Well, of course, someone had to take some photos of me at a party, wearing my favorite dress (should I just stop wearing the clothes I love to events where there might photos taken?), bulky, lopsided, unfortunately proportioned, and my pregnant beauty bubble, so to awkwardly speak, was popped.
No matter how many times I tell myself patiently, firmly, “NO. Don’t pay attention, the photo is lying!” there’s that part of my mind that goes “But this is the truth! THE TERRIBLE TRUTH IN A RANDOM, IMPERSONAL UNIVERSE WITHOUT A GOD.” My new tactic is better, I think. I tell myself, “So what? So what if I’m ugly?” And that is always more helpful. But at that particular moment there had been much talk of beautiful women, much instant evaluation around me of women as either pretty or dismissible, and it seemed as though it did matter, at least enough. Because even if it’s out of sheer laziness or habit or nothing important or just in passing, people seem to talk about the way women look first, and constantly, and always.
Anyway. I had been previously feeling glorious in all my pregnant majesty—belly outthrust, butt and thighs cushioning, the breasts, well, you know, they never cooperate, but whatever. But I had been liking how my new bigness feels essential, necessary, and full of purpose. I am carrying a baby human. I am holding the trump card. Kiss my goddamn pregnant belly, Victoria’s Secret. I don’t know. Something like that.
But the frightening thing is that somehow, some of the same obnoxious rules from before seem to apply. There is no escape.
Within the world of women talking about being pregnant, there is a lot of discussion about gaining too much weight, about gaining it in the “wrong” places, and especially, about getting all of our bodies back, after.
This is very important, I’ve learned. The goal is to reclaim the former body as soon as is humanly possible. The magazines are all about it—not that I’m reading them, but I see headlines because I can’t just close my eyes in the checkout line. And it’s all over the internet, too. Tips and regimens and lists of exercises and rules to live by that will allow us to spring back, practically unaffected, pure, clean, tight as virgins.
Before anyone can even ask, the “expert” is explaining in the book or on the site, “It is a common concern, but there is no evidence that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag. However, some sagging is to be expected, regardless of how you feed your baby.”
“Congratulations!” reads the email I’ve automatically received. “You’ve reached your 23rd week of pregnancy! How your life will change at this stage of pregnancy, after the jump…” I click, of course, like a sucker who’s never seen a Facebook ad. It explains that I might develop stretch marks. So I guess should prepare myself for that “life-changing” event. “Many women find stretch marks upsetting,” the notification continues, “But don’t worry, they will fade, even if they never completely go away.”
And the women on the pregnancy forum are always talking about how much they weigh. They are so upset because they have gained a few lbs “too much.” “Ten lbs this month!!! I HATE MYSELF!!!” One woman wrote, triumphantly, it seemed, “I only gained ten pounds with each pregnancy and I lost them immediately, the day I gave birth, so I never had to worry!”
“Don’t worry,” I read, “it’s normal to feel unattractive at this stage of pregnancy.”
“Don’t worry, even if you gain a little extra weight, it’s probably OK. But don’t use this as an excuse to pig out!”
“Don’t worry, many women find that their vaginas have returned practically to normal six weeks after the birth.”
“Don’t worry, this too shall pass.”
We are reassured over and over again not to worry, but I wasn’t worrying, I swear.
I wasn’t worrying, but there were detailed analyses happening about which is the best kind of pregnant body—what exact pregnant belly shape is the most aesthetically appealing, where you should hope to carry whatever weight you will have to carry, if you’re not lucky enough to be the woman who only gains ten lbs while pregnant.
And as I was admiring my largeness, feeling deliciously proud and savoring it, there were more articles and books being written about how I might quickly regain my dignity and my sex appeal, after. Everyone seemed to already be thinking about after, when my mission would be to negate every last trace of the transformation, every hint of the fact that I had changed and changed and continued to change through remarkably dramatic phases and impressively evolved stages that rearranged my organs and opened my ribs and poured new blood into my hardworking veins.
In the pictures, I looked lumbering and ungainly and unlucky. Suddenly, I was worried. What if I am ruined? What if I will never look good again? Suddenly, I was afraid of what was happening to me.
I can’t stop it. My belly button is quickly disappearing, a little shallower every day. I am afraid to look down in the morning, because maybe it will be gone. Irrationally, I’m nervous about the fragile skin there, that looks knotted from the inside, as though it will split open when stretched.
I am supposed to want my old body back, because my old body is supposed to be better. It makes me think about this idea that we all have this optimal body that we’re always trying to get to. Sometimes I think that’s the way it’s described to us. Whatever body we’re in right now is probably not the right body. It’s not our ideal body. So we should work to get to that better one, just out of reach, but ultimately, we’re reassured, achievable.
When I’ve written about being thin, sometimes commenters on this blog have reminded me that it’s easy to think of weight dichotomously, like, thin people on one side of an uncrossable line and heavy people on the other. But people inhabit many versions of their body over the course of their lives. Bodies are always changing. I like being reminded of that, that it’s the nature of bodies to change.
Bear showed me photos of him when he was a baby and a toddler yesterday, and I couldn’t recognize him in them. It was unnerving. And then he was this white-blond child model of a little boy, the kind who always faintly annoyed me for some reason, who look the way people mean when they say “all-American,” and it always felt somehow exclusive and a little discriminatory. And then he was suddenly round and angry-looking, like some kid in a warning about child obesity, and then taller, and then thin, and then heavier again, and finally a broad-shouldered man with expressive muscles. But of course he’s not done. It’s kind of hard to even keep up, but I think he walks around with all of those versions of himself interacting all the time. I think we probably all do—our many bodies in perpetual dialogue.
And at the same time, I know exactly what they mean when they tell me to make sure I get my body back. They mean the one with the least amount of evidence of life. They mean something like erasure. Erasure would be perfect. And automatically, I want that. What if I have stretch marks? What if I can’t lose the weight? What if my breasts sag and I am always a little lumbering after this? What if I have a different body then, one that I don’t quite recognize?
Well, I will have a different body then. After. The way we are always growing into new, different bodies, because that is the way that bodies work. That is the way it’s supposed to be. A body is a long story with twists and surprises and secret abilities almost like little superpowers. I never knew my body could do the things it is doing now, which is why I am instinctively proud.
But even if I wasn’t pregnant, the evolution of my body wouldn’t be any less interesting or relevant. My body would just be telling a different story about my life.
Which is why I want everyone to shut the hell up about what I should worry about right now and how much I should want my old body back and how soon I should try to get it. How I should be preparing now to get it back, even before my daughter is done growing inside it. Stretch marks are not life-changing. She is life-changing. She is becoming a part of my story and the story of my body.
Clearly, I need to do one of those naked pregnancy photo shoots in warm lighting, holding crystals or something. Clearly, I need to sit here for a moment, looking down at my disappearing belly button, and touch my newly stretched skin and admire its flexibility. Clearly, I need to get my body back from all of these other people and their opinions about what exactly it should be doing and how it should be looking at any given moment. It is mine, and we are on an adventure.
But I still kinda wish I hadn’t worn that awesome dress. Damn it. How could it betray me in this heartless manner?!
[Pregnancy photo from Shutterstock]