Wednesday, February 8, 2012

pregnancy body image

I started to write this same post yesterday, but ended up erasing it. I'm not sure if it was out of embarrassment, fear of being judged, or that I was judging myself for even feeling this way so I thought if I erased what I wrote the feelings would go away. Probably a combination of all those things. It's just that I've tried so hard to constantly look at my body as a miracle and at my expanding belly as a sacred experience for the last 29 weeks, but I find it pretty much impossible to think that way all the time. No matter what type of body we start out with before we conceive, we are bound to struggle with our new body, because let's face it, our bodies are going through an ENORMOUS change! HUGE. And it's not just an expanding belly either, it's a head-to-toe transformation and who can experience that and not feel a bit insecure? Personally, I've heard the phrase "you're all belly" quite a few times during my pregnancy, but that's not at all the way I've experienced it (although, thank you to all for the compliment!).

My reality goes a little something like this….my skin was the first to go. I spent my first trimester battling horrendous breakouts, the darkest circles I've ever seen under my eyes, broken blood vessels on my cheeks from vomiting, a pale, greenish tinge to my complexion, and inexplicable blotchy red spots painting my face. Once I hit my second trimester my skin miraculously cleared up completely and I ditched all the previous maladies, but then it became dry and itchy head-to-toe. Seriously, the top of my forehead is forever itchy—what is that about? Then there was my hair. In my first trimester it became so dry and brittle looking that I resorted to wearing my hair slicked back in a pony tail every day until just recently. And even though my hair did eventually become thick and shiny like you often hear is common in pregnancy, it's still incapable of being styled. I've completely given up on it. And I've mentioned my chins (yes, plural). I try to conceal them as much as possible when I post pictures, but the reality is that I delete 3/4 of the pictures I take every week (for my weekly updates) due to the chins. 

Arm pits—why are you immune to deodorant now? Granted I use the natural stuff, which is known to be much less effective, but still. I slather it on and 15 minutes later it's like it never happened. I remember my husband remarking in bed one night when I was newly pregnant, "you smell different as a pregnant woman." I didn't know how to take that then, and still don't. Also, skin tags. Yes, they are small and I'm sure no one other than me notices them, but they weren't there before and now they are everywhere. Another thing that's not noticeable to most people is the crazy amount of body hair I've been growing. I'm lucky that's it's baby blonde and it's winter, but for real, my belly is fuzzy. And my legs? I used to shave them every day pre-pregnancy, but I gave up on those gams months ago. I can't keep up with the hair, nor can I reach them. 

Don't even get me started on my boobs. I've never had much in that department so most people assume I'm thrilled to be growing at an exorbitant rate, but I'm not. Sure, it's fun for a minute to look down and actually see cleavage and laugh about their crazy size with my husband. But, honest to god the growing scares me. I nearly spit at the woman measuring me for new bras last week when she said the letter D and proceeded to tell me that I should expect to grow somewhere around another 3 sizes by the time I start breastfeeding. I thought someone as small as me pre-pregnancy would top out at maybe a C, but this is ridiculous. The thing people don't realize is that it's not that exciting to grow boobs as a pregnant woman (at least for me). They are painful and I find them unwieldy. I keep them well hidden in maternity bras that strap them down and keep the cleavage at bay when I used to think I'd flaunt them while I had them during pregnancy. They don't feel sexy or enticing to me, they feel like nonsexual orbs that are purely functional. And the more they grow, the more I worry about them stretching out and being ruined for life. I prefered small and perfectly perky. I'll leave the boob talk at that. 

What comes after boobs? Ass. I have so much junk in this trunk it's unreal. If I had the use of my hips and abdominal muscles right now, I admit I would shake it like I was in a rap video….mostly for the amusement of my husband. The reality is though, that if I try to put on my pre-pregnancy underwear they get swallowed up by that junk. They've basically become thongs. Thank god for maternity underwear! My hips—they have widened, as is to be expected. But, they are also now covered by a thick layer of maternal padding, which nicely accentuates the saddle bags I've grown overnight. Then there are my legs. I've always had the skinniest legs, and I'm sure you could argue that they are still on the skinny side, but then please tell me why I can no longer wear socks. They cut my circulation off they are so tight. I have roll them down to my ankles like it's 1988 and my calves are freezing because it's 11 degrees outside.

I'm going to stop there. That's all that I can handle recounting at the moment. But, believe me, there are plenty of other things happening to this body of mine (is it really mine? it sure doesn't feel familiar) that are better left unsaid. The interesting thing is, this list does not feel like self-loathing to me, it simply feels like reality. It is what it is and I try to laugh about it when I can.

I get it—I'm pregnant, I'm supposed to put on weight and all my body parts are supposed to be behaving exactly as they are, it's a miracle that I can grow a child inside me, that I got pregnant in the first place, and all of this craziness is for the sake of and health of my precious bean. And I totally appreciate all of that. Really. I have my days when I look in the mirror and am damn proud of this fruitful, curvaceous temple, days when I shoot strangers looks that say "yah, that's right, my body is very talented, it's busy making miracles happen. What's yours doing? Digesting a sandwich?" In fact, I think I've done a fairly good job of making sure I gaze at my new form in awe and love at least once a day. BUT, I'm still a pregnant woman and I think it comes with the territory to also spend some time freaking out about what's going on with this body that used to feel like mine, that used to feel like I was in control of, that used to feel and look familiar. I have days when I realize that at some point this taut, round belly is no longer going to be filled with a baby and then what? What's that going to look like? Will you call me "cute" then like you do with a belly full of baby? Will I ever look like me again? 

I love the way women become ultra supportive of one another when one of us is pregnant—it's a sisterhood filled with understanding looks and words of encouragement, and an ability to see the beauty in one another when maybe we can't see it for ourselves. I know I definitely need that! But, I think in a way, we also need to be allowed to freak out a little bit about what's going on with our bodies, because all miracles aside, it's an enormous transition. It's not easy to wake up every day looking totally different in the mirror than the day before. It's not easy to cope with that much change. Perhaps those insecurities would be nonexistent in another society, someplace where pregnancy is worshipped and skinny, eternally young looking women weren't the ideal. But, we live in America and personally, I can't help but freak out once in a while. It goes a little something like: surrender, surrender, surrender, freak the $@*! out, and repeat. And I'm okay with that. I think if we can appreciate and smile at our pregnant selves at least part of the time, we're doing all right.

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