I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little self-conscious about my body. Whether it was my hair, my skin, how big my thighs were, how small my breasts are, or the puffiness of my face when I smile– I have always had a very self-critical eye when it comes to looking in that mirror.
During my high school and college years, I struggled deeply with depression and a dangerous combination of anorexia and bulimia. This lasted seven long years, and left a lasting impression.
While I am now free from the physical manifestation of my eating disorder (Praise Jesus!), old habits, as they say, die hard; it is difficult not to revert back into those former patterns of thinking. Especially now.
Especially now, because my body is changing quite a lot lately, and it seems as if everyone who sees me feels the need to make comments about it.
Especially now, because I’m pregnant.
My growing belly is a welcoming landmark for seemingly harmless comments to be tossed carelessly and amiably at me, a sensitive soul to begin with, but even more so due to those lovely pregnancy hormones.
So this is a letter to my acquaintances who naively believe your comments about my body to be of no consequence during this very fragile and challenging time in my life before motherhood:
Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well,
Not all of you may consider yourselves to be “older”, but you are all older than I am. Not all of you have even been pregnant, but if you have, it’s been a good while. I assume this, because you probably have forgotten what a very vulnerable and emotional time pregnancy is– otherwise I do not believe you would say the things you do.
Some of you I see almost daily, or at least every week or so, and I might even call you my friends. Yet, I know you must not know me well, for you would not speak as you do if you truly knew me.
And yes, you are always a woman.
So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who doesn’t know me well, please listen and learn from an emotional pregnant woman who is being deeply wounded by your careless comments.
Listen. For the sake of any other woman who has struggled with body-image, which statistically is about every woman you see around you.
When I’m 18 weeks along, please don’t inform me that most women don’t even look pregnant at 18 weeks. Please, resist that urge to be the first to tell me that I must be carrying twins, because when I find out that there is only one baby in there, I’ll remember your comments about how big I am, and even though I try not to, I will feel shame creeping over me.
When you haven’t seen me in a few weeks, please don’t tell me I’m carrying the baby in my hips and butt. I don’t know many women who want to hear that they have gained noticeable weight in these areas of their body, and I am not any different.
And besides, what do you expect me to say to that comment? “Why thank you. I’m so glad you noticed that my backside is expanding– I thought no one ever would!”?
When you ask me what type of birth I want, please don’t scoff and tell me what you did instead, implying that it was a better or easier decision. Please don’t discourage me from a natural birth that would benefit the health of my baby and empower me as a woman and mother. Please don’t assume my expectations are unrealistic. Let me figure that out for myself, or let my very experienced and qualified midwife tell me.
When I reach for another helping of pizza, don’t look at me sideways and then exclaim, “oh right, I guess you’re eating for two now”, implying that otherwise it would not be okay to eat as much as I am eating.
When you curiously ask me what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing, please do not tell me it’s odd I’m still getting morning sickness, or that you had energy all the way through your second trimester, or that you’ve never heard of round ligament pain “so early along”. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluate the worst of my pregnancy symptoms and articulate the strangeness or normalcy of each of them in comparison to another’s experience. Besides, you telling me that it’s strange to have acid reflux during pregnancy won’t make mine go away.
When you see me drinking coffee, don’t assume I have not been informed about the dangers of caffeine during the first trimester. For all you know, I am trying to live off of a cup a week, and this is my designated time to enjoy a latte.
And when you ask me how I’m feeling and I respond “tired”, because most people forget that growing a human is rather exhausting work, please don’t tell me to “get my sleep now”, implying that I do not have the privilege of being worn out without a crying hungry baby waking me up in the middle of the night.
Please don’t tell me my face looks fat. Don’t tell me my boobs look bigger. Don’t tell me I am “skinny pregnant”. Don’t tell me I look larger than I should.
Don’t try to scare me with birth horror stories. Don’t only speak of the hardships of motherhood. Don’t force your own observations or “insight” about how it will be when my particular baby comes into the world.
Instead, smile and listen and tell me I look like a healthy and glowing pregnant woman, or better yet, don’t make any comments about my appearance at all!
I know I could suck it up and deal with it. I’ve come a long way since my eating disorder, and I’ve gotten good at shaking things off and not placing so much of my self-worth into how I look.
But I need to tell you that your comments do sting. I just need to.
Because, the thing is, I believe you say all of these things–these comments about weight and pregnancy symptoms, and crying babies, and epidurals, and lack of sleep–I believe you say all of those things because you are excited that I too am now going through this experience of pregnancy, and soon, motherhood, and because I think it probably makes you think back to your own experience.
And this probably makes you say some things you might not otherwise.
I am trying to assume the best and be strong.
But I cannot lie. Sometimes those comments land at exactly the wrong time. When I’m exhausted, hormonal, feeling useless and scared and huge and disgusting. When I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do ab exercises on my back again or if I’ll get stretch marks during my third trimester, or if my swim suit will fit this week, if I’ll be good at being a mom, or if my husband is telling the truth when he says I still look attractive.
It’s so hard for me to fight off negative self-talk, self-doubt, and body-shaming thoughts during times like this.
So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, although you may think I am being overly sensitive and although you may be right, I urge you to remember, or at least try to understand how tender the heart is during this fragile time of pregnancy.
And if you were one of those super-woman confident feminist mammas who worked full time up until week 40, never got morning sickness or pregnancy acne, and who hardly took other people’s comments seriously, please consider that I may be a bit different than you.
Be kind. Be considerate. Be gentle. Don’t just say whatever you’re thinking.
Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, I hope you will listen. And I hope this helps you know me better.
A Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother