Just before Christmas, Jarrid and I were over the moon to get the news that, come August, we will be a family of 3. At 6 months pregnant, I can confidently say that this is the most exciting time of our lives!
Given my history, I always anticipated pregnancy would be challenging for me, especially the experience of my body changing. I know my body well enough to know that I can easily put on and hold onto weight, so suffice it to say I knew I wouldn't be one of those adorable women who looks like she swallowed a basketball...good god, I envy those women!
The first trimester was surprisingly smooth. I was lucky to feel mostly well and be able to keep up with all my usual routines. I gained weight, as anticipated, but found myself at ease with that. It was like I knew my body was doing what she needed to do. And for the first time in my life I noticed (in amazement) as the shape of my body fell lower on the list of things that mattered. I felt settled in a way I never had. I felt content with exactly where I was and had a deep appreciation that so much of what I wanted in my life was coming to fruition for me. And if I’m being honest, that was an entirely new emotion for me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly content with exactly where I was in life. I’ve always been preoccupied with what’s next; this is good, but how can it be better; I got a promotion, but when will the next one come; I love my boyfriend, but when will he be my husband? You get the idea…What a welcome change it was to feel deeply happy in the present moment.
And then the hormones hit me like a ton of bricks. That shit is REAL. Without warning, I felt weepy and irritable. The sense of calm contentment was replaced with a rapidly growing anxiety that matched my rapidly growing…everything. I started to panic at the changes I was seeing in my body. Considering how well I was able to maintain my exercise regimen and, for the most part, pretty well balanced nutrition, I felt like my body was betraying me. Yes, I knew I needed to gain weight to provide a healthy and safe home for this baby growing in me. But 18 or so pounds by the half way point freaked me out. Would I keep gaining at this rate? Was it too much? What would happen by the time the baby was actually gaining weight?
The truth is, I fought for many years for this body. I fought hard to take good care of her, to be kind to her, to be comfortable in her, and to love and appreciate her as best as I was able. And now it felt like she was taking on a life of her own. Like it didn’t really matter what I did, because she was in charge.
I’m aware, and extremely grateful for how lucky I am that I was able to conceive without issue and that I have maintained a healthy and uneventful pregnancy for the last 24 weeks. To those who have struggled to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term, I imagine that my concerns over my changing body seem like a welcome challenge. But for me they are real and they bring up a lot of pain. There were many days where my detest for myself and my body led me to a very dark place. It took over a decade to claw my way out of that darkness, so any inkling of those feelings sets off all sorts of alarms for me.
We all have our demons. Your burden may seem objectively heavier to bear than mine, but the fact is, that doesn’t make my (or your) struggle any less real or less painful. While one’s feelings about her body might seem inconsequential to some, it could mean living as a prisoner in one’s own skin to someone else. So, I try not to judge my own struggles, even though I intellectually understand that so many people are suffering in ways so much greater than I could fathom.
For me, these feelings felt troublingly familiar. And I knew that I couldn’t push them down in hopes that they would just disappear, especially given how important it is to me to bring this baby into an environment where he can see his parents love and respect themselves as much as they love him, and one another.
A check-in with my therapist was the first step. She reminded me that this is new territory for me. While some of these feelings may seem like the past creeping up on me in the dark, in fact, this is an entirely new experience – one I’ve never had before. I am taking good care of my body and, in turn, this precious cargo. The rest may just be up to her for now. I have the tools to recognize when I am falling subject to those old beliefs about myself and to steer my internal dialogue in a different direction.
As always, this is a good reminder for me that it’s OK to have bad days. I have to allow myself to experience all my emotions - not just the pleasant ones. I need to give myself permission to feel sad some days, even if there’s no “good reason” for it; I can have days where I feel anxious about my body or uncomfortable in my skin. What I can’t and won’t do, though, is allow those feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy the power to break me like they used to.
I fought hard for my body but I fought even harder for my mental health…and nothing could be more important than that with a sweet baby boy on the way.