As you know from a few posts ago, I never thought I would be able to conceive. I was told in my early twenties that it may not be possible for me, but that I would only know for sure once I started trying (not very reassuring, I know). Not feeling very optimistic about the diagnosis, I eventually convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be able to have children (it was a survival thing). When things started to get serious with me and my now husband, Ted, I felt I had an obligation to tell him about that fateful conversation with my doctor that took place almost a decade before. Like the amazing man that he is, Ted looked me in the eyes and compassionately told me that he believed if a soul was meant to come into this world, it would find a way.
Blown away by his stance on the subject (especially since I knew he wanted children), I knew right then and there that he was the one for me. I was right. But it turns out, he was right too. Our little girl is scheduled to make her way into this world in about 7 weeks time.
Despite his belief, when Ted and I started trying to conceive, I still had it in my mind that it probably wouldn’t happen. So when I got confirmation that I was pregnant (after 2 pregnancy tests and a final confirmation from the doctor), I was at a bit of a loss. I was dazed and confused, not having allowed myself even a moment’s thought about what it would be like to be pregnant, lest I never have the opportunity to experience it. At 6 weeks pregnant, I finally began to allow myself to decide how I wanted to be as a pregnant woman.
Now I’m going to admit something to you that isn’t so pretty. In fact, I cringe even writing it. But I’m nothing if not always honest with you, so here goes:
Before I got pregnant, even though I wasn’t sure it was in the cards for me, I was angry about the way it was going to alter my life. Yes, angry. My husband would always tell me that pregnancy was “no big deal” and that women have been doing it since the dawn of time. That would enrage me even more. Because pregnancy affected me, not him. I was pissed off that I was the one whose body was going to change and never be the same again. I was the one who had to think about my career, and not go after certain opportunities because “what if I get pregnant and can’t continue, or have to give it up for a while?” I was the one who was going to have to go through the trauma of birth and the recovery that came after it. I was the one who was going to have to supply the food for our child, at least for the first few months. It was all me, me, me. I was the one whose life – whose body – was going to be disrupted forever.
It sounds absolutely horrible to say it – I know – but there it is. Raw. Unfiltered. Unedited, even.
But this rant has a happy ending. Do you want to know what the biggest surprise has been for me since I’ve been pregnant?
Not only do I not feel angry, but instead, I feel exactly the opposite: I feel lucky. And perhaps even more surprisingly, I feel so guilty that Ted doesn’t get to experience this journey the way I do. He doesn’t get to feel every twist, every turn, every kick, every hiccup. He doesn’t get to bond with my little nugget the way I get to. It’s like we already have our own language. We are communicating all the time, even when I don’t say a word outside of my head. I say something and put my hands on my tummy, and she moves to let me know she heard me. I get to feel all of that, at all hours of the day. Ted only gets to feel her move when I tell him where to put his hand and when, and half the time she moves positions before he can get his hands in place in time to feel it.
And for that, I feel guilty. So guilty.
Sure, my body has changed. I have porn star boobs that started leaking white stuff (aka colostrum, or my daughter’s food for the first few days of her life) at about 25 weeks. My stomach is so big now that my boobs can rest on it like a ledge, a very nifty party trick, if I don’t say so myself. I’ve had to go through two different rounds of maternity clothes because I keep growing out of them (I ripped a hole in the crotch of my maternity jeans a few weeks ago. It was a proud moment). I keep watching the scale creep up to numbers I’ve never seen before. I can’t fit into my favorite boots anymore because my legs have grown in diameter on account of the extra fluid in my body (and maybe some cupcakes…and french fries…). My feet have gone from long and skinny to swollen and sausage-like. My baby brain is so bad that I forget people’s names before they’ve even finished telling them to me. Where I never broke wind in front of anyone before – not even my husband – I’m starting to fart loudly and in public, and dammit, it makes me giggle every time. Apparently, girls do fart (oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud)! My abs are now sitting nicely on either side of my hips, and the tearing that I feel anytime I try to turn to parallel park confirms that it will be a while before I get my nice flat tummy back (and I’m told it may never come back at all). I can’t hold my pee for longer than a few minutes and I keep hearing horror stories about incontinence after the baby is born (“You will never jump on a trampoline again.”). I haven’t seen my vagina in months (did I really just say that?), and who knows where my belly button has run off to. And Ted says he has seen my cry and heard me swear more in the last 8 months than he has in the entire 5 plus years we’ve been together (roughly translated, I have limited to no control over my emotions anymore).
