As many of you know, I am pregnant.
My husband and I are expecting our first child (a son!) at the end of September. The hope of a child is a precious, beautiful thing. Being pregnant? It’s strange. It’s humbling. It’s intensely surreal.
People like to talk crap about mommy blogs, but I have to tell you I’m thankful there are so many out there these days – especially the ones where the mamas and mamas-to-be are kind but frank about the realities of pregnancy and motherhood.
I’m thankful that women are creating a space where it’s okay to tell the hard truths (What? Not everyone is elated to find out they’re pregnant? Not everyone spends the whole nine months glowing? Along with extra weight and nausea, pregnancy can bring congestion, extra saliva, hair in weird places, acne in weird places, and a WIDER NOSE? It’s true, people).
I’m thankful for this space, but you know what? It’s still hard to practice.
Sure, I have felt a ridiculous amount of freedom in telling friends about my body woes (and reassuring friends who are also pregnant that they are NOT ALONE in any matter of ailments or fears).
And I am grateful for the grace and the compassion with which my truth-telling has been met. But there’s still this sense of confinement, of working out my inner demons, the hard reality that even in this sweet season of expectation, I have to face myself in the mirror.
And….WHOA, is that image changing.
Since we live thousands of miles from family and many dear friends, I decided to share my pregnancy progress over social media.
Since week 14, each Tuesday I post a photo of my growing belly to Instagram and Facebook and announce which kind of fruit or vegetable is comparable to the baby’s size. And friends, I worry that you may think this is shameless self-promotion, that I am just so in love with this new body and I think you should be too. Nope. In fact, each week I wonder if I will lose another Facebook friend because they are just so tired of seeing and hearing about my belly, certain that I am becoming one of those women.
Friends, this is HARD. For the girl who has been trying to perfect the selfie since before the advent of camera phones with front-facing screens (“Husband! Arm shot!” has been a common refrain in our marriage), I am much more comfortable with close-up pics of faces and smiles. After years of cropping photos to hone in on silly facial expressions (and okay, I’ll admit, my sometimes fabulous hair), I’m exposing my body to the masses – at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.
Vulnerable because: when I discovered I was pregnant, I was already 25 pounds heavier than my ideal weight. Heavier than I’d ever been in my weight-shifting lifetime. At my first prenatal appointment, my nurse asked if I was starting out at my “normal weight” and I burst into tears. I launched into a blubbering explanation of how much transition I’ve been through in the last few years and the stress it’s brought on and the plans I had been making to get back in shape and how the girl in the mirror and in pictures isn’t the girl I expect to see – and she kindly stopped me and said, “Oh, honey – you’re fine! I was just thinking what an adorable pregnant lady you make. Don’t you worry a bit.”
I was thankful for her reassurance, and I wanted to believe her…but I also knew she was trying to calm me down. Sure, I could be heavier, unhealthier, and my situation could be worse. But I also knew that for my height, my age, and most importantly, for me, I was overweight.
This wasn’t just about the number on the scale.
I wanted to be stronger and healthier so I could be better prepared to carry a child. And before I discovered I was pregnant, I was on that track.
I had just committed to training for a half marathon, and had spent hours mapping out a daily exercise plan in my day planner spanning the next eight months, including two shorter races in the spring.
I had begun easing myself into running again, and had been feeling good about the progress I had made.
But now – I was pregnant. And nauseated. And exhausted. And honestly? I felt a bit blue.
My whole plan to get stronger and feel better in my clothes had just flown out the window. Oh, yes – you can definitely exercise when you’re pregnant. And yes – every doctor will tell you to do so. And some women run half marathons while carrying a child, and do it well. But you can’t start training for a half marathon when you’re pregnant and have just spent two months on your couch nursing nausea and watching the entire series of Gossip Girl. You just can’t. Well maybe you can. But I didn’t.
And of course there are other ways to exercise while expecting. But the truth is, running has always been my go-to body-image and body-sculpting cure. I spent three torturous years in elementary school and middle school battling weight issues and the teasing that came with it (kids can be so mean), and it wasn’t until my parents purchased a treadmill the winter of seventh grade that I finally felt like I had some kind of agency over my body.
I laced up my shoes, turned on Sheryl Crow or Natalie Merchant, and ran until the weight melted off.
