When You Hate Your Pregnant Body
Conflicted and intrusive thoughts are ruining her pregnancy.
Dearest Amy/Amalah/Best Advice Giver Ever,
I am 25 weeks pregnant and beyond excited for this little baby girl to grace me with her presence. I wanted this pregnancy more than anything and on our one year wedding anniversary, I got to tell my hubby that we were expecting. We were off to a perfect start and my husband and I were thrilled….until the weight gain came.
I started my pregnancy at what would be considered a very healthy weight. I was 133 pounds at 5’6″. I was thin! But it didn’t matter. I have always struggled with my body image and accepting all of these extra pounds has been quite a problem, to say the least. I end up in tears every morning when I try to get dressed. I look down and get excited to see my belly, and then I see myself in that stupid mirror and OMG – my butt, my thighs, my arms. I can’t handle it and I break down.
I have gained 20 pounds so far. Although my doctor hasn’t mentioned any concern about my weight gain, it seems excessive to me. I dwell on that number daily. TWENTY POUNDS. It is consuming my life.
I want to enjoy this pregnancy more than anything. I want to accept my changing body. I want to believe all the wonderful things that people say about me. So my question to you is – What do you do when you don’t love your pregnant body? Am I doomed to be miserable in my body for the next 15 weeks? What if the baby gets here and I can’t enjoy her because I am so focused on how disgusting I am?
I would be forever appreciative of any advice you could give me.
Thanks in advance!
Oh, sweetie. You feel how you feel. It’s okay. It’s not any indication of the kind of mother you’ll be. It doesn’t mean that you’re ungrateful or shallow or Failing At Pregnancy.
For the record: 20 pounds at 25 weeks is not excessive. Not even close. Here’s a breakdown of the wheres and hows and whats of full-term pregnancy weight gain:
12 pounds: Maternal stores (fat, protein, Cheezits, etc.)
4 pounds: Increased fluid volume, aka water weight, aka blooooaaaat
2 pounds: IN YOUR BRA
2 pounds: Uterus
2 pounds: Amniotic fluid
1.5 pounds: Mmmmmplacenta
7.5 pounds: Baby! (“HA!” says the woman who birthed a 10-pounder.)
Seriously, start at the top of that list and you’ll rack up 20 pounds before you even include the fluid, placenta OR ANY BABY AT ALL. At 25 weeks, your baby is about a pound and a half. So that’s 13 pounds of baby and baby-related accessories, which puts your “maternal stores,” the only thing that MIGHT be what we traditionally consider “actual weight gain” (even though it is 100% more than necessary), at a mere 7 pounds. Seven! That’s not a pregnancy, that’s a potato-chip binge while PMSing.
But while you say that it’s the weight gain number that’s consuming your life, but I’m gonna make a guess and say that it’s your FEELINGS about that weight gain number that are actually wigging you out. The “I’m a bad person for feeling this way” implication is just DRIPPING through your email, because you are aware that this is possibly a tad irrational and isn’t how you pictured your pregnancy and what if you hate the baby and what if what if and *breathes into a paper bag omg.*
Pregnant Lady Secret: We all do this. Maybe about the weight gain, maybe about something else. We stress over whether we look “pregnant” or “fat” or whether our boobs are “freakishly big” or not changing enough. We puke and complain about back pain and stare at swollen ankles with frustration and secretly wish we could get this all over with already. And then we take these TOTALLY NORMAL REACTIONS to a COMPLETELY LIFE-CHANGING PROCESS and turn them inward as proof that we are going to be bad mothers or are “missing out” on some amazing universal experience and pregnancy ideal that doesn’t freaking exist.
Personally, my descent into pregnancy-related anxiety began at our 20-week ultrasound, when we found out we were having a boy. I’d been sort-of kind-of hoping for a girl. I felt a pinprick of disappointment and a single involuntary tear when the technician announced Noah’s sex and I proceeded to spend the next 20 weeks completely beating myself up about that reaction. Clearly, I was an ungrateful monster. My son was going to sense that I felt that way. We weren’t going to bond.
Full-on anxiety attacks. For WEEKS. Which I then took to mean that I was still upset about the presence of a penis because why was I anything other than 100% deliriously happy? What was wrong with me? Rinse, repeat, recycle.
And then Noah was born and I literally burst out laughing at myself in the recovery room when I thought of how WORRIED I’D BEEN THAT I WASN’T GOING TO LOVE HIM.