As you can see, the list is long. And to someone who hasn’t been pregnant before, it probably sounds pretty scary.
But anytime I’m wallowing in my own self pity, grieving the loss of my womanly figure, that is always the time that my little girl decides to move. Whether it’s a twist or a turn or a kick, she serves as a reminder of what I’m doing all of this for, snapping me back into the present moment, assuring me that nothing else matters. And while some or all of the things I’m worried about may or may not be unfounded, one thing in my life will remain forever changed for the better: I will be a mom. Her mom. And though we haven’t officially met yet, I would happily give up any of the things I mentioned to give her life, to be her mom, and to love her for all of time.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s right to make women feel bad about their concerns about pregnancy. It’s not vain to mourn the loss of your once perky boobs. It’s not vain to worry that your vagina will never be the same again. It’s not vain to worry about stretch marks on your tummy and it’s not vain to be concerned that you may pee yourself for the rest of your life.
Just because I have happily been converted into a content pregnant woman doesn’t mean I’m not still worried about the things I was worried about before. Pregnancy has made me come face to face with my insecurities, the two biggest ones being body image and finding beauty in being vulnerable.
PREGNANCY AND BODY IMAGE: LEARNING TO LOVE MY NEW CURVES
I’ve always been on the slim side (don’t hate me, it’s genetics and a healthy lifestyle), and never gained weight in my stomach (definitely genetics). So when I look in the mirror at my pregnant body, and see the way my stomach is growing, the way my hips, butt, thighs and even calves have expanded, and lament that I can no longer fit into my once favorite clothes, it plays major tricks with my mind. I have to work hard not to feel disgusted with myself, even though logically, it makes sense that all of these things are getting bigger. We live in a world where beauty is defined by cut abs and a slim waist, and though I know that’s just plain silly, I cannot help but to fall into the trap of believing it too sometimes (and perhaps too many sometimes’).
But what I’ve quickly realized is that every time I look at my body and turn away in disgust, I’m teaching my daughter to do the same. And I don’t want her to ever hate her body. I want her to love it always. No matter the size. And if I want her to always love her body, shouldn’t I set the example from the get go and love mine as it is right now? You bet I should. So when I look at my body now, I make conscious shifts in how I allow myself to think about it. Instead of being sad, I giggle when I can’t do my jeans up, or can’t get my shirt over my tummy. I feel gratitude for the extra curves, the extra fat, the basketball that is now my stomach. What makes me bigger makes her stronger, and if that’s the price I have to pay to keep her nourished, I’m happy to pay it.
PREGNANCY AND VULNERABILITY: LEANING INTO THE DISCOMFORT
Being pregnant has also taught me to redefine what it means to be strong, and what it means to be weak. I’ve always been very independent. I’m the girl who will try to carry 17 bags of groceries into the house and up 20 flights of stairs all at once instead of asking for help or making a few trips. I don’t like to be seen as weak.
But therein lies the ultimate lie: that asking for help makes you weak.
Pregnancy has made me redefine what strength and weakness looks like. Because even if I wanted to carry 17 bags of groceries up 20 flights of stairs, I couldn’t do it. I can barely carry one, especially now.
In the first trimester of this pregnancy, the nausea and fatigue overcame me. Oftentimes my husband would come home to find me sleeping on the couch at one o’clock in the afternoon. I would feel guilty. I would feel like I should be doing something, even though I had been working all morning, but couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Time and time again, friends would have to remind me that I was growing a human. Lay off, I heard someone once say. I grew a kidney today!
