Body Anxiety

… or lack thereof…

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img_1415One of the things that being pregnant does is lead you to an array of online and print pieces talking about all things pregnancy, as well as hearing about all your family and friends’ experiences, ranging from what kept them alive during the first trimester to what they felt most comfortable wearing late in their third trimester. One of the things that I wasn’t expecting, however, was the overwhelming amount of body anxiety–and anxiety about having body anxiety–that I’ve encountered.

As flippant as I can be about how unnatural I think pregnancy is–because it’s fucking weird and terrifying–one thing that I know and have always known is that the body of a pregnant woman undergoes drastic changes, none of which are in her control. Some women gain a lot of weight while others struggle to add even a pound. Some women have horrible “morning” sickness throughout the gestational period while others are lucky enough to experience none of it. There is no real rhyme or reason to how a woman’s body will react; even each subsequent pregnancy will be different from the previous one. So, one question that boggles my mind is this: why do so many women experience body anxiety as their bodies change and grow, one of the most predictable–and dare I say “natural”–parts of being pregnant?

I blame our fucking culture in general. I don’t need to link you to images of slim celebrities or articles about how Famous Actress lost her baby weight in just six weeks! or, and this is my new “favorite,” the pregnancy site advice not to be anxious. If you’ve been recently pregnant, or currently are, then you may be familiar with the Bump app. This app allows you to track the development of your fetus, as well as updating you on your own body’s changes, with a handy fruit example of how big the fetus (always referred to as “baby,” sans direct article) is and links to different and supposedly relevant information for each week. I mostly keep it for the brief biological info that it condenses about the fetus and the fruit–as of today, the Rage Monkey should be about the size of a pomegranate.

However, one thing that supremely annoyed me while reading up on my week 17 today was this tidbit: “Make sure you document your growing bump by taking lots of photos. Sure, you might not always feel so pretty, but one day you’re going to look back at pregnancy and reminisce (really—we promise).” Dude, fuck off! I don’t always feel pretty even when not a walking fucking incubator! What makes you think a pregnant woman, who may or may not be feeling anxious about her changing body, wants to read that‽‽ If anything, all that does is plant the wriggling seed of anxiety about body anxiety. Will you get it? Should you get it? Is it normal or abnormal to get it? I repeat FUCK OFF.

Also, not all pregnant women want to photographically document their growing fetal protrusion (I hereby rid myself forever of that loathsome “baby bump” phrase), ok? I’m definitely not posing for month-by-month pictures ever, but I won’t shy away from the camera for random things that happen to include my pregnant body in them. Get over it.

We are all entitled to feel however the fuck we feel while pregnant. If a pregnant woman feels ugly, let her own and have that feeling. Ask her to talk about it in a positive way if she’s willing to and especially if it seems like her mental health is at stake. As John can attest, though, sometimes I just need to feel whatever negative feeling I’m experiencing. I’ve told him many times “Just let me have my anger!” or “Just let me be sad!” because sometimes, the best thing for me is to feel the emotion to its fullest, mostly so that I can understand it and move on. Not all pregnant women experience pregnancy the same way, so stop implying that we should.

While my fetal protrusion is still rather small, and I can’t promise to feel this way ten or twenty weeks from now, I feel beautiful. The picture in this post is from just this past weekend when John and I drove to Ohio to spend the weekend with my Mama and stepdad Michael for Mama’s 60th birthday. All she wanted was a road trip to the Columbus Zoo, which also, apparently, has a water park. After spending a few hours laughing at the cutest polar cub playing in the water and trying to hold back tears as I gazed on a bunch of Asian elephants, we had lunch and then went directly to the lazy river. 🙂

The bathing suit that I’m wearing in the picture was purchased a little over four months ago for a different weekend trip that involved a hot tub and a forgotten bathing suit. Now, my pregnant breasts are a little too big for the top, and I kept pushing the waistband of the bottoms even lower because they felt a little constricting when they were at their usual place. But if you look at this picture, you can’t tell that I’m pregnant unless you know me well. Anyone who knows me (and my body) well would know that I hadn’t just gained weight because when I do gain weight, it spreads out evenly; it doesn’t just concentrate in one area, like my stomach.

But walking around the water park that afternoon, I never once felt self-conscious about my stomach. Prior to being pregnant, in fact, I hadn’t worn a two piece bathing suit comfortably in years. Years. After being an athlete in high school (basketball) and college (ultimate frisbee), gaining weight in my later college years and grad school did a number on my body confidence. Before conceiving, I’d say that I’ve been, at minimum, 15 pounds overweight and, at maximum, 45 pounds overweight at various times in the last decade. The worst of it was in the last semester of my PhD when I was losing my sanity as I was gaining the pounds. Let’s put it this way: in the summer after graduating, I lost 20 pounds (gradually, due to a healthier diet and more physical activity) and was still 25 pounds overweight.

Then I got pregnant! Hahahahaha! Suddenly, my previous anxiety about my body, which had more to do with getting used to an athletic body that no longer had the time to exercise vigorously for two hours a day, five days a week, just melted away. My only bodily concerns now include not gaining weight too fast (gestational diabetes runs in my family), not gaining enough weight (because worry over the health of the Rage Monkey), and not gaining more weight than is healthy for someone who began the pregnancy already overweight (the doctor said I shouldn’t gain more than 25 pounds by the end–I hope I can keep to that). However, none of this has to do with how my body looks or feels beyond the occasional constipation (pregnancy digestive issues are real), the itchy breasts, or the dull headaches that seem to be a second trimester thing for me.

I feel wonderful (when my stomach doesn’t hurt). I feel beautiful, even when I don’t brush my hair for a week at a time. And I refuse to let pop culture and pregnancy culture make me feel anything other than wonderfully beautiful, even with their twisted notions of “helping.” I only wish that I could help all pregnant women feel the same way.

No, I don’t connect this feeling beautiful to the “isn’t pregnancy magical” sentiment at all. My sudden lack of body anxiety is precisely because I’m pregnant and therefore any changes to my body aren’t within my control. Do you have any idea how liberating that is?

But don’t quote me on that. Like I said, let’s check back in twenty weeks.

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