Basically: It’s okay if you DON’T love your pregnant body. Obviously, I wish you could. I want you to, because I’m betting you’re goddamned adorable (And I’ll present evidence to that end in just a bit). I’d definitely suggest 1) getting rid of your own scale and any full-length mirrors, 2) asking the nurse to weigh you facing away from the office scale and not tell you the number, and 3) maybe, JUST MAYBE, hiring a professional photographer for a maternity portrait session — one that’s designed to focus on the belly and not your butt and thighs; one that’s completely focused on making you look and feel pretty. You don’t even have to look at the photos now. But someday — when you are less hormonal and more objective — you’ll be happy to have something that celebrated how you really looked, even if you can’t quite see it right now.
For now, give yourself a break, both on the weight gain front AND DOUBLY on the fretting-about-your-feelings-about-the-weight-gain front. When you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t like what you see, refuse to feel guilty about that. Make a face at yourself and let the feeling kind of wash over you and through you, just like you might with any type of anxiety. (Generally, the more you “fight off” feelings of anxiety, the more likely they are to escalate to panic or breakdowns.) Acknowledge that hey, you really don’t love this aspect of pregnancy, and you don’t really *have to*. It’s temporary. It’s worth it. You know it’s worth it, even if you don’t like it. Eh.
And now, an email I received a few days after yours:
Well first, a disclaimer: my sister and I are obsessed with you. Like the kind of obsessed that would probably make you nervous if you knew about it. I mean, we don’t want to stalk you and collect your hair for a hair doll or anything, but if we could just go have a drink with you and play with your babies, I think we would die happy. That kind. “Amalah” is probably uttered at least 3 times a day in our conversations (ie. “did you see what Amalah wrote about X?” or when I get a twitter update from you sent to my phone (and I don’t even twitter… I made an account purely to follow your hilarity) and my sister says “who was that?” and I say Amalah, casually, because we’re bffs).
My sister already sent you an email a couple of days ago, the gist of which was something like, “I’m pregnant, I’ve always wanted to be pregnant, I am so excited that I’m pregnant, but I feel SO FAT that it’s taking the fun away and I’m far more miserable about pregnancy than I am ecstatic. What to do, what to do, Amalah?”
And my question is… COULD YOU PLEASE ANSWER HER?
I kind of doubt that she was able to convey how miserable her pregnancy is making her simply because she cannot handle gaining weight. It’s not just that she looks in the mirror and is like UGH gross, and puts on her clothes and moves on. She dwells. She spends insane amounts of time in her closet every morning, in tears and then calls me, in tears. And it’s not like once she is dressed she is okay. She is bothered throughout the day by how big she thinks she is. I can’t tell her enough how adorable and cute I think she is pregnant. But nothing gets through to her.
And by the way, she IS adorable. I don’t just think that because she’s my sister. But she is one of those pregnant people that you see at Target and you nudge your friend to look at her because she’s THAT cute. I know you do that Amalah. I mean, she’s not Heidi Klum tiny or anything, but she’s perfectly normal and cute. You can’t tell she is pregnant from behind, she’s small everywhere else.
This is the longest question ever… in short: my sister’s heart is aching. And it’s making my heart ache. Please, how can she feel more comfortable with pregnancy? And what can I do to help?
Answer me or her and we’ll die happy,
I’m standing by my gut feeling here: Stop fighting the feelings. Stop battling how you feel vs. how you think you should feel. You’re not a bad pregnant lady because you feel fat and huge and all sorts of adjectives.
Since neither you nor your sister mentioned any impact your feelings are having on your eating habits, I have to assume that you at least aren’t struggling with disordered eating or attempting to actively restrict your weight gain. Although that’s sadly not that uncommon either. Quick and dirty research into the world of eating disorders during pregnancy gave me some statistics of 15% to 20% of pregnant women engage in some kind of disordered eating (either calorie restriction or binging/purging). If this is you, well…that’s NOT OKAY, and you need to talk to your doctor ASAP before this becomes less about “I feel big and gross” and more about placental abruption or low-birth weight or early-onset osteoporosis.
But I also got a handy secondary statistic: 80% of pregnant women report moderate to severe dissatisfaction with their bodies. This isn’t awesome either, and I’m guessing this number has jumped in recent years thanks to all the tabloid baby-bump coverage and the sense that we’re all supposed to gain weight ONLY in our stomachs and NO WHERE ELSE and then snap back like a rubber band within 24 hours. But if this number brings you a little comfort that you aren’t alone or that unusual or are missing out on enjoying some fictional version of pregnancy that 99% of pregnant women experience, so be it.
Photo by Torsten Mangner