You might have funny discolorations in your skin. You look like you just swallowed a basketball and raided the bakery. You have no makeup on, your hair is unkempt, and you have the look of someone who just woke up groggy from a long nap. But people will run into you and gush that you’re beautiful. And on some level you are. Hey, you’re pregnant – and there’s a beauty in that which isn’t based on Vogue magazine standards.
And yet, it bears saying, something strange happens when you’re pregnant. Suddenly, your body is public domain, and people feel free to act and comment accordingly. As I head into the home stretch with less than three weeks until my due date, people seem to feel more comfortable than ever in commenting on the state of my body.
Thankfully, it’s all good – to the point where I’m convinced it’s exaggerated and meant to flatter. “You look fabulous,” friends coo. (Well, let’s not get carried away.) “Your hair looks great.” (Yes, it appears that raging female hormones have restored my hair to the thickness I had 15 years ago, but I’m sure it’s temporary.) “Your face isn’t big and puffy at all,” one friend wondered yesterday. “In fact, you look like you lost weight.”
And then there are the comments that I think are meant as compliments, but have a way of making me flinch. “I saw you from the back and couldn’t even tell!” (Gee, so I can stop worrying about my butt also looking pregnant?) “You look kinda slim but with a nice round belly.” (Slim? Really, save me the exaggerations.) “You’re not even waddling.” And my favorite: “You were much bigger last time, no? I mean, last time at this point you were huuuge.”
It could be that I’m having a slightly less puffy pregnancy experience, or that this baby will be a little smaller than our son was – girls often are. Or maybe it’s a seasonal thing. Towards the end of my last pregnancy there were a few days when the thermometer in Jerusalem neared 115 degrees, which meant 102-degree days were the norm. My hands and feet swelled up to the point where a friend remarked, with empathy: “Those don’t really look like they’d be your feet. Does it hurt?” (Yes, it did.) My feet looked like the belonged on the body of an old lady – or even a fat baby. The swelling reminded me of how my foot looked when I’d broken a bone a few years back – no metatarsals in sight.
In comparison, it’s nice reaching the home stretch of pregnancy in wintertime. Not the winter of New York, where I grew up, and where a friend slipped on the ice and broke her wrist while pregnant, but the relatively mild winter of Jerusalem. Here, on recent nights with the weather hovering at 4C (39F), the temperatures make for polite chit-chat about what an unusually cold winter we’re having. A scarf is a nice thing to have, but with my warm pregnancy hands, I don’t think I’ve put on gloves more than once the whole winter. We didn’t even get the snow that was predicted this past weekend, and that would have been the first time in four years.
This means that I my spend days in marvelously comfortable pregnancy jeans or black pants and black t-shirts, capped with a long, colorful sweater. It’s a lot more flattering of a look than the size XL white sundress I often wore in the record-breaking heat of August 2010. When it’s that damn hot and you’re that pregnant, a billowing muumuu that hardly touches your skin seems the only thing you want to wear.
But frankly, there are moments when I find this preoccupation with the state of my body to be disconcerting. Unless you’re my doctor or my midwife – who has explicitly told me to watch my sugar and carbs this month to avoid letting the baby get too big and thus inhibit the natural birth I’m hoping for – the state of my size is probably not your business. Not long ago, my friend Nechama Malkiel crystallized what was troubling about the comments on her pregnant body. In a piece she posted on Facebook a while back, she wrote:
I have two problems with these comments.
1) They create an atmosphere of judgment that I am constantly subjected to – many people seem to think that because I am incubating a human being, my body has become public property and deserving of scrutiny. This is personally hurtful and makes me feel self-conscious.
2) These comments convey a societal preference for certain body types that is analogous to the one that non-pregnant women are classified by – to be a pregnant woman who gains little weight and/or who loses it quickly is seen as superior to being one who gains a lot of weight and/or takes a long time to regain her pre-pregnancy body, if she is ever able to (or even wants to) do so.
Why am I writing this and posting it on Facebook? I have two goals. One is that we pause before we consider commenting on our friends’ and family members’ pregnant and post-pregnant bodies (particularly mine). The second is that we, as a society, reevaluate the underlying messages we are giving women about pregnant and post-pregnant body image. I do not believe that we should impose a “one thin size fits all” standard to women who are gestating or have given birth. I look forward to a time when women of all shapes and sizes can bask in the beauty of their new, fabulous bodies.
Right on, sister. Of course, truly excessive weight gain is never good for mother or baby. But in neither my case nor hers were we in that category.
Of course, it might be that it’s just hard for me to take a compliment. As a teenager, I never fully believed it when someone said I looked good. I struggled with my weight, and every pound gained or lost affected my mood. I either felt I had to negate every flattering comment in the interest of seeming modest, or I simply didn’t believe that what people said was sincere; they were just trying to make me feel good. Maybe I’m still suffering from that same skepticism. All these years later, those struggles largely behind me, I vacillate. There are moments I feel proud, blessed and lucky to be so full-bodied and ready to bring a new life into the world – and moments in which the aforementioned social conditioning makes me think what they’re really saying is, “isn’t it fun to see you looking so fat.”
This is perhaps the one time in a woman’s life where she is truly welcome to take up all the space she needs and revel in being large. Fecund. Powerful. In the few weeks I have left of pregnancy, I’m going to try to enjoy that. Because hey, You look marvelous.