I was taking a break from throwing up and arguing with people on the internet when I saw it – an image of a woman standing by her hospital bed eating a meal, wearing only a pair of post partum mesh panties and a ginormous pad (which brilliantly appears to be a folded lap pad). She shared it on Facebook with a message – motherhood uncensored. This is what post partum moms really look like.
I liked and shared.
Don’t misunderstand. I think growing tiny humans is badass. The creation of a new life is simply amazing. The fact that my body knows how to do this. Listening to their rapid heartbeat. Seeing their tiny body on the screen. Feeling the first flutters of movement. Seeing them for the first time. Holding my newborn baby against my chest. A-freaking-mazing. But getting there is messy, sometimes humiliating, and often decidedly not beautiful.
I am not a beautiful pregnant woman. I’m not. I don’t write this as a plea for compliments. It’s okay. I don’t need to be conventionally pretty to feel good about myself or like the way I look. I don’t need validation. For me pregnancy is not a beautiful process where I feel like a goddess. Mostly, I just feel tired, nauseated, and uncomfortable.
We spend so much time in our culture telling women and girls that being beautiful, thin, pleasant and smiling is the ideal. Their responsibility. Their toll for existing on the planet. Pregnancy is no different. The expectations change…sort of. Don’t let yourself go, don’t gain too much weight, get exercise, embrace your inner goddess, glow, “be sexy.”
As a culture, these expectations have become values. Enough.
Pregnant women shouldn’t be reduced to bodies. Enduring the pats of strangers in the check out lane and unsolicited comments about how much they have or haven’t grown or how many babies must be inside their ginormous bumps. No one should tell anyone, let alone someone who is doing the work of growing a human in their body, how they should look and “feel” or shame them if they don’t fit in the tight curves of a tiny female mold with big boobs, a tight ass, glowing skin, shiny hair, and a tiny, basket ball-sized baby bump.
I would be remiss on a science-based board if I didn’t acknowledge that some of this unsolicited advice reflects evidence-based recommendations – there are health benefits of staying within recommended weight gain guidelines during pregnancy and getting daily exercise. Research shows that gaining too much weight can impact maternal and fetal health and whether or not a person retains pregnancy weight after delivery. But when seventy-three percent of pregnant people in the United States gain more weight than is recommended by the Institute of Medicine, across all pre-pregnancy weight groups, providers and pregnant people need to weigh the risks (pun intended) of weight gain against the fear, anxiety and shame that pregnant people might feel when they fail to meet their goals, which may impact their ability to trust their provider and receive regular prenatal care.
And if a pregnant person gains more weight than is optimal? Or starts their pregnancy at a weight that is less than ideal? Health care providers need to see beyond the BMI and treat all patients with basic kindness and dignity. I guarantee your fat patients know they are fat. Pregnant or not, in the absence of related health concerns, it is probably not necessary to remind them at every visit or to imply that all of their health concerns would all be solved by weight loss. And anyone who is not my health care provider needs to shut the fuck up about how much I weigh or how much I have gained during my pregnancy.
Personally, I am pretty blunt with providers (and everyone else). As someone who has suffered from disordered eating in the past, pregnancy is hard for me from a weight gain and body changing standpoint. I have been lucky so far. My providers have been cool with me not knowing the number on the scale – unless it is directly related to a health condition that I need to monitor. Unfortunately, I have heard countless stories of fat shaming and health care providers missing or dismissing health conditions or concerns, because their patients aren’t thin. Stories that often lead to fear and mistrust. Even changing providers mid-pregnancy.
Becoming a mother means a loss of autonomy, long after baby is born. Caring for a tiny human 24/7, having to share your candy, never pooping alone again…but, the fact that I am pregnant doesn’t mean my body is no longer my own. I still own my body, my skin, my hair, my growing belly, breasts, and pale skin. It is mine, to do with what I choose. I give myself permission to feel, to be and to experience life in that imperfect body. I give myself permission to not be beautiful.
I don’t owe anyone shit.
Besides, when you spend the morning manually removing poop or lying on the bathroom floor covered in vomit and pee or have to work hard to stay awake and alert to get through the day, looking or being sexy is often the last thing on your mind. Sometimes “letting yourself go” is self-care. It’s okay to not put on make-up or a new shirt. It’s okay to not be beautiful. It’s okay to not want sex. To curl up in a ball and cry. To not have energy to get off the couch. To give yourself permission not to try so hard to be perfect. To not be perfect.
It’s also okay to want to fuck all day long and to enjoy your growing, changing pregnant body. Even if that body is round and fat all over – not just in the socially acceptable boobs and bump. It’s okay to put on a bikini or nothing at all. Even with stretch marks and acne and body hair that seems to grow an inch every day. It’s okay to love every minute in this amazing child growing body. To love your body and to feel good. To dance, run, cycle, and lift that body, enduring the disapproving looks of strangers at the gym. To feel like a goddess.
It’s okay to be you. To feel how you feel. To not be beautiful. Being pregnant doesn’t take that away.
Featured Image Credit: William Murphy
Ultrasound Image Credit: Steph, all rights reserved