Posted by: Ingrid | August 25, 2013

Body Image and Pregnancy Survival

Pregnancy is really really long.  The experts try to make it seem not so bad, calling it 40 weeks, but when you really think about it, pregnancy will take up most of your year.  Pregnancy #3 has been roughly the same in terms of hitting that point (this time around 30-ish weeks).  The point where, even though you know and have documented your expanding girth, you realize that you just look… pregnant.  That your body is bigger.  That the subtle changes that took place those first miserable 20+ weeks where not a whole lot happened have lulled you into a false sense that you look normal.  Maybe just a little pregnant, but really quite normal.

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I was thinking about the phrase “great with child” today, and really feel that I am more “moderate with child”, if such a thing exists.  I don’t feel huge (except at the end of the day when I am extremely tired and feel nauseous and throw up dinner and my varicose veins are aching and swollen and I am in bed by 8:30…) and the firm bump of baby isn’t really that cumbersome and not nearly as traumatizing as the baby-less cavern it will be in about 9 weeks.

But then I think that it will be funny to go back and look through old pictures.  Pictures that I took during the 5 days between a positive pregnancy test and the start of constant nausea and vomiting.

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Bad bad move.  I’d sort of forgotten what I looked like.  I forgot that seeing my feet was the norm.  I forgot that I looked like a normal person then.  I wore clothes that buttoned and zipped.  I had abs for goodness sake!  Lesson learned: Documentation is not always your friend, particularly when you have lots of late pregnancy hormones going strong.  In that case, documentation will cause you to throw yourself on the bed and weep.

Pregnancy is just weird.  You can read all about how your body will change and how you will gain X over Y weeks but what really happens mostly seems to be determined by your body and not much you can do will change that.  I have officially documented this by talking with numerous pregnant friends over the years – very official research.  I have learned, for example, that as soon as I am pregnant I will not lose weight.  I can throw up for months, exercise, and not eat nearly what a person my size should be able, and my weight will hardly change.  Then once I move into the second trimester, all bets are off.  There is no half-pound gain a week.  A half pound one week and three the next with no real correlation to eating, exercise, or anything else.  I think this is part of what can make pregnancy so maddening – you just have no idea how your body will respond for 40 weeks.  You can wear the same things for weeks and then, just like that, outgrow a handful of shirts and pants overnight.  Very disorienting.

The plus side to be in the later stages of pregnancy is moving beyond the not-so-fun stage that lasts from about the time I get pregnant to the early 20’s.  The bloated stage where things fit weird and some days you think you are showing and then you aren’t and the weight goes to really weird places.  I find that the late 20’s to mid-30’s are a whole lot better for pregnancy body image.  Things may be rounding out all over but at least there is a bump and everyone knows it has to do with a baby.

It definitely helps to know a little of what to expect.  I feel like, while having a constantly changing body has not been fun, it hasn’t been quite as traumatic because I know a little of what to anticipate and what to avoid, try to moderate, or embrace.  Some lessons learned:

1.  Don’t suddenly decide to line entire walls with mirrors.  We have a full length mirror on our door and the mirror in the bathroom.  So my mirror crisis hit when Husband and I stayed at a hotel for two nights in early August.  Big mirrors!  Everywhere!  I was appalled at how round and pregnant I looked!  It took a lot of effort to not be upset and depressed that I could look like that and I assiduously avoided eye contact with myself sometimes because I couldn’t help but pick apart how my body had changed.  So save that home improvement project for much later.  Or maybe never.

2.  Have as much wardrobe variety as you can borrow or afford and stop wearing stuff as soon as it feels funny.  I love the fact that there have been shirts that I can wear once and then never wear again because they belong to someone else.  Also, form fitting stuff will always trump baggy items, and avoid the short skirts that Fit Pregnancy seems to think all women should want to wear.

3.  Stay active doing something you love.  I feel like running has helped this pregnancy feel better than the last, when I was mostly stuck cross training.  Doing what I love (even if it’s slower and less mileage) helps me feel more at home in a body that feels more alien by the week.

4.  Moderate your comparison.  I would say “Don’t compare.”  But seriously that seems a little unreasonable if you read books, watch movies, flip through magazines, or have friends.  You’re comparing.  I’m comparing.  So I try to avoid things that I know will set off body image angst or at least acknowledge when I am comparing and falling short, reminding myself that I am having my own individual pregnant experience and that’s okay.  I may not believe it at the time, but it helps (a little) to say it.

5.  Most importantly, keep around a husband who will randomly say things like, “Wow!  I can’t believe how good (amazing, hot, fabulous, etc.) you look when you’re pregnant.  Wow!”  Seriously, a verbally demonstrative husband is better than a mirror any day!

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