“I have some big news,” I excitedly confessed to my friend Anne.
“I bet I can guess what it is,” she blurted out like an over-eager game show contestant. “I could tell the minute I saw you – you look … bigger.”
“Seriously?” I asked, self-consciously tugging at my shirt.
The horror-struck look on my face made Anne back pedal a bit. “Plus, you’re glowing,” she quickly added.
I never actually got the words “I’m going to have a baby” out of my mouth. Apparently the world at large could already tell. I was only 11 weeks pregnant.
I tried convincing myself that Anne was just super observant, that I still looked OK squeezed into my size 8’s. But a week later I ran into Julie. When I made the baby announcement to her, she, too, boasted she knew what I was going to say ahead of time. Although Julie’s response wasn’t as mortifying as Anne’s, the double whammy of two friends claiming to know I was pregnant so early on began to freak me out. Had I morphed into some jumbo-sized version of my former self over night?
Apparently so. Just days after my announcement, people were handing me maternity gear as if I couldn’t possibly go one more day in regular-sized clothing. Julie bequeathed me a lawn-mower-sized plastic bin of maternity clothes. Although I was grateful for the offering, I did think it a bit premature. But once I yanked her cutesy tops over my expanding curves, I realized I looked more like Pamela Anderson with a colossal beer belly than an average 30-something woman with a burgeoning baby bump.
Thankfully my husband, James’ comments weren’t as bad. During the early months, while friends were giving me clothes and calling my bluff, he would say encouraging things like: “I love your new belly” and “your butt looks awesome in those jeans.”
But when he walked in on me after a shower one morning during my second trimester, I caught him taking not-so-subtle glances at my ever-swelling breasts. I could tell what he was thinking: Her nipples are the size of dinner plates!
“Stop staring!” I insisted, quickly covering up with a towel.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that they look like they hurt : all red and swollen.”
“They don’t hurt. Leave me alone.” Knowing full well that nothing he could say would assuage the situation, James obediently kissed me, did an about-face and left the bathroom without another word.
The shower encounter did nothing if not push me closer to the brink of all-out body paranoia. So that weekend I hightailed it to the maternity store at the mall only to learn from the young, perky and thin (damn her!) sales associate that they didn’t sell such things as maternity bras, only nursing bras. She went on to inform me that most breast growth would likely occur between six and nine months. “That’s when your rib cage will expand and your breasts will really grow,” she explained while giving me a quick once over. I attempted to evade her gaze by hiding behind a display of BellaBands. “If you feel like you need something already,” she continued, finally remaking eye contact, “just buy a regular bra a few sizes bigger than you normally wear.” I left the store distraught over my body’s prospects for the next four months and wondered if I could somehow pull off wearing ponchos all summer.
It turns out I’m not alone in the despair I was associating with my growing girth. A quick Google search on body image during pregnancy confirmed that while some women revel in their changing shape, others find it appalling. Several psychology studies even reported that as women get physically larger, many of them express a feeling that they, as a person, are disappearing. Bingo!
I wasn’t completely prepared for this transformation. I got pregnant after James and I flippantly said, “Let’s just see what happens if we stop using birth control.” The “let’s just see” part took all of three weeks. I barely had time to get used to the idea of being pregnant when my body started changing uncontrollably.
During rare moments of sanity, I did realize I was being obnoxiously superficial about my changing body. Pre-pregnancy, I was never one to let my size or shape consume my every thought. Plus, I’d had a stunningly easy pregnancy, skirting morning sickness, hemorrhoids, heartburn, bloating, sleeplessness, and the cadre of other physical ailments pregnancy books warned me about. Physical changes aside, I was fascinated with the idea that a new life was growing inside of me. Still, most days I felt like the old me was fading into the background while my expanding body took center stage. To me, my roundness symbolized the inevitable: Life as I knew it was evaporating before my eyes. The freedom and spontaneity of my childless existence was about to be disrupted big time.
Then one night shortly after entering my third trimester, James and I were camped out in front of the television and I kept feeling the baby’s movements. I asked James if he wanted to feel his baby.
“Really?” James asked.
“He’s moving around like a maniac.”
James gingerly placed his hand next to mine on my stomach. Together, in the dark, we looked at each other and waited. After a few anxious moments, our baby dutifully did his stuff.
I turned to James. “Did you feel that?”
“Yeah,” he said, with raised eyebrows and an awe-struck smile spreading across his face.
“That’s our son.”
James eventually removed his hand but continued staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
“I can’t believe how beautiful you are.”
“Thanks, love,” I said, accepting his compliment.
James kissed me on the temple and turned back to the TV. I looked down at my rotund form in the dim reflection of the TV screen and attempted to admire whatever it was my husband saw. But I saw something even more amazing.
I wrapped my arms over my protruding middle and gave my giant belly a hug. While doing so, I caught sight of my forearms strewn across my stomach. Unlike the rest of me, these two sinewy appendages had obediently stayed the same over the last seven months. They were un-bloated, proportionately sized, and still fit comfortably into the armholes of my long sleeves. I had never loved a body part more. My forearms represented the me I had thought I was losing but, in fact, still glimmered if I just looked for it. My sleek forearms looked stunning strewn across the expanse of my belly, I decided. Better yet, they looked like they belonged there – this piece of the current me hugging and welcoming the new.
It was then, finally, that I stopped worrying about my size, stopped fretting about the forthcoming unknown. I knew in that instant everything was going to be just fine.