Ooh, will you take a picture of me here? I asked my sister, handing her my phone.
We were on a girlie weekend away together and were in Bath for the day. It was gloriously sunny, just a little of that March nip in the air still, and we were wandering the romantic streets of this beautiful old city, imagining ourselves in our favourite Jane Austen novels.
We found ourselves in a columned street that I recognised from countless film adaptations. I saw my favourite heroine, Anne of Persuasion, here, breathless, looking for her Captain: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” *Cue swoon*
Jen snapped the photo and I went to look at it. “Oh no, take it again, I look fat.” She rolled her eyes at me. “You look pregnant,” she retorted, but good humouredly retook the photo in what I decided was a more flattering pose.
My belly was only just starting to appear at that point. I didn’t have one for many months, everyone telling me, “it’s because you’re tall.” I nodded in agreement but I was impatient for the signs of this pregnancy to actually appear, for the reassurance they would be.
Until they arrived. I’d get out of the shower and catch sight of myself in the mirror and my heart would stop in my chest. “When did I get so fat?” would be the fleeting thought before I crossly reminded myself, I am pregnant, this is what I’ve been hoping for for years.
I scour my wardrobe for outfits that will make me feel as pregnancy-cute as all the photos I’ve been pinning. Instead, many days I end up feeling frumpy and heavy. I ask Rasmus more often than normal, “do I look ok?”
What I’ve discovered is, there is a right way and a wrong way to look pregnant. No one says it like that, I don’t even think most women realise the weight of what we’re saying. But I hear it in comments that are made, in comments I make.
“Oh you have such a cute belly, perfectly round.”
“She is lucky to have not put on weight anywhere else except her belly.”
“You couldn’t even see she was pregnant from the front!”
“Ugh, I’m still carrying so much extra weight from that last pregnancy.”
Even our reassurances to one another still buy into the same thought pattern: “No, you look great. You’ve not put on as much as you imagine. It’ll all come off as soon as you start breastfeeding.”
And so I find myself critically examining my freshly showered body in the mirror each morning, aware that my arms are jiggling more since I quit the gym in my first trimester. And there’s definitely a lot more softness down the sides of my body. And surely my butt was never quite that big? I’m my own greatest critic.
When I catch myself in this thought process, it horrifies me. My body is performing this mindblowingly amazing feat of creating another human being. I lie in bed at night and watch this child rollicking under my skin and it astonishes me that without any conscious thought, my body has managed to knit together cells, to grow lungs and limbs, to launch the flow of blood through thousands of tiny veins.
And yet my first instinct is to criticise rather than praise. And to fear. To fear that I will be one of those unfortunate women who don’t lose the weight, who get all the stretch marks, whose stomach remains looking like the four-month pregnancy stage. Ask me any day, and I’ll confidently tell you that this is not what where a woman’s worth is found, that these changes are the beautiful marks of a body that created life. But I don’t always believe myself.
Rasmus told me recently about something he’d heard in a course, that we cannot unlearn anything. Once something has been believed as truth, it’s next to impossible to unlearn it because of the way our brains function. Instead we have to teach ourselves something new, until the new truth is stronger than the old lies, until the positive overtakes the negative. Not that it is no longer there, but we remove its strength, remove the power it once wielded over us.
I’m trying to do that now. Each time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and my first reaction is to frown, I tell myself to smile. Let the sight of myself bring me joy, not shame. Let the turn of my body bring pride, not disappointment.
And then I’ll be able to speak that same truth in to the lives of other women, no matter how their body has changed and grown through pregnancy: Your body is an amazing work of craftsmanship, a breath-taking work of precision and beauty. Never be ashamed of how it changed while it was creating life. Embrace the new curves, the extra wobbly bits, the scars that won’t fade – they are the signs of something glorious.