It’s been something I have turned to time and time again – no matter the season, running has not only helped me lose weight, but has also kept me sane, alleviating stress and promoting creative thought.
And to be honest—I am cringing as I type this—it has often helped me reach my true goal: to be trim and considered pretty.
I will be the first to tell you that I have always had – and still have – ridiculous body image issues. And the worst part is, I feel like I should know better.
In my professional life I’ve been privileged to learn so much from experts in healthy behavior change, body image, and disordered eating. I know that diets don’t work (in the long run). I know that the key to lasting change is eating nourishing food with delight and mindfulness and moving my body in a way that challenges me and brings me joy.
I refuse to participate in “fat talk” and try to challenge (and encourage) friends who are preoccupied with talking about what they should and shouldn’t eat and how they need to lose weight. I’m a passionate advocate of self-kindness coupled with accountability. But dang, it’s hard to do for myself.
Through the months of April and May, my Elevate sisters and I took on challenges to work towards a more positive body image. One challenge was to practice looking into the mirror with kindness, compassion, and love. To sometimes even speak out loud the words of affirmation that we truly long to hear (but don’t always believe). To smile at ourselves rather than grimace at every perceived imperfection.
So I began to spend more time looking at this ever-growing belly, practicing grace. And I committed to snapping a picture and sharing it each week in celebration – no matter how I felt about the image looking back at me.
On a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of the mirror, wearing a maternity dress I hadn’t yet tried on. I loved the way it clung to my curves, showcasing my bump and growing breasts (friends, I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but this A-cup-lifer has to celebrate). And I snapped the picture. I loved it. Until my eyes traveled down and saw what the camera noticed, and I had not: my love handles, captured so delicately in shadow. And I thought –
I’ll try a different angle. No luck. Still there. And then I thought – I’ll just change clothes, I’ll put on something black, I’ll find a drapey cardigan to cover up this mess.
My heart sank. The whole point of this exercise was to learn how to look at myself with kindness, to celebrate the changes within me, to embrace the beauty of the woman who is here right now. Without the aid of PicMonkey (um, hello airbrush, weight loss tool, and wrinkle remover!).
So, I took a deep breath and I posted it. And yeah, there is a part of me that recognized I would probably get fewer likes on that picture than the photos where I am carefully draped and posed. But hey – we’ve all got our body issues, we live in a fitness-crazed culture, and I realize some folks aren’t going to feel comfortable giving a thumbs-up to a woman who obviously has not been working out every day of her pregnancy. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I really hope so.
The point is, I am working on being brave. And being brave requires also being vulnerable. And here I am, swimming in the vulnerability pool, buoyed by my love handles. I’m effectively inviting you to go stare at, as Bridget Jones would say, my “wobbly bits.” I’m calling attention to the place on my body I would least like you to see, much less contemplate. I’m inviting you, in a way, to objectify me, like I’ve objectified myself. Like I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old.
But I’m also inviting you into a safe space, a space where we can all be honest about our fears and our hang ups and perfectionistic tendencies and realize that we’re not alone. And inviting you to recognize that speaking the truth about what we battle sheds light on what’s been hiding in the darkness. And there, in the glow, we can see that these fears do not need to hold power over us.
Because now that I’ve put this down on paper, I’m starting to think – who cares about love handles? Is this really what I’m going to spend the day thinking about? And now I’m laughing because – maybe no one even noticed.
My hope – my great, wild hope – is that in exercising this type of vulnerability, I’ll reach someone else who maybe doesn’t love her body today. Who maybe looks at old pictures of herself and longs to be 18 again. Or wishes she looked like her friend who seems to make life look so easy and perfect.
We’ve all got our secrets, friends. We’ve all got our struggles. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.
And may we celebrate the beauty we find today – right here, right now, staring right back at us from the mirror.
WITH LOVE FROM
Erin, Adventurer, Storyteller, and Army Wife
Erin grew up in three different countries, leading her to embrace her role as a third culture kid: she loves airports, hates small talk, and feels more at home in a book than in any specific place. Lover of peppermint tea, alpine slides, Stephen King novels, hot yoga, Cadbury chocolate, and karaoke; devoted yet sometimes reluctant follower of Jesus; she lives with her husband, Tim, and their crazy ragamuffin cat, Opal, in a charming blue house in Tacoma, WA. Watch out: she’s bitey (the cat, not Erin).