In a society that heavily weighs how a woman looks I have realized that I had fully bought into the notion of typical beauty. I worked out every evening, counted my micro and macro caloric intake, enjoyed outdoor activities, enjoyed wearing sexy lingerie, and put coconut oil in my hair once a week to keep it soft and healthy. At the time I didn’t think my body was perfect, but I was definitely striving for my ideal body. Honestly, I didn’t need to do all of this to keep my body the way it was. In general I would fluctuate 5-8 pounds, but never required dieting or much exercise to keep my nearly 5.10 body under 20% body fat.
I didn’t know how vain I actually was, until I got pregnant.
And then I went crazy
I just wanted a tummy to show. I knew I was pregnant, but I just felt chubby becuase my once flat stomach was poking out enough where my jeans were a little too tight, but not enough to reveal that I was actually carrying a human!
Then I started to grow, and grow, and grow. Things that used to taste good, suddenly didn’t. My normal diet of chicken, rice, veggies, and the occasional cheat day of pasta or pizza was suddenly substituted with the constant desire to eat rocky road ice cream, and BLT’s (I didn’t even like bacon before!). I was hungry all the time. It felt like when a teenage growth spurt, except instead of getting taller, I just kept noticing my stomach getting bigger. And then my legs getting bigger. And then my arms getting bigger. And then my shoulders getting bigger.
One day I woke up, and nothing fit, and my abdomen had purple cat like scratches all up and down my stomach. My once olive skin tone was white, and had a dark line down the middle of my growing belly. And my boobs were huge, and they hurt. My ankles were swollen- they literally had rolls, my wedding ring didn’t fit, and my cheeks looked like how they did after my wisdom teeth were removed.
I looked at myself in the mirror and cried, and cried.
Some things that have helped I never would have described myself as self loathing, or vain before I got pregnant. But now, I realize that body image is obviously something I struggle with, and after the pregnancy, I will once again need to learn how to be OK with my changing body. Creating a human is one of the most amazing things in the entire world, and I am so excited to meet her; I just didn’t expect to feel this way about my body, and for so many things to change emotionally and physically.
There are a few daily improvements that have helped me feel a lot better about myself, and my abilities, though. My days of wind sprints, heavy squats, and stair lunges are out the door- but I have found new exercises I didn’t know that I liked.
● Swimming! Oh my gosh this has relieved the joint pressure. I try to swim for 30 minutes, and then do basic squats, and lunges.
● Doga- it’s basically yoga with your dog. First of all, this is a blast and Cooper loves it; secondly, I like doing it in my own home where no one can see that my tummy prevents me from touching my toes.
● Walks! I got a few fitness trackers, and it’s helped tremendously. One tracks my steps, one tracks my snacks, and one tracks my sleep. Giving myself a goal has helped feel good about my snacks, and exercises. Sure, they aren’t what they once were, but at least there is still some type of goal.
A lot of foods still don’t taste good, and I can’t pretend like I am back to tracking my micro, macro intake. When I am gaining 4 pounds in two weeks (thanks for telling me nurse, like I wasn’t worried enough), and there are consistently new purple stretch marks it’s pretty hard to “diet”... even if I were to diet I would still be gaining weight, but making a few changes to my food choices have helped me feel less like this pregnancy was a giant binge.
● Easy to prep meals that I can make on weekends, and bring to work- which has greatly cut down junk.
● Avoiding eating anything that I am feeling an aversion to (chicken), but supplementing with other high protein snacks.
No one could have prepared me for pregnancy. No amount of knowledge would have helped me to be comfortable in my new stretched out skin. Sure, there were warnings about hormones, crying, nesting, and random cravings. But no one told me that for the first time in my life I would genuinely hate how I looked, and how I felt pregnant. Perhaps it’s because as women, we are taught that we should feel blessed, that pregnancy is beautiful, and something amazing- and to think anything differently would be rejecting God’s plan, or vain, anti-life, or somehow associated with being a bad mother. And so we pretend like we love it. Maybe some women do love it. But it’s still my body, it’s still owned by me, and to pretend like I am not uncomfortable and sad, would be a huge lie, and wouldn’t help the next poor confused girl that feels badly about herself for thinking such terrible thoughts.
I think that talking about this confusing time more openly, allowing women to have an opinion about their bodies, and learning different ways to eat healthy while supporting changes in taste, aversion, and cravings. We can help women through this time by giving compliments, yes, but also validating the complaints. We can avoid saying things like “oh I only gained 15 pounds, and vegetables were the only thing I liked”, especially when that’s not 100% true. Like all body image conversations- we can be a little sensitive of how someone is feeling about the changes their body is enduring before we invalidate their feelings, or tell them they are “huge”, “super pregnant”, “about to pop” (etc.), and try to keep in mind, that although you view the weight gain as “being pregnant” mentioning how much they have gained, how big they are, or asking for specific pound gains is still entirely inappropriate- just as it would be if they were not pregnant.
Just because someone has made the choice to conceive a child, does not make their body any less theirs, and it does not give you open permission to do, and say whatever you want about it. Had this been common knowledge, I really think that I could have grown to love the changes my body was making- for what they were; which is an uncomfortable, swollen, HUGE, blessing.