Today’s topic is a tough one. Whether you are pregnant or not, staying body positive is often a constant effort. In fact, I would go as far to say that if you wake up every day loving your body as you strut your sweet ass down the street, KUDOS to you! Write a book and become an instant millionaire because honey, you have it figured out. For the rest of us mere peasants who struggle with our body image, this article is for you.
I want to say something a long the lines of “if you struggled with body image before pregnancy, get ready for a next level challenge”….but that’s the Negative Nelly in my head reinforcing shitty messaging from our society. It’s not that it’s any harder to love your pregnant body than it was your pre-pregnant body, it’s just very different. This is a bit daring to say…but in a way, it’s actually a bit easier to love your body when you know the changes it’s going through are to produce life…the life of YOUR baby! Basically there are moments of intense gratitude for what your body is doing to support the little human growing in your womb mixed with moments of intense frustration at the uncontrollable changes to your shape. It’s a roller coaster to say in the least.
When you talk to the friends, family members, care givers, support people etc. in your life about your body image you will get mixed reactions.
Healthcare providers are really only concerned about problems during pregnancy. Concerns about cellulite on your thighs isn’t really high on their list of priority discussion topics. Turning to family members may help, maybe your mom/aunt/sister finds this topic highly relatable. But what if Aunt May struggled to get pregnant? What if your sister lost a baby? To these women, body image may be a small price to pay for the miracle that is life growing inside you. In this scenario, it’s not that your concerns aren’t valid, it’s that you have to know your audience. There is nothing wrong with having a wonderful, symptom-free pregnancy that you want to tell the world about! You aren’t bragging, you are sharing your experience and honestly we need some more positive stories to balance out the negative ones. Traumatic pregnancy and birth stories abound but rarely do you hear how great pregnancy, birth, and post-partum can be. Now, this is a sensitive subject. I want to be clear that we have space for both. As a new mom it is important to take all of the stories in as you forge your own path. There are likely some very hard times ahead and you want to feel like you know what to expect. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows and we can’t pretend it’s going to be. On the other side of that coin, we shouldn’t surround ourselves with stories of pain, hopelessness, and worry. You need both sides.
IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, YOU MAY FIND THAT ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF PREGNANCY IS THE CONCEPT OF “SURRENDERING”.
Meaning, you relinquish control over things like your body and emotions. You loosen the reigns you have been tightly grasping for years. If you identify as an athlete of any kind this part can be especially difficult. You pride yourself in your ability to control the variables that affect your body’s size, shape, and ability to perform. You are also used to working equally hard on your mindset so that you feel focused, determined, and capable of overcoming any obstacle in your way.
THE CHANGES OF PREGNANCY HIT LIKE WAVES CRASHING ON THE SHORE, NOT ALL AT ONCE BUT REPEATEDLY AND OFTEN SWELLING IN MAGNITUDE AS YOU FEEL THE SAND SHIFT UNDER YOUR FEET.
Some women make this experience look easy, they seem to enjoy every aspect of pregnancy. Others struggle, often silently. Body image is a perfect example. While most people will compliment your changing shape acknowledging the beauty of growing life, you may have difficulty quelling your insecurities. The struggle is twofold. On the one hand, the increasing frequency of people commenting on your body may be enough to stir up some deep-seated body image concerns, on the other you wouldn’t dare expressing these concerns because you are lucky to be pregnant and wouldn’t dream of giving it up for anything. So you find yourself in limbo: concerned about your shifting shape and feeling ashamed that you even have that concern! For what is a bit of extra fat on your arms when you get to bring a baby into this world?
DON’T FEEL SILLY. DON’T FEEL LIKE YOUR CONCERNS AREN’T VALID.
Pregnancy is a transformation. Most of us focus on the physical and for the most part we feel really prepared to accept the baby bump that is expected as part of pregnancy. However, we spend very little time discussing the shift in mindset that must also accompany your shifting body. “How are you feeling?” is a question you will be asked often. But, “how are you handling the changes in your body and feeling confident in your skin?” is not something we are asking each other. As women we don’t want to offend each other by implying there are changes not to feel confident about! But beneath the surface we are likely all struggling to some degree with acceptance. Maybe this doesn’t speak to you, and instead you find yourself in awe of your beautiful pregnant body. I admire you. For most of us, acceptance is a daily struggle. Some days your baby bump makes you beam with pride, other days you’re missing your “old self” and questioning if you’ll ever feel like her again. Pregnancy is an emotional roller coaster. Nine months is both a very short and very long time to ride a roller coaster. Especially when achieving physical and mental balance feels like a moving target.
I AM WRITING THIS, CURRENTLY 39 WEEKS PREGNANT AND BY NO MEANS FEELING LIKE I HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT.
I have had intense emotional struggles about my changing body and physical limitations that put baby’s safety ahead of my own interests and desires. One constant challenge has been to watch as my partner continues to live his life as though he is awaiting a package to be delivered to his door step. He eats the same, drinks the same, moves his body in the same ways. His transformation is much more subtle than mine. I wear mine for everyone to see. My husband is an incredible support both emotionally and physically however, his ability to comfort in pregnancy has its limitations. Even though with every fibre of his being he wants to be there for me, he cannot physically nor emotionally carry this pregnancy. That is the mother’s job. He can ride the emotional tides but he cannot shelter me from them. He can tell me I am beautiful but it is up to me to embrace those words. As we look forward to the birth of the our son, he can be there for me in every moment but he cannot birth this baby. As we embark on a journey to establish breastfeeding he can watch videos, read books, and help me get professional support but he cannot supply the milk! Your partner desperately wants to support you during pregnancy but it is a harsh reality that so much falls on the mother. This is also part of the mental transformation we must endure as mothers.
WHEN YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR BODY IMAGE DURING PREGNANCY YOU MUST HAVE FAITH.
You will know, that in talking to other mothers it is all worth it. This is a promise you must believe in. For 40+ weeks you simply have to have faith. Have faith that every change your body goes through is for a greater cause, one you can’t see or feel - not yet that is. Your day is coming. You must believe in what you are capable of and take strength from the incredible, transformative process you are undergoing both physically and mentally. I have not yet held my baby in my arms so I am with you on this. I too am holding onto a promise that it has all been worth it, that our lives will never be the same and that we won’t be able to imagine any other life than the one with our baby.
THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO TO GET THROUGH THIS TRYING TIME IS TO FOCUS ON THAT BRIGHT, BRILLIANT FUTURE.
You must relinquish control over your changing body as you actively take the reigns on the transformation of your mindset. No, there is no “going back”, but there is growth. Focus on moving forward with intention and confidence towards a version of yourself you haven’t met yet. Stronger, wiser, more capable. It’s not about getting back to your “old self”. Make peace with that. Your body will not be the same, but it can be better. YOU can be better. What you are going through right now is so temporary and this too shall pass. You are becoming a mother. A rare and incredible gift. Channel the excitement you feel towards meeting your baby into meeting the “new you” as well! When your confidence wavers, fall into the arms of your partner, your family, your friends. They will catch you. You are stronger than you ever imagined and realizing that is a pretty intense journey.
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