motherhood,  pregnancy

A gentler pregnancy + some thoughts on body image

When I was pregnant for the first time, nearly 8 years ago, I was a pretty stereotypical first-time mom: couldn’t wait for maternity clothes (um, why?), took ridiculous “bump update” progress shots in the full length mirror for Facebook (remember when people put pictures of themselves on Facebook?), took a 14 week long class on the Bradley Method and pushed my heroically patient husband to the breaking point with the recommended natural birth videos (the scars linger), and sat at a desk for 40 hours a week, mainlining White Cheddar Cheezits and wondering why on earth the recommended pregnancy weight gain was capped at 35 pounds while I easily summited 55.

Fast forward about a year and baby number two was on the way. I’d learned firsthand that breastfeeding did not, in my case, yield “remarkable” weight loss results, and that taking Cheezit pounds off was substantially more difficult than shoveling them on.

For little John Paul’s pregnancy, I was determined to do things better. For starters, a gym membership to the local 24 Hour Fitness, whose facilities (and childcare) I availed myself of no fewer than 5 times a week. Through week 40. As I huffed and puffed on the stairclimber and counted carbs, I watched in fascinated horror as my belly stretched to the same pronounced proportions, and the scale crept upward to 50 pounds. Fifty pounds. I remember shaking my head, despairing that an entire 9 months of going easy on the sugar and hitting the gym like a college sophomore only saved me 5 pounds of trouble. The low point for that pregnancy experience probably came the day after delivery, when a sweet and severe nurse caught me on a hospital scale in the L&D hallway (why? why???) trying to calculate how much weight I’d dropped from giving birth and shooed me back into my room with strict instructions “not to look at that thing for a good 6 weeks.”

She wasn’t wrong, incidentally.

By the time pregnancy number three rolled around, I found myself morning sick for the first time and living in a foreign country far from the usual suspects in American junk food options, without a car and so hoofing it around the city with 2 toddlers for 4+ miles a day, and very, very sickened by the smell of diesel and cigarettes. We moved home from Italy when I was 2o weeks along with Evie, and guess how much I’d gained at that point? 4.freaking.pounds.

Eureka! I recall thinking as I stepped on the scale in my American doctor’s office. I had found the secret, and it was not owning a car or living near a supermarket that sold Ben and Jerry’s or Doritos. Except, you probably know how this story ends, and it ends with an 18 week nosedive back into mostly-sedentary American living and the occasional flirtation with Domino’s pizza.

Still, I strapped that stupid FitBit on every day and made sure I hit my 10,000 steps. I rejoined a gym and made up the difference there during inclement weather. I ate Paleo 90% of the time. And the end result? 44 pounds. Which means I gained 40 pounds in approximately 4 months, and it was exactly as comfortable as you’re imagining it to be.

Perhaps at this point you’re seeing a pattern, and perhaps as someone living outside of my body, it’s easier for you to accept: there seems to be a predetermined weight – or at least a range – most of us hit during pregnancy. For some women it may indeed be 20-30 sweet, fluffy pounds. Bully for them. For me, it’s a pair of preschoolers.

By the time baby number 4 came into existence, I was still hitting the gym, but more for sanity’s sake (hellooooo, kid’s club) than from any real desire to sweat. But sweat I did, still remaining faithful to my 10,000 + steps and managing to separate my pelvic joint prematurely, necessitating much hobbling and many, many trips to the chiropractor from week 28 on.

What I’ve finally figured out this time, 5th time around, dense as I am, is that my body is going to pack on the pregnancy pounds like the potato famine is beginning anew and the only thing it can about it do is convert every calorie consumed directly into a carbohydrate (Irish genes are smiling). I can go to the gym, but nothing is going to move that needle southward (or slow it’s northern ascent) other than delivery and, for me, for the final 15-20 stubborn pounds, weaning.

I have no gym membership this time around. Lacking both the time and money, I’ve contented myself with neighborhood strolls with the preschool set and lots of trips down to the basement laundry. The other day while moving outgrown maternity clothes into storage (the indignity!) I came across my abandoned FitBit and strapped in on just for fun.

The result for an “average” day, puttering around the house, grocery shopping, car pooling and kid wrangling? You guessed it: 10,000 steps.

