I began writing this post earlier this fall, and an unsolicited comment on my burgeoning baby belly by an acquaintance this morning at drop-off has prompted me to pick up the conversation and finish the post.
Thoughts from August…
The kids have been commenting that I already have a big belly because of the baby. At seven weeks gestation. I explained that mama has always had a bit of belly bulge since carrying two prior pregnancies. And that my belly is actually pretty much the same size it’s been since I stopped breastfeeding Courtland back in 2012.
I relayed this story to a friend, and she responded, “Well, at least now you have an excuse! You are pregnant, so it’s okay to have some belly bulge.”
Sigh. It’s always “okay” to have some belly bulge.
I don’t need an excuse (although creating two prior humans is certainly one) and am perfectly comfortable with my belly that reflects this fact. My friend’s comment was truly intended as harmless… nay supportive! Because we are so conditioned to assume that a woman would be embarrassed by her body if it were anything but rail thin, that we leap into protective mode to help justify or explain a body that falls outside that parameters so as not to feel guilty.
And more recently, two examples of the broader cultural problem of people feeling like it’s acceptable and a-okay to blithely comment on another person’s body (most frequently, female bodies, especially when they’re making life)…
Back in late September/early October, I strolled into a work meeting with six or seven other colleagues and one woman blurted out, “Oh my goodness! Ashley! You’re HUGE! You really ARE pregnant.”
Why yes. Yes I am. I was not lying.
I responded, red-faced and flustered by such aggressive and unwelcome statements about my body in a room full of people, “Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ve got a long way to go.” I didn’t know what else to say! I wanted to crawl under the table and cry.
And then this morning, while dropping Courtland off at school…
Morning, Ashley! Wow, how many weeks pregnant are you?
24 weeks today, actually.
Geez, you look WAY more pregnant than that!!
… oh… well, I’m not…
It didn’t feel great to be told that I look larger than I am “supposed” to look at this stage in the pregnancy, but it honestly would have been just as miserable to be told that I look smaller, because either statement is anxiety-inducing for an expecting mom. We carry enough self-imposed stress and worry when we’re pregnant about whether or not we’re “making” the baby right, that any comment that implies that our body is somehow outside “normal” expectations feels terrible.
Too small? Am I not nourishing the baby? Does she need more from me? What if baby isn’t thriving?
Too big? Am I on track for gestational diabetes? Am I going to be supremely overweight after having the baby? Is the baby going to be unhealthy? (Our cultural equations of weight with health are doubly-toxic for pregnant women).
It’s daunting to be responsible for creating another human being, particularly when we have absolutely no control of the process. Our body is doing it and we’re beholden to it 24/7 for 40 weeks, but while we can exercise, and sleep, and try to eat well-rounded meals, there’s very little control we have over what is happening inside and to our bodies and the living person that is growing inside.
Even through this third experience, I am floored by what is happening inside of my own person. It is mind-blowing and miraculous and uncomfortable and overwhelming and awe-inspiring and a giant pain in the ass and the most humbling experience I’ll ever know. Motherhood, from conception to a lifetime of parenting, is a deeply complex and contradictory experience. Adding fuel to that already muddled emotional terrain by infusing unsolicited commentary from seemingly well-meaning but a painfully insensitive public can feel maddening at best and debilitating at worst .
If you must comment, ask how the woman is feeling, or tell her that she is glowing, or that she’s doing a wonderful job. Affirming, empowering statements make a world of difference in a society that is so prone to lay judgement and inappropriate commentary on the experiences of women and their bodies.
This afternoon, to get out of the negative head space about my body (annoyed that I even let those comments have that impact), I did a little self-portraiture. Just me and baby. And it was empowering, dare I say sensual (during a time when it can be VERY hard to feel that way), and uninhibited because I was completely unburdened of anyone’s gaze but my own. And it felt good to experiment and play and reconnect with this amazing process and my badass body that’s making it possible. However cheesy it may sound, it worked. And so here we are at Week 24.