My battle with body image started at a young age. A combination of growing up in a culinarily gifted Italian family, going through puberty earlier than most (gotta love those hormones), and using food as a coping mechanism for my parents' separation led to my being labeled high weight by my elementary school's annual BMI screening. I was bullied for my size, and as a preteen, I decided to take my health into my own hands. Healthy new routines helped me lose weight and inspired a lifelong journey dedicated to health and wellness. I developed a healthy relationship with food, I worked out because I loved it, and — this past year — I reached a new all-time high of body and health confidence. That is, until I got pregnant.
Right before getting pregnant, I was in the best physical condition of my life. I loved the way I looked, but more than that, I loved the way I felt. I could do HIIT workouts with ease, could run up stairs without getting winded, and had more than enough energy to get through my hectic workweek while still balancing a handful of hobbies, side hustles, and obligations. I felt energized, confident, and invincible. Naturally, I had some concerns about pregnancy and what it would do to my body — and as a result my mental health. I wasn't exactly thrilled about the notion of gaining 30 or more pounds and adopting the stretch marks that would come with it. All of that considered, at the end of the day, my husband and I wanted to have a baby, and that was more important than anything else. I reminded myself that women get pregnant all the time, and many of those women choose to have multiple children. It would be OK. I would be OK.
At seven months pregnant, I can honestly say pregnancy has been the single most mentally and physically challenging experience of my life. While dealing with nausea, vomiting, heartburn, swollen feet, and back pain have all been obstacles enough, the mental battle has been even more difficult. I knew I was going to gain weight during pregnancy (that's kind of part of the whole deal), and I knew my body was going to change. But there is a difference in knowing something and experiencing it. It was really difficult for me when one day my entire wardrobe, which I had carefully curated over the last two years, suddenly no longer fit. I had been expecting a growing stomach but not necessarily expecting larger hips and thighs. I didn't even recognize myself. As I started to look more obviously pregnant, people kept telling me I looked "radiant," "cute," "adorable" — that I was exhibiting the "pregnancy glow." As well-meaning as these comments were, all they did was make me want to crawl under a rock and hide. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, I detested any attention my new form attracted.
Frankly, every single day has been a challenge. I cry a lot and still feel awkward every time someone makes a comment on my appearance. Recently, I was talking to a woman from my local community about pregnancy and motherhood. She is a beautiful, athletic mom of four and was the first person to mention to me that she also struggled with her body image during pregnancy. I was shocked and also incredibly relieved. Up until that point, no other woman had admitted to me that they, too, had felt self-conscious and unsure of themselves during pregnancy. It was such an incredible relief to hear that someone had experienced what I was going through. That conversation was a turning point in my journey. Now, I'm slowly starting to come around to my new body and shape. Using the four strategies below, I'm learning to love myself and be more patient during pregnancy. It's not a perfect solution, but I hope anyone else out there who is also struggling with body-image issues during pregnancy knows that they are not alone, we're stronger than we realize, and this journey is only making us stronger.
- I remind myself that this is temporary.
I will not be pregnant forever. No matter what my exact weight and shape look like after delivery, there is a big difference between a body that is pregnant and a body that is not. Pregnancy comes with an end date. I may not fit into my old wardrobe again, but I am not destined to a life of maternity clothes, either. To anyone who needs to hear this right now: you will not be pregnant forever!
- I build myself up.
I miss my prepregnant body, but I remind myself that that body and the person living inside of it didn't actually go anywhere. I am still me. I know what it's like to use smart nutrition and exercise to be healthy and strong and work toward achieving healthy goals. I've worked hard to condition my body and get in shape in the past. I remind myself that I can do it again. I am so excited to return to my old workout routines once I have my doctor's approval postpartum, and I know I'll be more motivated when I'm working to stay healthy for myself and my son.
- I throw numbers out the window.
Some people prefer to weigh themselves weekly to help themselves stay on track with doctor weight-gain recommendations during pregnancy. I am not one of those women. During my pregnancy, I have avoided stepping on the scale at home. I eat healthfully when I'm hungry and limit the scale to my prenatal appointments. If there is an issue, a medical professional will tell me. I also try not to obsess over what clothing sizes I'm now purchasing. I have a baby bump — whatever fits, fits! It's so much more important to be comfortable. Plus, wearing clothes that fit well actually helps boost my self-esteem.
- I keep the big picture in mind.
At the end of the day, I'm growing a human. Sometimes, when I'm feeling down during pregnancy from nausea, limited clothing options, or a body I don't recognize, it's easy to forget this. But a person's ability to literally grow another human being is pretty freaking miraculous. I shift my thinking — I'm not getting bigger; I'm making life. I've got the rest of my life to do high-intensity workouts and track nutrients. Right now, these nine months are for my son. Because so long as he's healthy, nothing else really matters.