Romper

I Recorded Everything My Family Said About My Pregnant Body During The Holidays

Ej Dickson

Let's get one thing straight: I don't particularly like being pregnant, nor do I love my pregnant body. As someone who had, prior to my pregnancy, rarely exceeded 115 pounds, about a 16th of which was usually boob weight, I put a lot of stock in being thin, probably to the point of obsession. While I frequently saw pregnant women of all sizes who looked beautiful, because of my own neuroses I'd vowed to be one of those impossibly fit pregnant women who ran five miles a day and exclusively ate kale-and-turtle-meat smoothies, who stayed strictly within the 25-35-pound weight gain recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I quickly found out, however, that those women don't actually exist, because due to the physical changes brought on by pregnancy, it's virtually impossible to stay within those weight restrictions. During my first trimester, I was hit by a wave of perpetual nausea that could only be staved off by a steady diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, which was compounded by ravenous hunger and extreme exhaustion in my second trimester. The end result was that by my third trimester, I'd exceeded the weight gain limitations, to the point that I stopped asking my doctor to tell me the number during my monthly check-ins (though if I had to guess, I'd probably estimate around 69 million pounds).

So when it came time to visit my family during Thanksgiving, I was petrified. I come from an opinionated Jewish family that feels obligated to loudly comment on every aspect of your physical appearance, the way A-list celebrities are contractually bound to plug their latest projects during Late Night appearances. And considering your family members haven't seen you in a while, they're the best judge of how your appearance has changed over the past few months.

So I headed to Thanksgiving dinner in my baggiest sweater and loosest-fitting harem pants, eagerly awaiting whatever body-shaming horrors were in store.

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When I arrived with my husband, however, I quickly discovered that even though I felt fat and amorphous and disgusting, like an anthropomorphized version of those blobs that represent feelings in 1970s children's books, I apparently didn't look that way. In fact, when I showed up, people kept telling me that even though I was seven months pregnant, I apparently didn't look it. "You're barely showing," my aunts and cousins kept saying. "If I didn't know you were pregnant, I don't think I'd know you were if I saw you on the street."

When I demurred, saying that I'd gained a ton of weight, I was reassured that it was totally normal to gain weight during pregnancy. "I gained at least 70 pounds by the time I was in my seventh month," my cousin's wife told me. "I could barely put on my shoes. You're doing fine."

"I barely recognized you from the way you were walking," he said. "You just looked like a pudgy girl barreling toward me."

Although my relatives obviously meant well, in a way those comments felt even worse. I knew I'd gained a considerable amount of weight, so even if it wasn't going directly to my belly, it was clearly going elsewhere. Maybe I didn't look like a seven-months-pregnant woman, but in that case, who did I look like?, I thought to myself. Just a lady who falls outside the boundaries of what society considers an acceptable weight.

In a world where pregnancy is considered the only acceptable "excuse" for a woman to gain weight, what "excuse" did I have if I didn't look visibly pregnant? None at all, I concluded. I just looked like I was bigger than usual, a suspicion that was confirmed when I later went to the movies with my in-laws. As I waddled back from the bathroom, clutching my giant stomach, my father-in-law chortled.

"I barely recognized you from the way you were walking," he said. "You just looked like a pudgy girl barreling toward me."

EJ Dickson

While my family members' comments had clearly been intended to assuage my feelings of self-consciousness during my pregnancy, they ended up doing anything but. Whenever someone said I looked good or that I was "glowing," it was hard not to respond with, "thanks, but my thighs are literally rubbing together as we speak, creating the human version of a forest fire right below my crotch" or "thanks, but I actually went up four boob sizes so it feels like I should issue an earthquake warning whenever I take off my bra."

Whenever someone said I looked good or that I was "glowing," it was hard not to respond with, "thanks, but my thighs are rubbing together as we speak, creating the human version of a forest fire right below my crotch."

Of course, none of this actually stopped me from eating my weight in stuffing and pie during Thanksgiving dinner. Once, when I was getting up to grab a second helping, my mom did concede, "You know, your ass has actually gotten a little bigger since you got pregnant." I probably would've cried, had it not been for the giant plate of apple crumb cake with whipped cream I was shoveling into my mouth.

EJ Dickson

From my anxiety over my family members' comments about my body, it was clear that my fixation with my pregnancy weight gain had evolved into a full-blown obsession (it also became clear when my exasperated husband said, "your fixation with your pregnancy weight gain has become a full-blown obsession"). But it wasn't until I got back from Thanksgiving that I realized how ridiculous I had been.

My cousin and his wife had brought over their adorable toddler, so I was texting my aunt to send me photos of us playing with him. In one of the photos, I was sitting on the couch next to the baby. He looked nothing less than angelic resting on my stomach. But that wasn't the part of the photo that I zeroed in on.

"OMG," I texted her. "My face looks so fat."

"LOL you're pregnant and beautiful," she wrote back. "You're just right."

At that point, I realized that while I might not have agreed with the second thing she said, the first and third were right on the mark: I was pregnant, and thus far I had enjoyed a relatively complication-free, albeit uncomfortable, pregnancy. I might not have loved the way my body looked, but clearly whatever I was doing diet-wise was working, and however much I'd gained to keep my baby happy and healthy was just right.

No matter how many baby books you read or AAP guidelines you read or how many stretchy jeans you buy to prepare yourself for the body transformation that is to come, there's one thing about pregnancy that no one tells you: It seriously screws with your sense of self. Even if you're the most confident, badass pregnant lady in the world, and you're super-psyched about being an Earth Mother Goddess who brings forth the miracle of life, and you don't gain 69 million pounds in grilled cheese weight, your body just isn't capable of doing the things it could before you got pregnant. From jogging to cleaning cat litter to drinking alcohol to walking to get the mail without huffing and puffing like James Gandolfini in the last season of The Sopranos, not being able to do these simple things that are such a fixture of your day-to-day life is a pretty big mind-f*ck.

No matter how many baby books you read or AAP guidelines you read or how many stretchy jeans you buy to prepare yourself for the body transformation that is to come, there's one thing about pregnancy that no one tells you: It seriously screws with your sense of self.

As someone who has always taken a certain amount of secret, shameful pride in being super-thin (and who, let's be honest, has a history of disordered eating), my body image has historically been so tied up with my identity that the moment I gained a few pounds, I completely lost any sense of perspective. I didn't care that I was at Thanksgiving with my (all things considered, incredibly supportive) family. I didn't care that I was bringing forth new life, and that everyone in my own life was super excited about it. I just cared that my face and ass looked fat in photos. And coming to terms with how important that was to me was both deeply sobering and deeply embarrassing.

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't care about how my new love handles look in my Spandex maternity leggings, and that I won't be dieting and jogging as often as I can postpartum to fit into my old size 4 Reformation leotards. But I will say that being honest with myself about my obsession with my own body image has given me the freedom to be honest now. I am pregnant. I am fat. And I might not feel beautiful, but guess what? Right now, for my own health and for that of my unborn baby, I am just right.