Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Growing Pains

I'm almost 20-weeks pregnant with my third child (that's me pregnant with my second bambino), so I'm supposed to be gaining weight. This is the sign of a healthy baby. I know all this, but it doesn't mean it's easy-peasy for me to watch my waistline disappear and to see that number on the scale steadily rise every couple of weeks.

I wish I were one of those preggos who felt like a hot mama during pregnancy. When I became pregnant with my first, I eagerly stocked up on black Lycra tops that would hug my bump. (Think Angelina Joile.) I envisioned myself embracing the whole fertile goddess image. But eight months into my pregnancy I felt like I looked more like a Killer Whale than Angelina in my slinky, black tops (even though others said I looked small; like most women, I'm my own worst critic). While I'm always certainly thankful to be pregnant (or at least to be having another baby), I often find myself mourning my old body at some point during the nine-month journey.

I doubt I'm alone in my feelings of body angst during pregnancy. Even though many women don't share my eating disorder history, it's not most women's idea of fun to pack on the pounds.

For me, seeing my body give way to a softer, fuller form really is a constant struggle. I do have days where I find respite from my body hatred. I'm more focused on growing this beautiful baby (as I always should be), but I've admittedly found that this pregnancy has been tougher than my others and that I've had more bad days than good.

Maybe it's because God was the only one who planned this pregnancy (whereas my first two I'd been eager to conceive and was using natural family planning to do just that). I suppose I wasn't ready to relinquish control, and that's what it's really about for me: Control. When I'm not pregnant, I know - as unhealthy as this sounds - that I can skip a meal or push myself hard during a workout and make that scale budge in the direction I want it to (not that I act on these impulses since being "recovered," but it's in the knowing that I can that somehow makes me feel less anxious).

But when I'm pregnant, I have a baby depending on me. I have a growing little one who needs nourishment and needs me to fuel my body with healthy food, even when I'm feeling nauseous or gross. I have to surrender to the scale and allow that number to climb.

This is why, I've realized, that pregnancy is so good for me. It's always a challenge, but it forces me to stop focusing on my weight, the way I look in my jeans (there's no such thing as skinny jeans when you're a preggo), and to stop being such an idiotic control freak.

I have also found that there are certain measures I can take to help me to better appreciate my new bod. (And, whether you're pregnant or not, I think some of these tips can be helpful for anyone hoping to overcome body image problems.)

So, my friends, here are some simple ways to help you love your preggo bod and to get over those growing pains:

  • Get moving. I've made an effort to exercise throughout all of my pregnancies (except, of course, when I was on bedrest for three weeks with my second). I've found that exercising – moving a little bit every day despite the fatigue or nausea – makes me feel not only healthier but also more comfortable with my new shape. Aside from those exercise endorphins, maybe my elevated self-esteem has to do with the fact that I'm doing something healthy for my baby and for me. Plus, regular prenatal exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, help prepare moms-to-be for childbirth (the biggest "workout" of your life!), relieve stress, and may even help women bounce back to their pre-pregnancy figure. I do a lot of walking and also try to do some prenatal yoga and Pilates. Just be sure to get the green light from your OB/GYN or midwife before you start (or even continue) a prenatal fitness routine.

  • Shun the scale. My current midwife is amazing. I was very upfront with her when I was pregnant with my second. I explained that I struggle with gaining weight during pregnancy and that it's not even really about what the scale says. I divulged my eating disorder history, and I asked her if we could just not make my weight an issue unless it was posing a risk for my baby because I was gaining too much or too little. She has been so sensitive with my previous and current pregnancy. At some appointments, she tells me I don't even have to step on the scale. Not knowing an exact number has been very liberating for me. Instead of fretting over my weight, I can just enjoy being pregnant and focus on taking care of my growing baby.

    Whether you're pregnant or not, try freeing yourself from the scale. Weighing yourself once a week is reasonable, but don't make it an everyday thing and, never forget that your self-worth is so much more than a number on a scale or a clothing size.

  • Accentuate the positive. Sure, varicose veins, puffy ankles and a behemoth bottom (I always get a bigger bum than tummy) are no fun, but what about the positive changes pregnancy brings like a curvier bod? Why not embrace your femininity? Don’t go for the frumpy look, and avoid anything that looks remotely like a tent. Go for modest but chic looks. I’m very thankful that maternity clothing is so cute and fashionable these days, and I try to not “hide” the fact that I’ve been blessed with another baby.

  • Celebrate your pregnancy. Okay, I’m really not the artsy-fartsy type, but I did something really cool during my first pregnancy after I wrote an article about an artist who transforms women’s fertile forms into pieces of art. This was completely out of character and frankly, it made me nervous, but I agreed to have a cast done of my torso when I was eight months pregnant. Elizabeth Barnes of Artful Expectations was the artist who cast my belly and then painted it to look like Ivy, my parents’ yellow Lab. (Sounds a little strange, I know, but this pup-belly ended up being the perfect artwork for my daughter’s room since she's crazy about Ivy.)

    When I saw what my body actually looked like housing a baby (rather than scrutinizing it using the carnival mirror in my head that has a tendency to distort how I see my body), I realized that my pregnant form was absolutely beautiful and that my baby, as cheesy as this may sound, was a piece of art my husband and I had co-created with God. If that doesn’t break the funny mirror in my mind, I don’t know what will.

    If a belly cast isn’t an option, why not ask your husband to take photos of your pregnant bod? I've always been envious of women who showcase their belly shots throughout pregnancy; I've never been brave enough to do that, but maybe someday I'll get to that place. As it stands, I too often avoid the camera when I’m pregnant; yet, I know that down the road I’m going to want to see pictures of me carrying my children. In fact, I didn’t like the photo above when it was taken when I was about seven months pregnant, but now it’s one of my favorite snapshots. I love how my older daughter's hand is on my belly and how I’m not recoiling from her touch. We both look so content, and it's clear we were celebrating a new life together. The bottom line is having a baby – accommodating not one but two souls in the temple of your body – is always worth celebrating.

  • Forget about those pre-baby jeans. After giving birth, you’ll be slightly thinner, but don’t expect to look like Heidi Klum. Most normal women – as in all of us who don’t have the luxury of personal trainers, nutritionists and chefs at our service – should expect to look about five months pregnant after delivery. Cut yourself some slack and focus on motherhood.

    Besides, even if you never fit into those skinny jeans again, who really cares? As moms, we should have a whole new appreciation for our bodies after we deliver and often nurse a baby. I know I did. I never feel as amazing or empowered as I do after I give birth and when my milk first comes in. I’m lucky because I haven’t yet experienced baby blues in my early postpartum days. It’s more like baby mania. I feel so gloriously happy to have a new child and also in awe of my body that not only grew a baby but was also able to get the child out on its own and then feed it. I am Mommy. Hear me roar!

  • Pray. I have some really tough days when I’m pregnant, days when I hate my body, days when I’m tempted to take drastic, unhealthy measures to be in control of the scale. There are days when I take my baby and my body for granted. When I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I meditate on Jesus’ words: “This is my body and it has been given up for you.” And isn’t that really what we do as moms whether we're ever blessed enough to physically carry and/or nurse a child or not? Every time we embrace another pregnancy, nurse a child, hold a toddler until our arms ache, drag ourselves out of bed to comfort a frightened child, or even play a game of catch with our kids, we’re employing our bodies to be mothers. Really, how can we not love our bodies, knowing that we're using them in exactly the way God intended?

1 comment:

Cathy Adamkiewicz said...

Such a great post, Kate! I'm going to add one of my own about my pregnancy experiences....wait til you see photos of me!