I am five months pregnant, and up until now, I was feeling pretty sexy. I was feeling a little glorious in all my pregnant majesty -- belly outthrust, butt and thighs cushioning, my breasts -- well, they refuse to grow for some mysterious reason, but whatever. I was liking how my new bigness feels essential, necessary and full of purpose. I am carrying a baby human. I am holding the trump card. Kiss my damn pregnant belly, Victoria's Secret. I don't know. Something like that.
And then something changed. Maybe it was the series of absolutely terrible photos someone took of me in my favorite empire-waisted dress at a party, looking lumbering and bloated and lopsided and generally awful. Maybe it was the fact that practically everything I read about pregnancy tells me I should be worried. I should be worried, specifically, about the way I look.
I've learned how important "getting your body back" is. The magazines are all about it -- not that I'm reading them, but I see headlines because I can't just close my eyes in the checkout line. The goal is to reclaim your former body as soon as is humanly possible after giving birth. And it's all over the Internet, too. Tips and regimens and lists of exercises and rules to live by that will allow us to spring back, practically unaffected, pure, clean, tight as virgins.
"Congratulations!" reads the email I've automatically received. "You've reached your 23rd week of pregnancy! How your life will change at this stage of pregnancy, after the jump..." I click, of course, like a sucker who's never seen a Facebook ad. It explains that I might develop stretch marks. So, I guess I should prepare myself for that "life-changing" event. "Many women find stretch marks upsetting," the notification continues, "But don't worry, they will fade, even if they never completely go away."
Before anyone can even ask, the "expert" is explaining in the book or on the site, "It is a common concern, but there is no evidence that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag. However, some sagging is to be expected, regardless of how you feed your baby." I sense that I should be very afraid.
And the women on the pregnancy forum are always getting so upset because they have gained a few pounds "too much." "Ten lbs this month!!! I HATE MYSELF!!!"
One woman wrote, triumphantly, it seemed, "I only gained ten pounds with each pregnancy and I lost them immediately, the day I gave birth, so I never had to worry!"
"Don't worry," I read somewhere, "it's normal to feel unattractive at this stage of pregnancy."
"Don't worry, even if you gain a little extra weight, it's probably OK. But don't use this as an excuse to pig out!"
"Don't worry, many women find that their vaginas have returned practically to normal six weeks after the birth."
"Don't worry, this too shall pass."
We are reassured over and over again not to worry. But I wasn't worrying, I swear.
And while I wasn't worrying, there were detailed analyses happening about which is the best kind of pregnant body -- what exact pregnant belly shape is the most aesthetically appealing, where you should hope to carry whatever weight you will have to carry (if you're not lucky enough to be the woman who only gains ten pounds while pregnant).
And as I was admiring my largeness, feeling deliciously proud and savoring it, there were more articles and books being written about how I might quickly regain my dignity and my sex appeal, after. Everyone seemed to already be thinking about after, when my mission would be to negate every last trace of the transformation, every hint of the fact that I had changed and changed and continued to change through remarkably dramatic phases and impressively evolved stages that rearranged my organs and opened my ribs and poured new blood into my hardworking veins.
Suddenly, I am worried. What if I am ruined? What if I will never look good again? Suddenly, I am afraid of what is happening to me.
I can't stop it, I just keep growing. My belly button is quickly disappearing, a little shallower every day. I am afraid to look down in the morning, because maybe it will be gone. Irrationally, I'm nervous about the fragile skin there, that looks knotted from the inside, as though it will split open when stretched.
I am supposed to want my old body back, because my old body is supposed to be better. It makes me think about this idea that we all have this optimal body that we're always trying to get to. Sometimes I think that's the way it's described to us. Whatever body we're in right now is probably not the right body. It's not our ideal body. So we should work to get to that better one, just out of reach, but ultimately, we're reassured, achievable.
When I've written about body image and weight in the past, commenters have reminded me that it's easy to think of weight dichotomously, like, thin people on one side of an uncrossable line and heavy people on the other. But people inhabit many versions of their body over the course of their lives. Bodies are always changing. I like being reminded of that, that it's the nature of bodies to change.
It can actually be kind of hard to even keep up with all of the versions of our bodies, but I imagine that we walk around with all of those versions interacting all the time -- our many bodies in perpetual dialogue.
And at the same time, I know exactly what they mean when they tell me to make sure I get my body back. They mean the one with the least amount of evidence of life. They mean something like erasure. Erasure would be perfect. And automatically, I want that. What if I have stretch marks? What if I can't lose the weight? What if my breasts sag and I am always a little lumbering after this? What if I have a different body then, one that I don't quite recognize?
Well, I will have a different body then. The way we are always growing into new, different bodies, because that is the way that bodies work. That is the way it's supposed to be. A body is a long story with twists and surprises and secret abilities almost like little super powers. I never knew my body could do the things it is doing now, which is why I am instinctively proud.
But even if I wasn't pregnant, the evolution of my body wouldn't be any less interesting or relevant. My body would just be telling a different story about my life.
Which is why I want everyone to shut up about what I should worry about right now and how much I should want my old body back and how soon I should try to get it. How I should be preparing now to get it back, even before my daughter is done growing inside it. Stretch marks are not life-changing. She is life-changing. She is becoming a part of my story and the story of my body.
Clearly, I need to do one of those naked pregnancy photo shoots in warm lighting, holding crystals or something. Clearly, I need to sit here for a moment, looking down at my disappearing belly button, and touch my newly stretched skin and admire its flexibility. Clearly, I need to get my body back from all of these other people and their opinions about what exactly it should be doing and how it should be looking at any given moment. It is mine, and we are on an adventure.
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