You know, when we came back from Thanksgiving break, I kind of thought you might be pregnant. But I didn’t ask because…well, that would be rude, you know? Like what if you had just eaten a bunch of turkey or something?
-a student that I fortunately happen to like a lot
After 23 weeks, I have finally started to show beyond the point of looking like I ate a particularly large meal. Prior to this point, whenever I parked in the expectant/new mother parking spaces (props to Giant Eagle Market District for being mama-friendly!) I would put a little extra waddle in my step so as not to garner judgmental glances. Because even if my bump isn’t very big, most of my pelvic bones, joints, and ligaments aren’t where I remember leaving them, so saving a few extra paces is really nice. (Especially because I am a grocery-store wanderer…even though I know where everything is, I can’t ever seem to plan an efficient route.)
Throughout my pregnancy, there’s been a constant refrain of, “You’re pregnant? I would never guess! You’re sooooo tiny! Is there really a baby in there?” For the most part, I’ve given everyone the benefit of the doubt and assumed these comments were well-meaning or no-meaning. Even as I write this now, my intention isn’t to whine or chide anyone specifically or in general but to process some of the changes in my body and share that processing in hopes that it might help someone else.
As an aside, I started thinking about this after I joined Dogwood Photography’s 52 Week Photography Challenge at the beginning of the year. As luck would have it, the first week’s theme was “Self Portrait.” I realized that I hadn’t taken a “bump” picture since week 16, when I really did just look like I’d eaten a big burrito. I haven’t taken or posted many pictures focused on my pregnancy because I felt a bit as if there were nothing to see. (I also really wanted to discourage people from touching my belly uninvited.) I hauled out my tripod and set it up amidst the rubble of our half-assembled nursery. I got very good golden hour light that day, and here was my final shot.
Back to the blog post. There was a pretty long period in my life when being thin and controlling the food I put in my body was my top priority, whether I admitted it or not. I can’t even say that I was proud of my figure then (although pride and shame are often two sides of the same coin for people living with disordered eating) because the diet restriction and overexercise came from a place of fear and compulsion. It was years before I genuinely came to love and appreciate my body not just for how it looked but what it could do.
Even in my leanest years, I did wonder how pregnancy would someday change my body, or indeed if I would even be able to carry a child. (At one point I had lost more than 10% of my body weight and stopped menstruating regularly.) I worried (and still do, at times) whether my children might inherit the psychological and emotional dispositions underlying my eating disorder, or if they would pick up my food and body image anxieties and engage in harmful behaviors. Fortunately, with counseling and the support of loved ones, I have learned a healthier relationship with food, a much fuller view of myself, and less destructive ways to manage stress. I am also more aware of the negative signals I received throughout my life and hope to redeem those by sending positive, affirming messages to my children.
Pregnancy has been the ultimate test of my recovery because I have lost all semblance of control over my body. I can’t help that I pee a little when I sneeze, or that my skin itches constantly despite gallons of lotion, or that all the hair is growing all the time. And I can’t help the change of my shape and weight.
This isn’t a typical pregnancy weight-gain post, and here is where I hesitate to keep writing. Because I have always been slender, regardless of whether I was actively restricting, I have often felt (ironically) as though there isn’t quite room for me at the “I struggle with body image too,” table. People, well-meaning or otherwise, have asked what on earth I have to worry about since I’m so thin. (I don’t usually bother explaining that it goes far, far beyond thinness because they’re not usually interested in having an actual conversation.) In the face of a deluge of, “Big is beautiful,” and “Real women have curves,” rhetoric, I usually just keep my mouth shut even though I want to say, “Wait, I’m real too!” I haven’t gained much weight and I may not “look” very pregnant, but I’m real and my baby is real too.
All of this is to say that having people gush over how “tiny” I am while pregnant isn’t always helpful. (And again, this is more about me processing why it makes me uncomfortable than guilting anyone for saying this sort of thing.) This is our first pregnancy, and Science Guy’s first closehand experience with babies for that matter. We’re already anxious that anything I do will affect the baby, and every time someone comments on how little weight I’ve gained, I worry even more that the baby’s not getting enough nutrition. My doctor hasn’t said anything so I figure we are okay. When other mothers marvel at my little bump and lament how much weight they gained with their pregnancies, I feel awkward and like I need to apologize or justify myself to make them feel better. (I realize that part of this -potentially a large part- is my desire for everyone in a conversation to feel good.)
Underneath all this, even though it was kind of exciting to finally feel justified wearing maternity clothes, I’m not exactly leaping for joy at the thought of gaining another 10 or 20 or 30 pounds. In our society, show me a woman who would be! But honestly, my focus isn’t really on my weight or my bump even though that’s the first thing most people comment on. I just want to have a healthy baby and bring him into a healthy, loving home environment. And I do kind of wish more people would talk to me about that part.
It’s not all doom and gloom and I hope I haven’t made it sound that way. I’ve recently joined a few local mothers’ groups on Facebook and “met” lots of supportive moms while stockpiling cloth diapers and learning about babywearing, among many other great conversations I’ve had. Overall, I’m looking forward to our growing family and even my growing body. (Partially so I can play the pregnancy card with greater frequency and efficacy!) I just wanted to work through some of the unresolved conflicting feelings I have about the changes in my body and the way I am perceived by others (and myself). Hopefully I’ll have cute stuff to post again soon when I finally kick this lingering cold and cough!