You better believe lol’d at 10 pm when I peeled that sucker off, because I distinctly recall doing laps around our rental house, 2 pregnancies ago, desperately trying to hit that 10k mark before bedtime but only at like, 7k or something for the day. (I guess my advice to people looking to be less sedentary would be to have a kid or four, because hoo boy, will that get you up and movin’)

I’ve noticed a funny little correlation this time around, too, between not obsessively hitting the treadmill for 60 minutes a day and my hips not splitting apart prematurely like a Trader Joe’s shopping bag. I feel better, overall, even despite the usual litany of heartburn, an achy back, and the stress of carrying around a couple dozen extra pounds.

When I feel particularly worn out, I’ve started implementing this bold new strategy where stop what I’m doing and …sit down. Revolutionary, I tell you.

I’ve also given up (almost completely) on monitoring what I’m eating. Perhaps this one is a terrible idea that will haunt me come January, but as long as I’m not bringing terrible junk into the house or hitting the Chicfila drive through too hard, I’m basically eating a well-balanced diet. Is it THM-compliant? Ha. The first trimester put a swift end to that fantasy. Is it Paleo? Well, that depends if ever a caveman were to be found eating peanut butter toast at 1o pm. (For the record, I think he’d have eaten it, if he could have located it.)

Hand in glove with the novel approach of not policing my own plate like a caloric parole officer has been the compete absence of any scales during this gestational go-round. We don’t have one at home to begin with, but I’ve taken the extra step (ba dum ching) of climbing up on the doctor’s scale and turning around to stare blankly at the wall over the nurses’ shoulder while she adjusts the  slidey thingy. Wisely, she caught on pretty quick, and so I have no idea what I weigh at this moment, nor am I obsessively calculating “how many pounds per week to stay under x number by December 31st?”

Which is nice.

I’ve noticed that it’s making me a little nicer to myself, too. I catch a glimpse of the belly bulk in the mirror and instead of recoiling in horror I only give a mild startle before telling myself (sometimes audibly) “this is worth it. You are worth doing this for, baby.”

And I feel like I’m kind of starting to mean it.

Obviously I’ve felt it was “worth it” with each of my previous children, but pregnancy has always been, for this recovered bulimic, a battle in self loathing and no small amount of panic over the process of gaining weight. For 10 years I worked diligently, obsessively, to the point of illness, in an attempt to control my appearance and, when failing, in an effort to punish my body for perceived misbehavior. Some women find the experience of pregnancy and motherhood healing for their poor body image and disordered thought processes. I found it exacerbating and, if you’ll forgive the use of the word, “triggering.”

I’m still battling those demons, but they are far more effectively tamed by words of truth – “you are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “you are the light of the world” – than by act of self punishment and caustic self criticism.

I’m hoping I can hang onto this slightly rosier self image after delivery, because as anyone who’s ever made that first trek from the hospital bed to the bathroom knows, getting the baby out is only half (or in my case, usually about a quarter) of the battle.

So, arriving in a long-winded fashion at the summary, here is what’s working for me this time around:

No weighing in. Not at home, and not at the prenatal visits

Positive self talk, both in the mirror and randomly throughout the day. Especially effective when responding to negative cognitions like “I feel fat. I’m so huge. I’m so gross. I can’t do this.” It sounds silly, but sometimes literally just reversing the statements “I don’t feel fat. I’m not that big. I’m carrying new life. I am great at being pregnant!” does the trick.

Positive self talk out loud, in front of my kids e.g. “You guys are worth it. Yes, isn’t mommy’s belly getting big? It’s full of the baby, isn’t it exciting? This happened with each of you” etc. etc. I really, really don’t want to saddle my kids with the guilt of feeling in any way responsible for my own dissatisfaction with my body and/or the effects of motherhood. (I would say for Evie in particular, but honestly, I want my boys to have a healthy appreciation for what is normal and beautiful about motherhood, so they can affirm and appreciate their wives and their sisters and their female friends as adults.)

Not policing my plate. I’m trying to not like, go crazy, but I’m being a lot more lenient than usual, and I’m finding that while I’m probably eating more junk food from time to time in terms of frequency, I’m not doing the death spiral of “oh crap I ate 2 cookies, better finish off the bag because NOW ALL IS RUINED.” So I ate a couple cookies and also had a handful of Luke’s french fries at lunch. Oh well. Now I’ll eat a handful of mini cucumbers. (<— is this how normal people interact with food, btw?)

Just buying (or borrowing) maternity clothes that fit. (and not wearing the ones that make me feel gross) I’m not recoiling in horror if the tag has a “L” on it, nor am I settling for something just because “I have it” or “someone lent it to me.” Rather, my litmus has become, is it a. comfortable and does it b. makes me feel reasonably good? If so, winner.

