Body Image in pregnancy. This is a topic I get questions about frequently, and have since being more vocal about eating disorder recovery. It’s a big one and I wish I had all the answers ( I don’t and probably even fewer than you thought I did).All I truly know is what I have learned in my own experiences. I have had a bit of time to reflect on this, and the journey has truly been full circle.
Zelda’s pregnancy I was definitely more “in it”. I consider myself back then still coming out of my eating disorder/disordered eating. I dreaded getting larger. I loved taking pictures of my progress and I was so excited to be pregnant but the “wow you’re so big!” comments definitely hurt me because I still equated big=fat=bad=’less valuable, and small=thin=good=more valuable. Which whether or not you actively project these ideals onto others or not (or whether or not your conscious of it) that is the understood connotation of those words in our society. I was obsessed with knowing how much weight I was gaining so I could gain the “right” amount. I was vegan and restrictive but would also binge. Overall much less healthy(not just physical health) than I am now. It wasn’t until after I had Zelda and felt all that pressure to “get back to my body” that I finally stumbled across intuitive eating, fat acceptance, body positivity, etc; and cue my full recovery journey.
When I got pregnant this time I was already staring from a very different place. Most of the time I didn’t think much about my body in general. I wore clothes that fit me, I had days I liked the way I looked and I had days that I didn’t but overall was in a very healthy neutral relationship with my body. I didn’t rely on it for validation, I didn’t condemn it for being what it was, it just was. I was grateful for the life it gave me every day and of course the life it was now growing inside me once again. Now let’s take a moment to address the idea that “oh well you should be so grateful that you’re growing a life and that’s all that matters!” This is a well intended phrase I hear often. I know the people offering these words are not evil or harmful people. But I want to validate you if you’re reading this and you are grateful for the life you’re growing inside you but you’re also like “this sucks I hate my body right now.”
From the get-go this time around I knew I would have to walk through pregnancy differently to maintain my (mental, emotional, and physical) health, given my history. This meant advocating for myself with any care provider about refusing to know the number when I was weighed and honestly not wanting to discuss it at all. You actually have the right to refuse weigh ins at the doctor at any time in your life although I think pregnancy would be the hardest time to exercise that right in full so I was happy with not discussing it unless absolutely necessary. This was very simple to do, I would step on the scale backwards and my husband would write the number down for the nurse or my midwife. Now I will say that this is also probably easier for me because I am a smaller/average sized person. If I was living in a larger body I believe they would probably push back much more so I just wanted to recognize that because it might not be as easy for everyone.
I also was confident in the relationship I have with feeding myself and I knew my body knew how to grow a healthy sized baby without me having to micromanage it. I gave into my cravings and followed my hunger cues. I have in turn had no real issues in this pregnancy other than a slight low iron count which is common. Interesting anecdote (that I severely struggled with sharing and still do so with caution) I have gained less weight in this pregnancy than I did in my last, where I was hyper aware, eating all the “right” things, and micromanaging and obsessing over my weight gain every single day. Now here is the caution. I do not share that for validation or as a sense of pride even, but just as a comparison that when we honor our body and that it knows what it is doing it does just that; exactly what it should do. When I was pregnant and vegan and eating seemingly healthy to everyone else I was a nervous, stressed wreck at every meal and definitely less healthy than I am now. Which I wanted to reiterate because people often think a vegan diet is the pinnacle of health but, IT IS NOT.
As this pregnancy progressed I still kind of continued to ignore my body. I was working full time, wrangling a toddler and this pregnancy kind of flew by. Some times I just forgot about it. That sounds horrible I know but moms with other kids, y’all know we don’t have as much time to track our week to week and take pictures eery step of the way! It wasn’t until the third trimester where the “holy shit it’s almost over!” kicked in and i wanted to start documenting it more. With all that being said I never really felt negatively about how I was growing or looking in my body.
Okay now here is where we get back to the “Man this sucks and I hate my body” part. The larger I got, the tighter even my maternity clothes got on me, not to mention just how uncomfortable everything has gotten; the more my neutrality towards my body moved toward antipathy. Now nothing I did really changed but I have definitely had more days of “not feeling myself” and at first I didn’t know how to feel about that. I am this body positivity warrior I am supposed to love my self all the time right?! Wrong.
Body positivity is actually not about loving or liking your body all the time. It is actually about accepting, and respecting all bodies as worthy of love and belonging regardless of size, color, gender, ability, etc. This extends to others as well as ourselves. I think it is important to give ourselves room to have all sorts of feelings about our bodies every step of the way, especially in pregnancy. Now this isn’t to say you should start restricting, or diet, or be counting down the days until you can “bounce back” but rather accept that you can love your self and your baby and be grateful for your pregnancy and not like how you are feeling in your body at the time.
So I think that’s where I am at. I debated sharing this post because it is a bit vulnerable for me to admit that I have been struggling with how I relate to my body image but I think that’s part of the story. I think there is beauty in the hard parts and I think that’s where most of the lessons lie.
I am in this skin and loving my baby, but hating that my back hurts and sad that nothing cute fits and not feeling entirely like myself, but I think that’s okay. The main difference though now is that instead of counting down the days until I can do hot yoga again, I am treating myself with love and care. I am buying myself new comfy pajamas for my soft post-partum body, I splurged on some new face wash and makeup to look forward to, and other ways that I can enjoy myself and my body as we transition out of this phase; none of which involve starving or depriving myself.
Our bodies are vehicles for our beautiful souls through this life. They are forever in flux, they are not fixed, their appearance is not finite. My body now, is not the same as it was last time I was pregnant ,and my body after will not be the same as it was before. My body is not wrong for that, it does not need to be fixed. It needs to be fed, and loved and maybe sometimes ignored. My body is my wonderful powerful vehicle and I thank it every day; but it is not me.