On Pregnancy, Body Image and Loss of Identity
Since announcing my pregnancy, I’ve had quite a few comments from kind people saying how much they’re looking forward to seeing my maternity style…
… and all I can think when I read those comments is, “Wow, these people are going to be seriously disappointed!”
These photos, you see, were taken on a good day. Most days are NOT good days, because, the truth is, I’ve been kinda struggling to know how to dress a body that no longer looks or feels like mine any more.
I didn’t really expect to feel like this.
In retrospect, I probably should have: I mean, I’ve had this body for a very long time now, and I’m not used to sharing it. (Also, much like Joey from Friends, AMBER DOES NOT SHARE. Nuh-uh) What’s more, with one notable exception, I’ve been roughly the same size/shape for most of my adult life: sure, my weight will go up and down by a pound or two (or, you know, three or four) from time to time, especially during vacations and at Christmas, etc, but, for the most part, I know my body, and I know how to dress it, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that as big as change as this one would kind of throw me for a loop, then, should it?
It did, though. See, the thing is, I’ve always had a bit of a pot belly. ALWAYS. Even at my very thinnest (Right after university, when I lost over a stone due to stress, and my mum threatened to take me to the doctor…) I STILL had that little bit of a belly, which meant I got to look both ill and pregnant, all at the same time: yay! Now, I’ve always been very, very self-conscious about that little pot, for the simple reason that it can make me look pregnant, even when I’m not. (I remember once, in my early twenties, a colleague took me aside at work one day and said, “Look, I’m sorry to ask, but we’ve all been wondering: are you pregnant?” I legit DIED on the spot…) So, if I’m wearing something bodycon, I’ll always be wearing shapewear underneath. If I turn to the side, I’ll be sucking in my stomach (Since finding out I was pregnant, I’ve actually had to train myself NOT to do this: it’s just totally automatic now…). If there’s a new workout routine that promises to make my belly flatter, I’ll be trying it. And always, always, I’ll be feeling self-conscious, and just waiting for someone to ask me if I’m pregnant. Always.
And now, of course, I AM pregnant. At first, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to do those progress shots you see women do, where they start off with a totally flat belly, and end up looking like there’s a watermelon up their jumper. My starting point would’ve looked much like other people’s 10 weeks, so THAT was out… but I thought the bump itself would more than make up for it, because finally, FINALLY, I wouldn’t have to worry about people assuming I was pregnant. Sure, my belly would be huge, but pregnant bellies are SUPPOSED to be huge, so who cares, right? I was really looking forward to wearing all of those bodycon dresses I usually feel so self-conscious in – and to not having to suck in my stomach, or wear the dreaded Spanx under them, either: it would be liberating! Or so I thought.
As it turns out though, that’s not quite how I’ve felt. Yes, I’ve been enjoying watching the bump grow, and having that little bit of reassurance that there is, in fact, something happening in there… it just turns out that I haven’t enjoyed other people watching the bump grow quite so much. In fact, it’s made me feel quite uncomfortable at times to have people constantly commenting on it, and touching it, and wanting to tell me how very very BIG it is. As I said to Terry last week, I know they mean well, and I also know that no one is trying to say I look “fat” or anything like that, but I’m not sure there can be many women who enjoy having their body shape constantly scrutinised and commented on, do they? It’s pretty weird, really, to go from having your body just be your body, no questions asked, to having it suddenly be the centre of attention, with people always wanting to talk about it, no matter how hard you try to change the subject.
And there’s the crux of the matter, really. It’s not about feeling “fat”, or not fitting into most of my clothes any more, and it’s definitely not about feeling embarrassed or ashamed, or not wanting to be pregnant. It’s just that, well, I don’t feel like ME right now, and the constant commentary on my growing belly is part and parcel of that. I’ve already noticed, for instance, that, for some people, it’s pretty much ALL they want to talk to me about. I can be talking about something totally unrelated to pregnancy, but still those people will find a way to make the conversation all about babies, or bellies, or whatever, and while I know they’re just excited (and probably assuming that’s all I’ll want to talk about too…), there’s a large part of me that wants to wave and say, “HI! I’m still in here, you know! I’m not just a belly! You can talk to me about other things, too!”
But it’s hard for people to look past the belly, and I suspect it’s only going to get harder as this pregnancy progresses – and harder still when the baby’s here, I suppose. Already I’ve had a few people address me as “mummy” or “mama”, which just feels so odd to me (I always have to resist the urge to say, “I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER, YOUNG WOMAN!”), but I’m guessing that’s something else I’ll just have to get used to. (Just to be clear, I’ll be perfectly happy for the BABY to call me “mummy”- as hilarious as that currently sounds to me – I’d just prefer for the people I DIDN’T give birth to to stick to “Amber”, is all…) Because the fact is, I don’t feel like ME right now. I don’t LOOK like me. People don’t talk to me like they did before. It’s all change, really, and I’ve never been very good with change – which is where I suspect all of this is coming from, really. Add in the fact that I’m generally a very shy/reserved kind of person anyway (I hate social kissing/hugging, or what I call the “Spotlight on James Brown” effect, where everyone in the room turns to stare at me…) so I absolutely hate being the centre of attention, with everyone focusing on the size of my belly – *cringe*!
I’m actually a bit scared to publish this post, now that I’ve written it. I know that some of the people who will read it are firmly in the, “Pregnancy is magical and you shouldn’t ever say anything negative about it!” camp, but, well, that wouldn’t be me either, would it, and as I said in this post, this is such a huge, huge change for me (And I’m not just talking about my belly here, either…) I want to be able to write honestly about it, rather than just doing the whole #SOBLESSED thing that I know is expected of me right now.
I am #SOBLESSED (*cringe*) of course, and I wouldn’t want anyone to assume I think otherwise. But I’m also #SOSCARED and #SOSTILLADJUSTING, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one who’s ever felt like that… can I?