A while back a friend and I had a long conversation about our bodies and how our view of them have changed over the years. This discussion sparked a longer thought process as I began to consider how my body, and view of it, has changed since pregnancy. Long overdue considering Jackson is over a year old, but important nonetheless.
My experience is in no way a reflection of anyone else’s experience with their body during or after pregnancy. Not only do women have vastly different pregnancies, but each are colored by personal history, perceptions, and reactions. This is the reason I won’t talk about my tiger stripes (I was already indifferent about my plethora of “doughnut stripes” long before I ever got pregnant), failing to gain weight (ha, no problem there), or the experience of delivering naturally (I ended up getting an emergency cesarean after a glorious epidural.)
Caveats aside, I do believe one of the most obvious and daily experiences during pregnancy was not actually a product of my body itself. Rather, the moment I told people I was pregnant, it almost seemed as though my body became public property. How many women have shared their experiences with a waiter denying them coffee, a coworker commenting on their food choice, or dear lord- their weight? I would assume the vast majority of pregnant women have had at least one experience pregnant that they would never have otherwise.
With Jackson, I barely showed until 7 months in, whereupon a loving and doting coworker told me that I didn’t look fat anymore, I just looked pregnant. Later, after coming back from maternity leave, another coworker was astounded by how “great” I looked, considering how “huge” I got before I left. These, honestly, were hilarious to me- probably for the main fact that these women would never have said something of this nature at any other time. And yes, pregnancy does have a tendency to make someone comically large, so I get it- I really do. Sometimes you can’t help yourself.
Honestly, what was stranger was when someone would comment on something I should or shouldn’t do anymore. I remember how mind-blowingly weird it was when early in my pregnancy I got excited and jumped up and down, only to be told that I shouldn’t be jumping. At seven weeks, my mind has just begun to wrap around the concept that there was something the size of a blueberry nestled inside my body, it couldn’t even fathom how jumping four inches off the ground could threaten its survival. But time and time again I was told I should no longer do the things I had always done without a thought. I went in to pregnancy knowing this would happen later as my belly grew and got in the way; but even in my first trimester I was protected from carrying a case of water, moving a folding table, etc. Having always had a strong body, I was suddenly being told to resist doing things that I had never considered difficult. It was very hard to reconcile this new state with my old body identity.
I know without a doubt that this and any other comment I received while pregnant was made with love and protectiveness, and not only for me but also my unborn child. Of course I made a few playful retorts, but I really did try to take this advice as the ultimate form of compassion. Nevertheless, it is very bewildering when you are suddenly being told how to function when you’ve been functioning fine all along.
In the same vein was the profound realization that I was vulnerable for the first time in my life. Not that it was the first time I was actually vulnerable, but certainly the first time I actually physically felt like I could no longer “go to bat” if a situation required it. I spent months processing this new information. Having always been a tall and fairly large woman, I rarely ever felt nervous about my surroundings. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would ever try to start anything, and if they did- at least I knew I could fight back. More concerning was knowing that if something was ever happening to Glenn that I wouldn’t be able to help. I know that not many people consider this the women’s “role” in the relationship, but I have always felt the need to protect those I love. However, as Jackson grew inside my belly, I knew that his life came first. It wasn’t that my arms were weaker, or I was slower (though that definitely happened too), but rather that I couldn’t place him in danger. He was vulnerable, and thus I was completely vulnerable too.
This vulnerability and protectiveness has continued to have a profound effect on how I navigate the world since Jackson was born. While I once was too overprotective, often willing to put myself in harm’s way for others, I’ve become more protective over my child and myself. It’s not surprising that I’m this way for my child, but I’m still surprised by the change towards myself. I guess that makes sense though, right? Now that my well-being directly affects my child, it’s no wonder I consider it a higher priority.
While I often thought of how my body was changing physically during pregnancy, it was how this affected others and my actions that really caused me to pause. This, more than anything, shaped my view of my body during that transitional period.