I slouched a little lower on the couch and let the phone slip from my hands, letting my ever-growing pregnant belly press uncomfortably against my ribcage. I had been pouring my frustration into Twitter drafts I would never send, because I was too ashamed. It had just dawned on me that at 24 weeks, I hadn’t taken any of those classic, cheerful “baby bump” pictures pregnant moms love to share on social media. Five and a half months pregnant. No pictures.
Now, I could blame my first-trimester depression and ongoing severe morning sickness for not feeling up to it. I could blame “pregnancy brain” for forgetting to do it, sure. But the truth was that I just hated what pregnancy had done to my body, and I didn’t care to share an image I felt so bad about with the world.
Somehow I am even less comfortable in my own skin in this second pregnancy than in my first, maybe because the transition from looking unpregnant to looking super pregnant happens much faster with following pregnancies than with the first. In any case, I didn’t take kindly to being told by my fertility tracking app that I should just “get over such thoughts” of how my body has changed for the worse and instead think happy thoughts about how my shape is accommodating a growing baby and how it will all be worth it.
Out of Touch Advice
To me, it was like telling a depressed person to “snap out of it” and realize how blessed he is (and I should know). All it did was make me feel bad about feeling bad about my body, even though of course I know it’s all worth it, and all my discomfort will fade into the background when I finally meet my son. I’ve been through it all before, and even during my first pregnancy, I knew a child was a tremendous blessing.
A form of body positivity that makes you feel guilty because you aren’t comfortable with your body is not a perspective I want to sign onto. At no other time in a woman’s life does her body change so rapidly and severely (and mostly for the worse, with the exception of what it’s doing for the baby) than during pregnancy. Very few women are going to catch their reflection during the middle stages of pregnancy and think, “Well, that looks familiar and totally awesome!” Frankly, it would be bizarre to immediately be able to affirm such a rapid change, and it’s certainly not weird to never fully be okay with what you look like while pregnant.
If people are critical of pictures of themselves in their normal state because we look different in pictures than we do in our bathroom mirror, imagine what should be normal for a pregnant woman looking in that trusted bathroom mirror and seeing something that in many ways barely resembles her unpregnant self just a handful of months prior: stretch marks, a beefier, flatter back, fat storage in less-than-flattering places, burst under-eye capillaries, more acne, or even a rash. To be startled, insecure, frustrated, or even repulsed are normal reactions.
Women should not feel pressured to “get over” their discomfort with their image—they just have to get through it. It’s not permanent. It’s much more constructive to practice gratitude for the miracle of life, regardless of what it does to one’s body, than to strive so hard to try and love a body that’s going to start changing back in less than nine months.
You Don’t Have to Love Every Life Stage and Choice
Yet it seems many Western women have internalized the message that loving every aspect of their life choices (and letting the whole world know it) is necessary to feel truly validated in those choices, especially with regard to children. In a culture in which children are increasingly thought of as either a burden or a personal lifestyle choice, like living in the city or going vegan, and in which female “participation” in the labor force is often valued over motherhood, it makes sense that pregnant women might be ashamed of the very feeling of insecurity.
What if you don’t love your body? What if everything about pregnancy (or your postpartum body struggles) seems to threaten even your mental wellbeing? If childbearing is supposedly one personal choice among many equally fulfilling lifestyle choices, those tremors of discontent could reach a much deeper level, leaving you anxious and unhappy. If your baby was unplanned, it might unsettle you even more, and you may feel pressured to plaster on a grin when your soul is in turmoil, just to prove that keeping your baby was “the right” decision.
To compensate, you might throw yourself into the pregnancy craze: all the Instagram pictures, the snacks, the pregalates routines, all the cute maternity tops that emphasize your bump, and you repeat to yourself what the mommy blogs say: feel good about pregnancy. Feel good about your body. It’s exciting! What a thrill!
It’s wonderful if those encouragements help some women. Especially for women who struggle with fertility, the slightest sign of a baby bump could genuinely be thrilling. But this kind of body positivity fails to boost many women’s self-confidence (dare I say the majority) because it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the insecurity: embracing cultural expectations instead of embracing the intrinsic dignity of childbearing.
You don’t have to love everything about motherhood in order to prove to yourself or the world that it is the right choice, because motherhood is a fundamentally good thing. Children are inherently a blessing whether they were initially “wanted” or not, and no matter how miserable the pregnancy.
Reconciling Being Pro-Life and Hating Pregnancy
It might seem awkward or even hypocritical that I’m as pro-life as they come and I hate virtually everything about being pregnant. That thought—a sense of guilt—has been sloshing around in my brain for 25 weeks. Then I realized I don’t need to buy into the supposed extra layers of prenatal bliss, like “loving” my curves, to appreciate that my body is growing another human being. It’s nurturing my child.
I finally snapped a photo of my ballooning belly (admittedly not capturing my whole figure on purpose) not because I’m excited about how my body has changed, but because I’m looking forward to meeting my baby and I want to let other people be happy for me, even when I can’t feel it myself. After all, the fact that people aren’t nearly as critical of our flaws as we ourselves are still holds true during pregnancy. It may be even more accurate.
I think I can freely say I don’t like being pregnant because I am pro-life and pro-family. If you love your body while pregnant, more power to you. As for me, I am comfortable with accepting that I don’t like it one bit. I’m pretty sure my baby doesn’t mind. Loving him with my whole heart is quite enough to get me through.