I've always struggled with body image. At age 12 I grew to the height of 6'0". I was taller than all of the girls... and the boys. It gave me the feeling of being the "big" girl from a very young age. I was the recipient of lots of silly, insensitive comments regarding height.
In my early twenties I suddenly gained about 30 lbs. I'd always been pretty careful about my weight as a teen in an effort to combat my tall stature. I felt that if I couldn't be "petite" then I needed to be skinny. I didn't use the healthiest methods. But... that's another post for another day.
So, when I lost most of the weight at 23 I was ecstatic. It felt amazing. However, before I had finished losing the weight, I found out I was pregnant for the first time. My husband and I had been married for 3 years and hadn't been sure that we would get pregnant. I'd gone to see doctors and although I hadn't pursued fertility interventions I wasn't certain that I'd ever have a baby. We were thrilled!
Despite my excitement there was a feeling of trepidation about the weight I'd lost coming back on. Unless you've struggled with weight you might not completely understand. I had worked so hard. But, a life is beautiful. A life growing inside of me? I can't even describe the feeling. I'd been wanting this much more than a skinny body.
Soon after announcing my pregnancy some people requested that I post a belly picture. At the time I had a personal blog so I posted my photo on it. Not too long afterwards I was made aware that another blogger (that I didn't know) had taken the photo of me and said that I was faking my pregnancy and that it was obvious from the picture I'd posted that I was just... fat - not pregnant. Several of my friends went to my defense. I knew the person was just looking for blog hits. I knew they were being unfair, but at the time it still stung.
As you can imagine it didn't help with my body image issues. I gained a lot of weight during my first pregnancy. It took three years post pregnancy before I lost the weight again.
When it came off, guess what happened? I got pregnant again! Repeat that cycle 3 more times. I'm on my fifth pregnancy.
I love being pregnant. I actually love my pregnant body more than my non-pregnant body in many ways. I love that I don't have to hold in my stomach. I love that I have curves. I love that I can wear flowy clothing that shapes, fits, and flatters. I love that my body is housing another member of our family - someone I'll love with every ounce of my being. I love that my body is strong. I love that 1, 2, 3, 4, and now 5 times I've been fortunate enough to carry a baby in this body of mine.
I honestly cannot think of anything more beautiful that my body has accomplished.
And yet, I still hear the words coming out of my mouth:
"I feel so fat."
"I've gained so much weight!"
"We'll see how big I get..."
"I'm bigger this pregnancy than I've ever been before."
"I feel HUGE!"
Some pregnancies have been easier for me than others. There have been pregnancies where I have felt absolutely beautiful. I have loved my body and how it looks. There have been other pregnancies where I have felt discouraged, disappointed in my weight gain, and frustrated that I am not one of those women that is "all belly".
But, when I look at other women who are pregnant all I can see is the miracle of life, the beauty, and their glow. I admire them, I love their pictures. I think they are all stunning.
I think about pregnancy and I consider the fact that years ago I wasn't certain that I would ever be a mother. I prayed about it more than almost anything I've ever prayed about in my life. I begged God to send me children. Now, I'm going to be welcoming our fifth in a mere matter of months and I honestly couldn't be happier or feel more fortunate. It goes without saying that pregnancy is a miracle.
It is also hard sometimes, and that is ok to say.
This growing, this stretching, this being home to another, it's a process that grows and stretches you in ways that you at first cannot imagine. It takes your energy, your patience, your love, and your body. It changes your perceptions in so many ways.
I've come to realize that the hard stuff is often the most beautiful. I may feel big, ungainly, or frustrated at the changes my body has gone through, but the beauty eclipses the discomfort. When I look in the mirror after having a baby I may see a body that has changed, but I also see a body that has sacrificed itself for the beautiful lives of my precious children - something I wouldn't change for the world.
My body may have changed, but it's beautiful because of those changes. I'm ready to stop the self degrading dialogue and embrace this body of mine.
In thinking about my own perceptions of pregnancy and my body I went to several other women, gathered pictures, and asked them for their thoughts on pregnancy and their bodies.
Here is that post: A Pregnancy Story - Part 2.