Pregnancy was an exciting time. In fact, fantasizing about a new baby is one of my favorite ways to commute to work. It was also a scary time, and the fear of the unknown weighed pretty heavily. And, of course, it was a weird time, because something was happening to me, over the course of nine months, that was completely outside my jurisdiction. Thankfully, over time I learned a few surprising ways to control my pregnant, changing body, because, for this Type A mom, giving myself completely over to nature so it could run its course felt very unnatural.
As my belly swelled and my breasts grew and my hormones threw me for emotional loops without warning, it was easy to feel helpless at certain times during my pregnancy. I told myself that this is what I wanted, though. After all, my husband and I had conceived because we at least thought we were financially and philosophically ready to have kids, but I never gave thought to being emotionally ready. Witnessing the gradual, uncontrollable changes in my body messed with my head at times, and I had to put a lot of effort into not freaking out about it.
That effort was worth it, though, because it introduced me to a version of myself I had never known: a woman who was determined to separate her body image issues from the wellbeing of her new family. It’s been an ongoing struggle, but my kids are constant reminders that their happiness has nothing to do with my pants size. They want my love, attention, guidance (and permission for unlimited screen time, which will never happen) and they want me to be happy. They are too young to understand that my happiness often has a lot to do with how I feel I look, because we always tell them, “It’s what’s on the inside, that counts.”
Inside me I grew strong, beautiful children, but it wasn't easy and I rarely felt as though I was in the driver's seat. I have a feeling that even though every woman and every pregnancy is different, feeling like your body has taken over and you're just along for the ride is rather common. So if you're looking for some reprieve, here are some of the ways I kept control of my changing body when I was pregnant:
I Kept Up My Fitness Routine
Continuing to work out was the main way I was able to exert control over my changing body. Though I had to modify my cardio routine as I got bigger, I never stopped working out intensely. I was in good shape and my obstetrician saw no problem with it, so I never stopped hitting the gym. On my due date with my first kid, I took a spin class, and I think continuing to exercise while pregnant helped in me having uncomplicated deliveries. Just a few pushes and my kids were out.
I Wore A Two-Piece Bathing Suit
Since I had to pee frequently, two-piece bathing suits are more convenient than one-pieces, especially if you find yourself soaking wet from the pool and needing a bathroom. I was pregnant with a protruding stomach no matter what I wore, so I might as well go the easier, though less modest, route.
(Yes, I obsessively slathered my midsection in sunscreen for fear of burning my baby.)
I Got A Prenatal Massage
I only got one of these (from a very generous friend) but it was heavenly. There are times during pregnancy when I felt like nothing more than a talking, talking vessel. It was as if I was a a house my fetus rented; a fetus who would never thank me for keeping a roof over its head (and an umbilical cord to its abdomen). My body was for someone else during this time, not for me. Getting a massage reminded me I deserved to feel good in this body, and that I could, albeit temporarily, abate the backache and the swollen feeling. It was nice… while it lasted.
I Slathered On The Coconut Oil
My mother has significant stretch marks from her two full-term pregnancies, so I thought I was destined to get them. So I rubbed copious amounts of coconut oil on my midsection daily. I grew one stretch mark, during my second pregnancy, and I see it as a mark of a warrior: someone who also grew two fully-formed human beings inside of her.
I will never know if the coconut oil actually staved off the stretch marks, but I’d like to believe it helped (otherwise, why would I put up with getting slimed by the stuff every day, other than it smelling delicious?).
I Didn’t Skimp On The Pedicures
While I couldn’t control how my body was widening and swelling to accommodate a growing fetus, I could control how pretty my exposed feet were going to be. Being pregnant in the summer is mostly unpleasant, so treating myself to pedicures was the least I could do to take the edge off the discomfort, and feel “polished,” even if it just from the ankles down.
I Didn’t Let Anyone Touch My Belly
That anyone thinks it’s OK to put their hands on another person blows my mind. Even if someone asked me if they could touch my pregnant stomach, I was taken aback. I get that pregnancy is magical and maybe onlookers wanted to try to get a little of that for themselves, but it’s just creepy. Don’t touch, don’t ask to touch, and don’t be offended when pregnant ladies keep their distance from your well-meaning, yet grabby, hands.
I Didn’t Invite Commentary On How High I Was Carrying
So many people had so many thoughts on my baby based on how I was carrying. “Definitely a boy,” a stranger on the subway told me. She was wrong. “Oh that baby is going to drop soon,” a co-worker informed me. Neither of my babies seemed to “drop,” in any meaningful way, before I birthed them. I never wanted to know anyone’s opinion about my unborn child. It was one of the reasons my partner and I had decided not to find out the gender of our kids before they were born — we didn’t want to invite any preconceived notions on these brand new beings.
I Told Myself My Body Had A Purpose…
It was hard to feel like I was in control of my body when it was constantly morphing over 40 weeks. So my mantra during pregnancy was as follows: my body has a purpose.
For so many years I saw my body as a huge disappointment. For example, it wasn’t thin enough or tall enough or shaped the right way in certain places. But becoming pregnant and knowing my body was the source of nourishment and protection for my future child helped me gain a greater sense of peace with the fact that its changes were beyond my control.
… That Was Greater Than Its Appearance
Because I was battling body image issues, pregnancy was a very hard time for me. I had to reckon with gaining weight, the one thing I had been trying not to do my entire life (since I was 8-years-old when we were all weighed in front of our classroom peers during a school-wide health check). But something shifted my perspective about the weight gain when I was pregnant, and I finally started to recognize what my body needed. It didn’t need to starve or binge and then overexercise; it needed to eat sensibly, let it grow to accommodate a gestating fetus, and follow the natural course of a healthy pregnancy. I had to let it do its thing, and that two healthy babies were born to me this way was proof that “letting go” impossible body ideals was worth it.