Whether you have been pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, most women fear how their body will change during and after carrying a child. After all, it’s a life-changing process in so many ways.
Naturally, most women will look different post-baby. After all, your body is bringing a new life into this world. But our society has done a great job of feeding the message that a woman needs to “bounce back” to her pre-pregnancy body as soon as possible. With more applause if it’s done sooner than later. There’s an obsession with celebs (and even everyday mamas on IG) who’ve returned to their pre-pregnancy bodies and look like they haven’t had kids at all.
I didn’t realize just how much society’s idea of perfection affected me until my first pregnancy.
A day before my 1st child (Elijah) was born, at 39 weeks pregnant.
You see, in my childhood and adolescent years, I had subconsciously learned to find love and acceptance by looking a certain way and keeping up with the expectations of others.
When I became pregnant, these old image demands re-surfaced, and all the unknowns of pregnancy shook me.
Would I gain weight that I would then spend my whole life trying to lose? Would I have stretch marks? Acne? Varicose veins? I dreaded the process of getting bigger.
All the subliminal messages about women no longer being attractive after having babies started to morph into fears about my husband not liking my new body and finding me unattractive. I began acting irrationally in my marriage (convinced he no longer loved me) and I wasn’t enjoying the miracle of being pregnant and becoming a mother.
A few weeks into my second trimester, I had to be honest with the fears I hadn’t addressed in the first stage of my pregnancy.
By not facing my issues, they were robbing me of joy in my pregnancy and eroding the love that once defined my marriage.
I had to make a stand and defend the self-worth for which I had spent so many years building.
I prayed and I journaled.
I spent time reflecting on the honor it was to grow life inside of me.
I stopped watching shows on husbands cheating on their wives because that fed my fear that my husband would no longer find me attractive.
I chose to put down the magazines and books that portrayed pregnant women as unattractive, or spoke of them as if they were half the women they were before having children.
I deleted Instagram accounts that made me feel inferior because I didn’t have the same body type.
I meditated on affirmations about my inherent self-worth. My worth as a woman and as a human-being beyond what I looked like.
I learned to accept my husband’s unconditional love for me and not conjure up scenarios in my head.
I surrounded myself with positive images of powerful pregnant women who are confident and radiant in their skin, even with baby weight and stretch marks. I read about those who were happy and secure after having babies. I dare say, women who felt even more beautiful.
As hard and as painful as it was, I’m so grateful I got a chance to confront my feelings so I could be at peace with who I am, pregnant or not. It didn’t happen overnight, but I started to love carrying a child and how I looked. I embraced the journey instead of resisting it, and the fear of the unknown began to have less of a hold on me.
Kissing my second child (Bella), at 12 weeks old.
Now, after the birth of my second child, I can honestly say that I am happier and more confident about my body than I ever have been. Sure, it’s not exactly the same as it was before I had my son, but the great thing is, I’m 100% at peace with that. I don’t feel the pressure that I once put on myself to look a certain way.
I’ve found a deep love for my body, and it’s the most liberating feeling to value it for its strength, tenacity, and ability to bring life into this world. Its worth doesn’t come from being a certain size or weight or whether it has stretch marks or not. Despite what society tells me, that’s not what brings me true happiness at all.
Maybe for you, it’s not the process of pregnancy but something else that’s made you realize society has wreaked havoc on your body image. Perhaps enough is enough, and you’re done dealing with the pressure of living up to the “perfect” body.
Whatever it may be, I encourage you to sit and be real with those feelings and have a look at what’s feeding the fear and insecurity. Is it your Instagram feed? Is it certain TV shows or magazines that place an expectation on you to look a set way? Is it something more profound like a childhood experience or a relationship that tied your worth to your appearance?
I encourage you to embrace this time and reach out for help if you need it. Confide in your partner or trusted friend about your fears. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re pregnant and struggling with an existing body image disorder. There are people to help you get the help you need. You’ve got this mama. You will emerge stronger.
This article was adapted from a piece I wrote for Irridescent Women: a community of women committed to awakening the brilliance within each other one real conversation and true contribution at a time.