First, yesterday at the dog park, a woman my husband and I were chatting with asked when I was due. (Cue the fireworks, marching band, and streamers!).
I was wearing my fave pre-pregnancy gray winter trench coat, belted above my growing bump, and only buttoned on the first button. I finally felt like I actually “looked” pregnant from the front (not just the side) and was completely flattered and pleased with her comment.
Of course, I realize one of the biggest social blunders someone can make is asking a non-pregnant woman when she’s due, and I also recognize that I don’t look 100% obviously pregnant. So this was huge for me that she noticed and felt confident enough to ask. And it was such a big deal because she was the first random person to come out and ask me point-blank when I’m due without me ever mentioning the pregnancy in conversation.
When I told her “next month,” she was definitely surprised, but complimented me on how good/healthy I looked. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to defend myself with saying, “Oh, it’s my first.” or “My mom carried pretty small,too.” This time, I just smiled, said thank you, and we continued to talk about baby gender, names, etc. I felt like a million bucks when we left because it felt so effortless to just talk so openly without any hint of judgment on her part. (Her dogs were also adorable, might I add!)
Then today at lunch, I was at a local deli chatting with a male co-worker I ran into (who did not know I was pregnant; I never see him and we’re not close) and was surprised to find out I was as far along as I am.
A woman behind us in line politely interrupted and said, “I’m so sorry to butt in, but did you say you’re due next month?!” with an awed-tinged incredulity in her voice. This is the Midwest, so I was kind of caught off guard at her brazen-ness (however polite it was!), but said, “Yup!” and she said “Wow!,” that I looked “so tiny” and she was just surprised; she said she wanted to make sure she’d heard me right because I definitely didn’t look like I was about eight months along.
We chatted while we waited for our orders, and from that conversation I could tell that deep down, she totally meant what she said as a compliment. Really, I know this. But, as I’ve expressed in the past, comments like that really make me feel uncomfortable, like I’m being judged for not looking “big enough,”even now, at the tail-end of my pregnancy.
I found myself offering the defensive statements I was able to avoid with the woman yesterday at the dog park. Stuff like, “Yea, it’s my first.” and “Well, my mom carried pretty small so I’m guessing it’s genetic.” and (my fave!) “See, she’s in there!” (turning to the side for a better view and pointing at my belly). I realize how silly it is to feel on the defensive, but that IS how I feel when these incidents occur.
I left feeling a little sad but channeled how good I felt yesterday at the dog park and tried to just let the comments go (save for this post).
Now, I know no one MEANS anything by comments such as these … and maybe part of it is people are used to seeing women putting on significantly more weight in pregnancy or just having much bigger bumps … but the thing is, we’re all unique and I might balloon up straight away with my next baby. Who knows!
I don’t know if it’s the media’s fixation on baby bumps and obsession with womens’ post-baby bodies, but it’s like pregnancy opens your body up for judgment, for better or for worse. It’s like there’s this pressure to be Goldilocks and gain the “juuuuuust right” amount of weight (and have a cute basketball in front) to be socially accepted.
Now, as someone who has dealt with body image issues over the years, I’m the first to admit I wanted a cute bump (which I think I have ;)). I’m also the first to admit I wouldn’t want to be called “big” … (or asked “are you sure there aren’t twins in there?”). I wanted to gain the “juuuuust right” amount.
Seeing the other side of the coin, even gaining the “juuuust right” amount hasn’t nixed judgment … or instantly meant bulging bump. To be honest, it’s almost just as hard being called “small” as it is “big” (especially since I’m not a small girl and was about 10-15 lbs overweight before pregnancy); and maybe I’m hyper-sensitive to that because of my background?
The truth is, I’m eating more, exercising less — and I’ve gained 21 lbs already as of my last weigh-in last Friday, which puts me exactly on track to gain the healthy 25 or so my doctor recommended (I should be aiming to gain about a pound a week now, which I’ve been doing throughout the third trimester).
[Since I’m not carrying very big, I’m guessing a lot of it is fluid/blood volume/baby/etc. but who really knows. I might be left with a lot of weight after birth; I might lose it all easily. I have no way of knowing, but the unwritten pressure is definitely there, even if I ignore it or pretend it isn’t.]
I think this body image part of the whole experience is hard and seldom talked about. And I’ve had very mixed feelings about it along the way.
Part of me is secretly pleased I have been able to remain active (until recently, when I had to take a step back) and have felt great the whole time; pleased that I can still touch my toes & shave my legs; pleased I haven’t gone crazy with eating too much, have been able to gain a healthy, recommended amount of weight … Those things make me feel good, like I’m doing the right things.
And the other part of me feels a tinge of envy when I see the other pregnant women with their big bellies, like maybe I am not “making the cut.” Sure, I have a nice baby bump where my unborn daughter has taken up cozy residence, but it looks a lot smaller than I expected it to look and the fact that Maya was measuring on the “small side of normal” doesn’t help allay the fears I have that maybe I should have done something more/could do more? I mean, really, this should be about her … not my body. But she’s living in my body, so it’s hard to separate the two.
My doctor swears there’s nothing I could have done/could do now; both my OB and perinatologist said genetically she was probably predisposed to be small since my husband and I were small babies and that I might need to just accept she may just be a peanut at birth … but it’s hard not to feel some sense of guilt, especially when you’re 100 percent responsible for her growth and development … and hearing lots of commentary about the size of your bump.
My next ultrasound is Nov 23, so we’ll know more about her growth then, and I hope since I’m growing/gaining, it means she is, too. It’s just scary, all of it … and what appears to be a “vanity” issue is far more deep-rooted and psychological than it might appear on the surface. Just as losing weight is a very psychological experience, so too, is pregnancy.
It’s been an amazing ride so far and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I just have to remember some (body image) days will be easier than others and sometimes it’ll be a mixed bag. Like the facts of life, you take the good, you take the bad …
And in the meantime, time to find a cute top for my maternity photo shoot we’re doing Thursday with my amazing friend, photographer and blog reader, Staci 😉 …