- I was fat and mostly complacent about it before pregnancy.
- I really do like looking pregnant.
- I know all about the health benefits of gaining weight during pregnancy, even for those of us who were overweight to begin with.
- I gained 33 pounds last time I was pregnant and lost it all within 2 weeks of the birth — even though it was over the so-called recommended amount for fat women to gain.
- I think it's ludicrous that weight gain recommendations don't take relative height and size into consideration — or, you know, current research. I think they're ludicrous just at face value as well.
- My midwife doesn't care how much I weigh.
- I know it's not getting fat; it's being pregnant. There's a baby in there who needs this weight to grow.1 (And, to go along with my first point, so what if I am getting fatter?)
So why does it bug me so much to step on the scale and see that I am now so much heavier than my husband? Why do I gaze at my naked pregnant body and see the lumps and rolls instead of the swell my baby makes?
I have an hourglass-to-pear-shaped figure non-pregnant, meaning I have broad hips and shoulders, and a comparatively smaller waist. (Not small waist, but relatively speaking.) So when I'm pregnant, it's a big surprise to me to see my belly grow. And grow.
I watch these TLC shows about women who didn't know they were pregnant until they went into labor. Some of the stories just absolutely floor me, but I can kind of, sort of see it as possible for a woman who typically gains weight in her tummy not to recognize that the extra bulk there is baby instead of food. I have friends and relatives who gain weight in their bellies first, so maybe it's not as much of a shock to have a swell there for them — or maybe it is. What do I know? All I know for myself is that my belly doesn't typically stick out unless I've really been stuffing myself or am bloated — so it's almost like a cue to me to take stock.
And the weight distribution has been a little different this time. My upper belly popped a lot sooner than before. "Upper belly" is a term I just made up, in case you're confused. It's the portion from my bellybutton to just under my boobs, and it decided to make an early and rotund appearance. I researched it and found out it was just my internal organs getting the heck out of the way — a little prematurely, in my estimation. My lower belly, on the other hand, is always slightly flabby, particularly after the skin stretching it went through last pregnancy, with an indentation at the bellybutton line, and the growing uterus just keeps pushing that flab and roll out — and out — and out — making it ever more prominent. So instead of the smoothly rounded bellies of maternity models, I have a sort of fleshy square, rounded out more when the flab is held in check by clothing, but springing forth when not confined, such as when I'm only in a swimsuit. And this makes me wonder if people really know I'm pregnant, or just think I'm tubbier than normal.
I've gained 22 pounds so far. That number slightly horrifies me. I'm just a little over halfway, after all, and I'm already near the limit of what we fatties are allowed to gain, and only 11 pounds shy of my first-pregnancy total. And that was with an 11 pound, 13 ounce, baby, with a placenta big enough for triplets. Heck, my baby was big enough for triplets! And I know the third trimester, still on the horizon, is the trimester I really packed it on, because that's the trimester that babies do almost nothing but gain fat (clearly) and get bigger. You can see it in action if you think about any preemies you've known — they tend to be gaunt — versus the roly-poly-ness of a full-term baby.
I've known other women who've gained more — or less (my mother gained 5 pounds with me, and I weighed almost 10 at birth) — and have had perfectly healthy babies, and been perfectly healthy themselves. Believe me when I say there was a lot of suspicion at the hospital that either Mikko or I had to have blood sugar issues — and we didn't. Some of us are just built bigger, and that's all right. Some of us gain a lot in pregnancy, and that's all right. Some of us take awhile to lose the weight after pregnancy (or never do), and that's all right, too.
There's no advantage to dieting during pregnancy, and in fact, not gaining enough weight can put the baby at risk for being low birth weight, which is a diagnosis wrapped up with grave concerns like serious illness and possible death, far beyond the ones I had with my chubby boy — like the fact that our newborn clothes and diapers didn't fit him and we had to skip to the next size.
So how can I have looked at our enormous newborn and seen only health and vitality and adorable caterpillar arms, and yet I look at myself, in the process of perhaps making another such chunk-a-munk, and see someone who really needs to go on a diet?
I would never — never — intimate to another pregnant woman that she was getting too fat, or that she ought to lay off the cookies, or suggest anything other than that I love the fertile goddess look. Because I do! So why can't I automatically give the same respect and honor to my own body?
It's complicated, isn't it? This navigating of ingrained societal expectations for what an "ideal" woman looks like colliding with the very real functions that being a woman lays us open to. I cannot be more womanly than by producing life through these here female organs,2 so from whence comes the self-loathing that bemoans my lack of a cinchable waist?
And how much harder it must be for people who are battling or have struggled with eating disorders, or who have obstetricians (or relatives) breathing down their necks and suggesting calorie restriction, or maybe even people who just were thin all their lives till pregnancy and have no idea how even to reconcile suddenly being larger than average.
So, as I waddle through the rest of my second trimester, give me some tips on how to look with favor upon my burgeoning body — fat rolls and flab and illuminated stretch marks and all (and — oh, horror — the new ones I can expect!). Because it just gets larger from here.
How does your size during pregnancy affect you? Did you ever feel any pressure (internal or external) not to put on so much weight?
I'm not the only one mulling this over. Check out also Baby Dust Diaries: "You’re Huge! Pregnancy and Size in a Thin-Centric World."
1 I wanted to link to a chart that showed where weight gain during pregnancy goes, but I swear I can't find a single chart that's not on a page lecturing women not to gain too much weight. So I'll just briefly summarize that the weight gain is a result of the baby, the placenta, amniotic fluid, the increased size of the uterus, the increased blood volume, additional breast tissue as the body prepares for breastfeeding, and fat stores for the mother. Yes, pregnant women storing fat is normal.↩
2 I want to add an interjection here that in no way am I suggesting that women who do not bear children are unwomanly — just musing on the conundrum that the pregnant body doesn't fit within the range of what's considered the most feminine shape in our society.↩