I’ve found (thanks, Eliz!) the magic equation this go-round to be tight-fitted black top + flowy cardigan/vest/jacket + skinny jeans to be foolproof. The belly is clearly and flatteringly defined, the problem areas (read: arms and back) are nicely camouflaged, and the jeans stay up. I basically wear the same outfit 6 days a week, switching out top layers and jewelry as needed.

Not killing myself on the treadmill. It’s counterintuitive to everything I (thought I) knew about health and fitness, but getting my activity from daily living this time around instead of clocking in 5 days a week at the gym is so much easier on the not-so-young-any-more pregnant bod. If you can work out all through your pregnancy, you are a rockstar, and I salute you. And I no longer feel the need to compete with you. Liberation, thy name is sitting down.

Finally, I’ve been more cognizant this time that this could be the last baby. (Future me is LOLing and rolling her eyes into the back of her skull) but really, it could be. We’ve definitely come to regard our fertility as an unwieldy and unpredictable gift, and there’s really no guarantee we’ll get to do this again. So even though I’m counting the days till delivery, I’m trying to savor the 29-weekness of things too, you know? Like, what if I never feel a little person rolling around under my skin again? What if I never experience the sweet dynamic of a two-year-old whispering proclamations of love to my stretched out belly? What if I never develop heartburn again simply by smelling the food that I’m cooking? (Okay, I could go without that last one.) 

Whew, that was a novella. Not sorry enough to edit it down, though. And to be perfectly transparent, I still have moments of texting my best friend (oh, like, earlier today, for example) “I can’t do this for another 10 weeks, how can I keep doing this?” slash whining to my sister about how bad I look in all my clothes. But. It’s a work in progress. And as the proverb says, “better to make progress than to curse Cheetos in the darkness.”

Or something like that.

throwback to 35 weeks with my first little Cheezit. (Or full term with twins, in someone else’s genes)
And now, at 29 weeks with current occupant (Photo cred: my awesome brother in law at Mast Media)


  • Kathleen

    Thank you for the reminder to convey positivity to the kids! After reading this, I announced to my kids, “I am so excited that i am in my last month of pregnancy and that my tummy gets to stretch so big for the new baby!” #fakeittillyoumake

  • Kaitlin Alfermann

    😭”what if I never feel a little person rolling around under my skin again? What if I never experience the sweet dynamic of a two-year-old whispering proclamations of love to my stretched out belly?”

    I may have a 5 week old but those thoughts make me want to be pregnant immediately!!!

    I gained 55 this time around. Thanks for the reminder that it was infinitely worth it. You are beautiful inside and out.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you so much for sharing this personal journey with us. I have 4 kids and have struggled losing the baby weight with my fourth. After suffering through disordered eating in college ( prekids) it has taken me having the kids to heal in this area. I am happy that you have found peace, too. Crazy how we workout so much but it still doesn’t change the scale during pregnancy. For me, no matter what I started the pregnancy at, I always end at the same number. I could tell when it was getting close by that. And no matter what I ate or not, exercised or not. I find now that listening to my body in all things is my way of life. An older mom told me once that our bodies have all the answers to what we need. So true and healing. God bless you and may you continue to have healing in this area.

  • Rebecca

    First, I think you look fantastic! And sooo genuinely happy-a true light is coming from your smile. Second, I’m 5’2 and I gain 40-43lbs no matter what, which incidentally can’t go to many flattering places on my vertically challenged body. Took me two pregnancies to realize it and the third one I was better able to roll with it, but I still fear that I won’t ever be able to get the weight off and it really kills the joy that is a baby growing in my womb! It’s also taught me how much of my identity I have wrapped up in my appearance and how much I have to work on in that regard. Awesome post, thank you for sharing!

  • jeanette

    Congratulations, you have discovered your own true beauty! The first thing I see when I look at your photo is your beautiful smile. The next thing I notice is the beautiful little girl who loves posing there in imitation of mommy. The third thing I notice is your fingernails (I’ve hardly worn any in my lifetime; it takes effort!). So, good for you in feeling better about yourself in a more relaxed way this time. The really beautiful part of being pregnant is waiting to unfold.

    It was also encouraging to hear you realize what things you enjoy about being pregnant that someday will be missed.

    Write about your body image again sometime after you give birth. I’m sure it will be a different story from previous pregnancies as well.

