Whether you have been pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, most women fear how their body will change during and after carrying a child. It’s a monumental life-changing event in so many ways. Naturally, most women will look different post-baby (after all, the body is bringing a new life into this world!). Our society has done a great job of feeding the message that pregnancy “ruins” a woman’s body. There’s an obsession with celebs (and even regular folk) who’ve “bounced back” to their pre-pregnancy bodies and look like they haven’t had kids at all. Gossip magazines used to be the worst offenders, and now our Instagram feeds are joining the fun.
I didn’t realize just how much society’s idea of perfection was affecting me until my first pregnancy, two years ago. In my childhood and adolescent years, I had subconsciously learned to find love and acceptance by looking a certain way and keeping up with the expectations of others. When I became pregnant, these old image demands re-surfaced, and all the unknowns of pregnancy shook me. Would I gain weight that I would then spend my whole life trying to lose? Would I have stretch marks? Acne? Varicose veins? I dreaded the process of getting bigger. All the subliminal messages about women no longer being attractive after having babies started to morph into fears about my husband not liking my look and then altogether not being beautiful. I began acting irrationally in my marriage (convinced he no longer loved me) and I wasn’t enjoying the miracle of being pregnant and becoming a mother.
A few weeks into my second trimester, I had to be honest with the fears I hadn’t addressed in the first stage of my pregnancy. By not facing my issues, they were robbing me of joy and eroding the trust and love that once defined my marriage. I had to make a stand and defend the self-worth for which I had spent so many years fighting. I prayed and journaled. I spent time reflecting on the honor it was to grow life inside of me. I stopped watching shows on husbands cheating on their wives because that fed my fear that my husband would no longer find me attractive. I chose to put down the magazines and books that portrayed pregnant women as unattractive or spoke of them as if they were half the women they were before having children. I deleted Instagram accounts that made me feel inferior because I didn’t have the same body type. I meditated on affirmations about my inherent worth. I learned to accept my husband’s unconditional love for me and not conjure up scenarios in my head. I surrounded myself with positive images of powerful pregnant women who are confident and radiant in their skin, even with baby weight and stretch marks. I read about those who were happy and secure after having babies. I dare say, women who felt even more beautiful.
Maybe for you, it’s not the process of pregnancy but something else that’s made you realize society has wreaked havoc on your body image. Perhaps enough is enough, and you’re done dealing with the pressure of living up to the “perfect” body. Whatever it may be, I encourage you to sit and be real with those feelings and have a look at what’s feeding the fear and insecurity. Is it your Instagram feed? Is it that friend or boyfriend that comments about your weight? Is it certain TV shows or magazines that place an expectation on you to look a set way? Is it something more profound like a childhood experience or a relationship that tied your worth to your appearance?
As hard and as painful as it was, I’m so grateful I got a chance to confront my feelings so I could be at peace with who I am, pregnant or not. It didn’t happen overnight, but I started to love carrying a child and how I looked. I embraced the journey instead of resisting it, and the fear of the unknown began to have less of a hold on me. Now, two years later, I am pregnant again with our second child. I can honestly say that I am happier and more confident about my body than I ever have been. Sure, it’s not exactly the same as it was before I had my son, but the great thing is, I’m 100% at peace with that. I don’t feel the pressure that I once put on myself to look a certain way.
I’ve found a deep love for my body, and it’s the most liberating feeling to value it for its strength, tenacity, and ability to bring life into this world. Its worth doesn’t come from being a certain size or weight or whether it has stretch marks or not. Despite what society tells me, that’s not what brings me true happiness at all.
Written for Iridescent Women: https://iridescentwomen.com/2018/08/28/how-pregnancy-improved-my-body-image/