weekly headline. “Have you heard? Julia is up an additional five pounds this week!”
If you hadn’t guessed, I’ve tackled this game before. The shame, the obsession with the scale, the part where I give up and eat the entire cake, I’ve done it all. This is my third pregnancy and I’ll be the first to tell you that pregnancy wreaks havoc on even the healthiest body image.
But I didn’t realize how unhealthy my relationship with my body was until now, until this pregnancy. My first thought upon realizing I was pregnant for the third time was “I don’t want to get big again.” I wasn’t excited and I’m still struggling to find joy. See, I know what happens and I know how the deflated, emptiness feels after the baby is born. I expect the panic I feel as my bump blossoms and the sense of dread I feel every time I lift my shirt to check for stretch marks.
Yes, I have healthy pregnancies (knock on wood and prayers for continued health). I run and exercise until my final weeks and I suppose, by others’ visuals, I “bounce back” in the words of trashy celebrity magazines. However, no one on this planet can gauge the turmoil within my mind throughout this experience. Couple the disdain I feel for my appearance with comments from strangers about the shape of my body and you have a toxic dose of depression and anxiety that likes to flirt with that of the postpartum variety.
Sharing this vessel I’ve struggled to love for over twenty years has been one of the most challenging feats of my life. And I’m on my third trial. At 20 weeks, I know the worst is yet to come. No, not in terms of how I feel physically. I know my back will hurt and breathing will become a challenge mid-way through the third trimester. I’m speaking to the mental chess match I’ll play with the negativity in my head and the rehearsed rebuttals society seems to think will make it all go away.
I don’t think society is as close to change as we’d like to think. Look at the headlines Meghan Markle faced for cradling her bump. We’re critical of everyone. It doesn’t matter what social status you swing from, pregnancy makes you vulnerable.
It’s as if we use this time to channel our own misgivings onto someone else. Maybe other women are so vicious because of how they felt during their own pregnancies. One can only speculate on the reasoning.
And I know. This all sounds so doom and gloom. I get it. I’m simply trying to illustrate the torment some women endure as they watch their bodies change while willing the change to happen. Because despite the dissonance I feel, I also feel wonderment.
Each kick reminds me that this body I don’t appreciate nearly enough is creating another person. My body has this amazing ability to create life. And that is something that delivers me from the brink of hopelessness.
My kids don’t care about my flaws. In fact, my daughter tells me I’m the strongest mommy in the entire world almost daily. And for what? Holding her up to give the biggest hug or showing her how to do a downward dog. She finds wonder in me. How insane is that?
Maybe it is insane, but I choose to view how she sees me as I sign I’m doing something right. You see, at her age, I already knew what a diet was. She, on the other hand, associates working out with being as strong as a superhero.
Do you know what I call that? Breaking the damn cycle.