Of course someone had to take photos of me at a party wearing my favourite dress (should I stop wearing the clothes I love to events where there might be photos taken?) – bulky, lopsided, unfortunately proportioned . . . my pregnant beauty bubble was popped.
No matter how many times I tell myself, “No. Don't pay attention, the photo is lying!” part of my mind says: “But this is the truth! The terrible truth in a random, impersonal universe without a god.”
I had been feeling glorious in all my pregnant majesty – belly outthrust, butt and thighs cushioning, the breasts, well, they never co-operate. I had been liking my new bigness, how it felt essential, necessary and full of purpose. I was carrying a baby human. I was holding the trump card. Kiss my pregnant belly, Victoria's Secret.
But the frightening thing is that somehow, some of the old familiar obnoxious rules seemed to apply.
Among women who talk of pregnancy there is much discussion about gaining too much weight, gaining it in the “wrong” places, and especially, getting our bodies "back" afterwards.
The goal is to reclaim the former body as soon as possible. Magazines run on about it – not that I read them, but I see the headlines in the checkout line. And it's all over the internet: tips, regimens, lists of exercises and rules to live by that will allow women to spring back, practically unaffected, like virgins.
An “expert” explains in a book or on a website, “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 receive automatically. “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 says I might develop stretch marks. So I guess I 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 pounds “too much”. “Ten lbs this month!!! I HATE MYSELF!!!” Another woman was triumphant: “I only gained 10 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 wasn't worrying, but there were analyses of the best kind of pregnant body – what belly shape is the most aesthetically appealing, where you should hope to carry any weight.
I had been admiring my largeness, feeling deliciously proud, but there were more articles and books about how I might quickly regain my dignity and sex appeal. Everyone seemed to think about afterwards, when my mission would be to negate every trace of the transformation, every hint of the fact that I had changed and changed 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. Suddenly, I was worried. What if I was ruined? What if I would never look good again? Suddenly, I was afraid of what was happening to me.
And 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, which looks knotted from the inside, as though it will split open when stretched.
I am supposed to want my old body back, which makes me think about the idea that we have an optimal body that we're always trying to get to. It's as if 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: 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.
At the same time, I know what they mean when they tell me to 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, one that I don't quite recognise?
Well, I will have a different body then. That is the way 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 up about what I should worry about and how much I should want my old body back and how I should be preparing to get it 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 wish I hadn't worn that awesome dress. Damn it. How could it betray me in this heartless manner?!
Kate Fridkis blogs about body image issues at her blog, Eat the Damn Cake.