If there is one thing that two pregnancies have really taught me, it's that I was more vain to begin with than I ever would have given myself credit for. But let's face it: I, like any other woman, could have stared in the mirror at my pre-pregnancy body and listed off five things that I hated about it; when in reality, I loved my '40s-hourglass figure and the assurance of knowing I could slide into a slinky black dress and rock it.
And since having one child (and hopefully popping out this second in a few weeks), I have encountered incredible struggles with my post-pregnancy body image. I've had to adjust my definitions of beauty and femininity. I've had to learn to accept changes that are likely permanent. More than anything, I've had to battle my own mind — my preconceived notions of what I thought pregnancy would do to a body like mine, my thoughts on weight loss and exercise after baby, and my tendency to compare myself to other women of all shapes and sizes.
But I think that's typical, right? It's a pretty normal thing to, as a woman, struggle with your shape, the way your clothes fit, and the way your legs or boobs measure up to Jennifer Aniston's.
What I Wasn't Prepared For
Here's what I wasn't prepared for: Hating my body while pregnant. Oh, but I did! From the first trimester bloating, to the impossibly large third trimester belly (and even the cute phase in between), I struggled with my temporary body, refusing to focus on the wonder of what my body was doing, and simply lamenting what I didn't have and couldn't do.
It was a bigger war in my first pregnancy — I wasn't wise or prepared for growing a baby, and I unnecessarily gained 60 pounds, thanks to emotional eating and lack of exercise. And thanks to my rather womanly body type, I gained weight everywhere. Some of us are not destined to maintain our size everywhere and just add on a cute basketball belly! But as I wrap up this second pregnancy, one during which I've maintained a healthier weight, exercised, and all-in-all been more psychologically stable (ha!), I still have had to work through my pregnant body image.
What Other Women Told Me
Here's something interesting: I thought for sure that if I interviewed other women, I'd find someone else who had this same battle. I thought, "Surely other women hate their bodies when they are pregnant." But that wasn't really the case. I spoke to no less than twenty women, all who have had one or more children, and despite their issues with body image prior to pregnancy, they loved their bodies while pregnant.
"I haven't had any negative feelings"
For some, it was as if they saw their bodies through the miraculous wonderment of what was occurring. One woman told me, "I can honestly say I haven't had any negative feelings about this body changing. I've read up on what should be happening when so I haven't been surprised and I am so very conscious of the adorable reason why it's all happening. I figure, if I'm willing to give my life for this kid, I'd better be willing to give my body too." For her, being so emotionally connected during pregnancy, as well as really educated, seemed to lay to rest any negative feelings toward bodily changes.
"I was more relieved when I started showing"
Other women were uncertain, but finally looking pregnant kicked any negative thoughts in the butt. "I think I was more relieved when I started showing because then it seemed more real that there was a human inside of me. In the beginning it's hard because you can't feel the baby move and sometimes I would doubt. When I started getting a belly I felt relieved!"
"My husband is very supportive"
I did speak with some women who battled negative opinion, but a solid support system — especially when that included their husband — was all they needed to feel beautiful. "I feel disappointed in myself every time I have a negative thought about what is happening to my body. I always pictured myself just being thrilled with pregnancy and not caring what my body has to do to support a baby. The reality has been filled with occasional misgivings and doubt that my body will ever be how it was again. But my husband is very supportive and complimentary and that helps, and usually the times of feeling unsure about my body are brief. Overall I think the changes are beautiful."
"There's a 'honeymoon' phase"
Some even told me that being pregnant made them feel sexy! "There's a 'honeymoon' phase in pregnancy, usually in the 2nd trimester, where you've got a nice bump that's just big enough to tell the world you're pregnant but not so big you can't climb on top (if you know what I mean) and the lovely pregnant boobs. During those 3 months I felt super sexy! My husband is always very complimentary of me — as any good husband should be — so I think its probably a combination of feeling good about myself and the added hormones because there's nothing in this world like a pregnancy O!"
What I Did to Feel Better
Whether or not you're one of those women who experiences a sky-rocketing sex drive in pregnancy (p.s., I'm not), or if you fall into any or none of the other categories I mentioned, I think there certainly are ways to fall in love with your pregnant body. For some women, this will come naturally, as evidenced by all the interviews I conducted! But since it didn't for me, here are some things that I have focused on while pregnant to encourage my own positive body image.
Enjoying "new" slenderness
I try to focus on the parts of my body that actually look smaller in pregnancy. With a protruding stomach — especially toward the end — my legs, arms, and even the curves of my back, do start to appear more slender by comparison. Being pregnant is the best I've ever looked wearing skinny jeans!
Taking advantage of healthy hair and nails
My hair and nails are amazing when I'm pregnant. I chalk this up to hormones and prenatal vitamins, and this time around, I've done my best to maximize those features. During my first pregnancy, I chopped my hair in an attempt to feel fresh and good about myself. Why oh why?! This time I've let my hair go long and straight, and you wouldn't believe the compliments I've gotten.
Working the "pregnant glow"
I work the skin factor. People are going to tell you that you have a "pregnant glow," and they're really going to see it whether you think it's there or not. I figure if I'm already glowing, I better make sure I'm glowing as brightly as possible. Since I was pregnant in the summer this time, I busted out the bare arms when other times I've been too self-conscious to do so.
What's worked for you? Are you like the women above who have, in some way, loved your body during pregnancy? Or are you more like me, battling even more with yourself for those nine long months, trying to convince yourself that you still feel pretty?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.