In Pregnancy, a Neon Sign Might as Well Read: “Open for Judgment 24/7”

The past two days I had two interesting  body image experiences worthy of sharing here.

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 😉 …

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14 thoughts on “In Pregnancy, a Neon Sign Might as Well Read: “Open for Judgment 24/7”

  1. My sister would love this post, as she has said that pregnancy has meant having to fend off a TON of comments (and she’s not usually a sensitive person; I think the hormones are craziness though). My sister is a very small person, but her bump is huge — like a big beach ball under her shirt. Total strangers have asked if she’s carrying twins. She says, “No” and they have the audacity to say, “Are you sure?” Eyeroll. I don’t know why people feel the need to comment on all this stuff! At work, people ask about what she’s eating and why and feel the need to give their opinions on things. Anyway, my sister is actually being induced RIGHT NOW. I’m bummed for her as she wanted to do a home birth, but the little guy is just too overdue! You seem to be handling everything with your pregnancy so gracefully! I know it must take work!

    1. Kim, I’ve missed your blog in my Google reader and when I just clicked on your name, realized I didn’t have the new domain name!! EEKS! I thought you’d taken a break!

      Anyway, congrats to your sister first of all. I’m sorry she had to be induced and didn’t get the home birth she wanted, but so glad she’ll be a mommy any moment now! I am sorry she has experienced peoples’ judgments as well … it is so so frustrating and I totally can feel her pain!

      Thinking good thoughts for you and your family 🙂

  2. I absolutely resonate with everything you have written here! I have a fifteen month old (our first) and having come out of years and years of an eating disorder I was not sure how pregnancy would feel both physically and mentally. I ran through my entire pregnancy and stayed fairly small (total gain of 21 pounds) but did not expect at all how inadequate I sometimes felt when people would tell me how small I looked. I was sent several times to get third trimester ultrasounds because I continually measured small even though everything was just fine and Isaac was 7 lbs 6 oz at birth. It was frustrating to run the gauntlet of feeling big one day (“Wow! You’ve really popped out!”) and too small the next. And you’re right, when you’re pregnant everyone seems to feel entitled to give commentary about your body!

    Thanks for sharing your pregnancy experience. I’ve enjoyed reading!

    1. Hello and thank you so much for sharing, xapis. It’s good to know we’re not alone in these feelings and that’s great Isaac measured much bigger than expected–maybe Maya will, too! Yea, it’s definitely a hard thing to grapple with and something even women who have experienced pregnancy might not be able to completely relate to.

      Thank you 🙂 I am glad to know I’m reaching new readers!

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Melissa! 🙂

    You are BEAUTIFUL and I hope the pictures we do Thursday will make you proud and show everyone just how fabulously pregnant you look.

    As I’ve said from the start, your body will do what it needs to do and I believe yours has. You treated yourself well and you’ve given Maya everything she would possibly need.

    1. My pleasure sweetie–so stoked! I got a new pair of maternity jeans & top (though I’m not sure about the top) tonight specifically for the shoot 😉

      Thank you … that means a lot. I just feel a lot of unwritten/unspoken pressures that are hard to express and I do believe I’m doing all the right things; I just can’t help but worry they’re not enough. But, as Luis always says, I need to have faith!!

  4. I so strongly relate to this, although coming at it from a different angle (not having ever dealt with restrictive eating). It got so incredibly tiresome hearing, “You’re pregnant?!?!” and then later, “You’re due when?!?!” I took away from it thoughts along the same line as yours. I grew to appreciate my body for what it was doing and the uniqueness of the pregnancy problem. I was scared of gaining too much weight so I was relieved I wasn’t dealing with that. I worried constantly but now that I know that Nate is basically perfect, I REALLY marvel at the process. Yes, I gained 10 lbs. Yes, Nate weighed 8 at birth. Yes, we were both perfectly healthy the whole way through. It makes me want to say, “So there! Tells you something about expectations and norms!” If there’s any human process that would be unique, why wouldn’t it be pregnancy?? So, yes, have faith and feel good about yourself!

      1. I am so glad to be reassured by stories like yours, Candice. And I like this: “If there’s any human process that would be unique, why wouldn’t it be pregnancy??” AMEN.

  5. Melissa, I just looked at your photos again and you look absolutely, positively gorgeous and glowing. 🙂 And you’re right, every woman is so different with the way they carry.

    I had the opposite problem. I am 5’1″ and was a size 2 pre-pregnancy. I gained 40 lbs (and my son was born early so I probably would have gained more). I looked like a beached whale. I say that jokingly, but at the time it didn’t feel like a joke. I gained weight everywhere – my face, my lips, my feet, my arms, my legs, my butt. My stomach was so big that it literally got in the way of me doing stuff. I had to ignore the “are you sure it’s not twins” comments after awhile. And…my son was only 6 lbs. I wasn’t carrying a 10-pounder in there! Maya will be just fine, I know it!

    1. Thanks so much, Alison! I posted a 35 week pic today 😉 I can see how no matter how we carry, we’re open to uncomfortable, unsolicited judgments and it’s just completely unfair. I hope she is just fine; I know in my heart I’ve been doing all the right things and even taking a break from more traditional (for me) exercise for her has been a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Just need to keep her warm and incubated for another few weeks!

  6. I truly think you’re amazing.Thanks so much for your honesty. I have learnt so much from you and who knows maybe one day I’ll be able to get over my issues and have a baby too!

    Thank you x

    1. Thank you so much, L — that really means a lot. I have been absolutely candid here and I know that though it puts me in an uncomfortable position at times, knowing it is helping others to hear my perspective on things really gives me encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing. Thank you!

  7. I understand. Don’t let it get ya down. I am a dwarf, and have 2 children. (and I got very big, at 3 months I looked about 6 months along, people also jumped to the conclusion I was either past due or having twins)

    The problem with mine was people coming up to me and asking how I could be comfortable with being a kid and having one at the same time. it was even uncomfortable having to explain that I was 21 (at the time).

    And even now at 23 with both my children. they call my kids my brother and sister, and when they call me mommy they always object and force my age out of me. People don’t know when to stop judging, unfortunately they all have to express it and don’t realize how upsetting their conclusions are.

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