Loving My Pregnant Body
On Monday I stood in front of the bathroom mirror studying my 24-week pregnant body. This is my fifth pregnancy, having given birth to my son seven years ago (he’s standing next to me, studying his new hair cut) and been home to 3 other wee ones who never made it past 12 weeks. This pregnancy feels like a miracle of sorts. When people ask me how I feel I tell them I feel like I won the lottery.
Yet here I was silently criticizing the rolls under my shoulder blades, the enormity of my ass (I had to buy new undies recently), and the presence of cellulite in places I didn’t know possible. How was I ever going to feel comfortable in a bathing suit this summer? Our annual family trip to Cape Cod loomed.
Then I looked up. My brow was furrowed, and my mouth was turned in a disapproving frown. Now that – that was ugly.
It is true that I mourn my “old” body. I have been an athlete my whole life. Through elementary school I was faster than all the boys. Was I proud of that! I believe I still hold the record for the 2-Mile in my high school. My body was a lean muscle machine. This persisted through my 20’s and my early 30’s – I felt strong and capable of doing most anything. My Vermont version of athleticism was hauling wheelbarrows of manure in the garden and stacking wood all day. All of this has encouraged confidence in profound ways.
Now back to the mirror. Seeing my face woke me up. No, no, no. We are not going to do this, I said to myself. I made a choice. I admired my beautiful round belly, feeling in awe of my thriving pregnancy. I straightened my posture and put a little smile on my face. I felt my heart smile.
I told my son what was happening. He’s such a cool kid that he got it right away. He stood taller and smiled at himself too. “You’re cute”, I said. “No, I’m cool,” he corrected me. (Damn that was good.) We spent another minute smiling at each other and ourselves. I am healthy, I am beautiful, I am strong. I repeated silently, feeling more radiant by the second.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I am not one of those people that use mantras lightly. I find words that feel authentic, words I can stand behind. If I don’t believe what I am saying, I find words that I do believe. And I give myself full permission to grieve the loss of muscle tone and size 6 clothes at the same time. The mantra and the grief – they can dance alongside each other. It feels good to acknowledge and make space for all parts of my being.
My body will continue to change and grow, and no doubt I will have this conversation with myself many times over – perhaps even more so postpartum.
Most who have given birth would agree that our bodies tell the story: silvery waves of stretch marks, pouchy tummies, saggy belly buttons, floppy tits, or perhaps a pelvic floor that’s just not quite the same. Some of it resolves on it’s own and other things with hard work, but this, this is always true: our bodies will be non-pregnant again but NEVER pre-pregnant. It’s just a fact.
Some of the best advice my mother ever gave me: “Love your body. One day you really will be all soft and gray.” She said this to my 16-year old self who complained of being fat. Now, at 39 I embrace the beauty that is. It is tempting to long for the past, and worry about the future. But the moment is now. Here I am.
People say to me, “You look great!” and I say to myself ‘let it in, let it in’. And I soak it in. I do look beautiful, round and healthy. I am a rock star, growing a placenta AND a human being without even having to think about it (how cool is that?).
As I write this, the baby in my womb stirs. My body is not, and never will be, the same. But along the soft edges, round parts and stretch marks are signs of a vibrant body well used and lived. And for this I my heart smiles.