And my husband never made me feel guilty. I did that all on my own. It was all me. I thought taking a nap made me weak. Lazy. Useless. To think that honoring my body’s needs in that way could make me feel like that is a lesson I won’t soon forget.
The first time I took a flight as a pregnant woman and tried to get my carry-on bag into the overhead bin (I only ever fly with carry-on) was even more telling. I was about 20 weeks pregnant at the time. I was traveling alone. I looked down at my bag, and looked up at the bin. A man came up behind me and asked, “Do you need help putting that up?”
Non-pregnant Lauren would have scoffed at the idea and offered to help him put his bag up there in addition to mine (I’ll show him how strong I am, dammit!). But for the first time in my life, I really couldn’t lift my bag into the bin. So I laughed and said, “Why, yes. Yes I do! Thank you!”
For the first time ever – and I do mean ever (except for maybe when I was little and not tall enough to reach the bin) – on a plane, I let another human being help me with my bag.
I’ve been letting people help me in big and small ways ever since, whether it’s holding the door for me, letting me cut in front of the bathroom line, or carrying my groceries to the car. I wish I could say it was because I had some big revelation about how being vulnerable is a great thing. But that’s not why. It’s merely because I’m simply not capable of doing many of the things I used to be able to do on my own anymore. But, it has taught me to develop a new relationship with vulnerability, to see strength and weakness in a new light. It’s not weak to let someone help you. It’s strong. Because every time I don’t overextend myself, I protect my daughter, and I protect myself. And every time I give my body what it needs (food, sleep, etc.), I do the same.
Brene Brown gave a memorable Ted Talk on vulnerability a few years ago. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you stop everything and do that now. And if you have but haven’t seen it in a while, go watch it again.
Among other things, she says that you need to let go of who you think you should be and be who you are. She says that what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful. That, “vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness, but is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.” That we need to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror that make us feel so vulnerable.
Maybe you’ve never been pregnant, have no intention of ever being pregnant, or want to be and haven’t had the opportunity yet. No matter your situation, I hope that the next time you chide someone away from helping you when they’ve offered, or berate yourself for the cellulite you found on your butt, that you will lean into the discomfort, redefine what it means to you, and allow yourself to see the beauty and strength in it.
Sure – I’m still worried about what my boobs will look like after I finish breastfeeding. I’m worried about what things are going to feel like “down there.” I’m worried about peeing myself for the rest of my life. I’m worried about ever getting my flat tummy back. But every single worry is washed away every time my daughter moves inside me, turning everything into something to be cherished rather than something to be feared. With every shift in position, she pulls me into the present moment, reminding me every single time – without exception – that she is a miracle, that she has a voice that needs to be heard, and that all roads lead to her. Nothing is permanent in this life anyway – not even life. So trying to hold onto my vanity for the sake of it and nothing more doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense anyway. There is much more to be gained in creating a life than there is in trying to preserve the one I have exactly the way I have it. Up against the beauty of creating her, my worry and shame about how my body is changing lacks any viable substance or strong leg to stand on.
So, pregnant or not, let my experience serve as a reminder to you, a reminder to:
- See the beauty in being vulnerable and allow yourself to experience it wholeheartedly.
- Lean into what makes you uncomfortable.
- Give yourself a break: give your body what it needs when it asks for it (sleep, food, kindness).
- Redefine what strength and weakness means to you and remember that asking for or accepting help doesn’t make weak – it makes you strong.
- Stop shaming yourself, especially if it’s based on society’s commentary on how you should look, act or feel in any given situation.
- Honor your body and all the ways that it shows up for you.
I will carry these lessons with me way beyond this short 9 and a half months of pregnancy, and I hope that I will embody them enough so that my daughter – and you – feel them too.
Thanks for listening.
Your crazy friend,
Photo credit: EvaMariePursleyVibrantPicture.com