Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Pregnant Body, in All Its Glory and Horror

There's a wonderful and timely (for me!) post today over at Already Pretty about pregnancy and body image. As a woman who is currently 7 months pregnant, and who just got back to her pre-pregnancy size (after almost 3 years!) only about 2 weeks before finding out I was pregnant again, it's nice to know that I have a lot of company out there in that even though pregnancy is a magical time for many women, not all of the side effects are as well-loved, and not all of the changes are wanted.
It's not easy to always be happy with the changes going on in your body and how they manifest on the outside. I know it might sound vain to some, but for many women, especially those who have struggled with weight and body image issues in the past, the extra weight is just unwanted, and it's hard to accept that the weight gained during pregnancy serves an important purpose! The hardest time for some is after the baby is born, when the body just doesn't look like it did before (Lord knows it takes time to get back to pre-pregnancy shape, and some of us never get there). Even during pregnancy, women are bombarded with ideas about what we should look like. As in: Heidi Klum! Not Kim Kardashian! God forbid Jessica Simpson! Unfortunately I find that on a good day, pregnant as I am, I look something like Humpty Dumpty, or maybe Tweedle Dum (I carry my baby weight in a way that makes me look like an egg. So what?). And the ideas of what we should look like come from everywhere. My mother-in-law, who is thin as a twig, always reminds me that she gained 70 lbs. with her pregnancies but both times lost it all before she got home from the hospital (with the assumption being that I should too). Pressure from the doctor to only gain a certain amount may be very great too, and as well-meaning as it seems this can be problematic as it can send the wrong message, that dieting or under-eating (or even over-exercising) during pregnancy is ok or even expected for overweight patients.
My body image journey has been a complicated one, and pregnancy has played a large role in that.  I started out slim as a child and young teen and then, due to a number of factors, really packed on the pounds at around age 17, topping out at about 250 lbs. (size 18-20) at age 19, right after I got married. Over the next few years I lost about 90 lbs., getting down to around 160 (a size 10), which worked for me even though it was slightly higher than the recommended weight for my height. It was just where I felt comfortable and no longer had to diet and exercise like a maniac to maintain my weight; I could hike and do yoga and even enjoy the occasional treat and not feel guilty and starve myself for days. I finally felt healthy, both physically and emotionally. Then I got pregnant for the first time, and I was so excited. I loved to see the changes in my body at that time! But at about 21 weeks of pregnancy, when I was showing and glowing and just so happy, I had an unexpected and unexplainable miscarriage. At that point, with so much other emotional upset going on, the extra weight, which it seemed I had put on for no reason, was like an added slap in the face. It took a long time to take it back off as well. I felt like my body had failed me not once but twice, in that it just could not do what came so naturally to others (first, carrying a child to term, and second, losing the "baby" weight that in my mind had no right to be there, since there was no baby). 
I lost most some of that weight before I got pregnant again. This time, I carried to term, but it packed about 35 lbs. on to my already-slightly-larger frame. Right after Stenni was born, I was just under 200 lbs. again, and so unhappy with the way I looked and felt. After lots of time at the gym and doing yoga and endless dieting (not to mention about a year and a half), I lost about 20 pounds and got pregnant again. I lost this baby at about 9 weeks, before there were any outward physical signs of pregnancy. But I knew what had happened, and again it felt like my body had betrayed me. This led to a host of other issues and it took a long time to work through them to become comfortable with the way I felt and the way I looked all over again. 
When I became pregnant again (right after deciding to stop trying and start training for half marathon), I honestly didn't have high hopes or expectations for the pregnancy. But what I did know was that I didn't want my weight to creep up and up and up like it had in previous pregnancies. I knew I couldn't exercise as much, but I also couldn't diet, count calories, or anything like that, so gradually, the weight would have to reappear. I've tried to take a more balanced approach this time: I know I can't stick to broiled chicken breast, kale, and watermelon, but I haven't (completely) turned into cookie monster either. When I was at the fair, on vacation, and at my daughter's birthday party, I had a few little treats. I tried not to eat the whole bag of zeppoles at the shore (why hubs thought I needed 12, I'll never know) because eating for two doesn't mean gaining for two. Now I have a healthy pregnancy and at 31 weeks, I've gained 25 lbs., which is about average. Truth be told, I only wanted to gain 25 lbs. total, but taking a healthy approach and also cutting myself some slack, that's just not how it worked out. Most days I'm fine with that. Other days I want to take everything from my closet, throw it all in a pile on my deck, burn it, and wear a toga made out of bedsheets. But I'm hormonal, so I'm pretty sure that feeling is mostly natural. I know that I can get my body back in time but right now I'd like to focus on having a healthy baby. Now I've been told that I look like I'm going to deliver any day, or that I don't look pregnant at all. I've been told that I need to exercise more, and exercise less. People have all kinds of opinions about a pregnant body because they feel like there's some kind of public ownership of it. I'm really not a touchy-feely kind of person, and the only ones allowed to touch my belly are medical professionals, hubs, and Stenni. Especially Stenni, because she's 3, and I want this pregnancy to be something special for her too, because she is so excited about it and really psyched to get a brother at the end of it all. Sometimes she even puts a stuffed animal under her shirt and tells me that she's having a baby too, and although this would be awful if she were much older, at her age it's just too cute, how interested she is in the pregnancy. When I start to think negative things about my body, I just try to imagine it through her eyes and how magical it must seem, and it does really make a lot of the more heinous thoughts about the weight gain kind of disappear.
Just one more thing: No matter what anyone tells you, nursing is not magic bullet. It will not instantly give you your old body back. It does burn calories, but think about the fact that you are sitting on your butt the whole time you do it (not moving around, or even standing). Stenni was a pretty small baby and wanted to be nursed round-the-clock, and I nursed her for 10 months, usually about 7 hours a day. Yes. 7. Hours. A. Day. I'm glad I did it, because she's so healthy, smart and active now, but when I think back on it, it wasn't my favorite way to pass the time. But if you want to nurse, do it because it's good for the baby, not for your body's sake. For your body's sake, so a few squats and maybe some lunges first, and drink some extra water. Trust me on that one.
Right now I'm just happy that I'm healthy and I'm not-so-patiently waiting for my little guy, Cuatro, to get here and grace us with his presence. And if I want a gingersnap, then I'm going to have the damn gingersnap, and not worry about who is thinking what about it or how long it's going to take me to burn it off later. Health is my goal this time around.

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