    Prayers for you in these final months of your pregnancy. Keep that beautiful smile going!

  • Sonia Klugmann

    I ate two cookies let’s eat the whole pack – – so universal :-))

    Europe is different in that way, all the junk you mention, never even heard of and the only thing I’ve eaten two weeks ago were potato chips.
    But hey we have loads of beer to consume in this part of the old Continent, that adds up pretty rolls :-))

    Only thing I hate during pregnany is that my face gets big, and arms and back… and the neck disappears somehow somewhere.
    What helped me was realising that while eating one should keep in mind someone admirable, I had a great teacher, Holocaust survivor, a true Lady and I always imagine her looking at me, would I finish off three doughnuts in five minutes before her? Never.
    Also God 🙂 He made us by His image, meaning we should really respect and nourish this body neither worship nor destroy it. This helps me a lot.

    Have a smooth one! Easy and quick delivery in its time.

  • Colleen Martin

    I was convinced, CONVINCED, that a woman’s body had a delivery weight. That no matter what weight you start out at, you pretty much weigh the same when it comes time to push the baby out. That was my experience for 6 pregnancies, some I was super active for, others not. But on my last one, I had gestational diabetes and had to actually count my limited carbs at each meal (15 g breakfast, 30 g lunch, 30 g dinner, 15 g snack) and at delivery I had only gained half of what I did for the other babies! I’m not saying that pregnant women should eat like that (it was hard!) but it did help me realize that it’s the carbs and subsequent sugar spike that make us gain weight (which I knew, but to actually have to put into practice was eye-opening). I’m hoping if I get pregnant again, I can just start out eating this way and maybe avoid a gestational diabetes diagnosis altogether.

    • Kallah

      That’s so interesting Colleen! I love how the longer I’m a mother, the more I realize how unique our experiences as mothers are!

      I don’t want to answer for her, but I have a feeling that Jenny might be a little like myself with eating – where we WISH it were as simple as counting and tracking stuff sounds when other people do it. There seems to be a weird mental/emotional aspect at play when you have had a Not-so-healthy history with weight and eating in the past, that just refuses to cooperate. I actually gained weight on Whole 30, for instance! I found that I would shovel the healthy stuff when I was focused on everything I wasn’t allowed to eat. And then when I’ve really gotten into calorie counting, I could NOT get the scale to budge more than measly half pounds here and there.

      Maybe that’s not jenny, and maybe someday I’ll have a serious reason to commit to calorie counting and discover what you have Colleen! But so far, I really relate to her at needing to let go and relax; it is so healing to watch your battered body actually work with you. I’ve been at the lowest, stablest weights when I really committed to this, you know, the French Women Don’t Get Fat mentality; the more gentle approach.

      Not at all trying to contradict you esp when you’ve had a much longer experience with pregnancies! Just trying to validate Jenny cause I know it’s a bizarre dynamic to get the best, healthiest results when you force yourself to let go! But it’s pretty much how it always works for me 🙂 .

      • Colleen Martin

        You’re totally right, it has so much to so with personalities and temperaments! I don’t know exactly what point I was even trying to make with that comment, except that her thought on how she always arrived at the same weight no matter how she lived her pregnancies was something I had dealt with too, and I wanted to point out how it changed for me the 7th time around.

        I am such a moderator/enjoy eating and working out that I rarely do a restricted diet unless I feel like I am tipping on the edge of unhealthy choices too much. But when I was forced to do the carb counting, meet with a nutritionist, and test my blood sugar four times a day, it was really eye opening as to what causes weight gain and weight loss. Like I said, I don’t think anyone should live that way if they don’t have to because it was hard, but if it can help someone who is looking for a way to slow down the pregnancy weight gain train, it works.

        There are a lot of people (my husband for example) that end up making lots of unhealthy food choices when they don’t have a healthy eating plan in place. If they “let go” they really “let themselves go”, you know? Again, personalities and temperaments for the win! I do love your approach Kallah, and it’s one I normally try to live out too 🙂

  • Arianna

    Very helpful blog, thanks. I can definitely relate to your experience, the first time I put on almost 19 kilos (starting form a normal BMI) without having to indulge in cake and sweets, and this time I reckon it’s going to be the same or even a little worse – and I saw a nutritionist, and exercised a couple of times a week until the beginning of my third trimester. The sad truth is that I will not be able to do anything beside walking until the new baby comes.
    My mother and sisters all managed to put on around 11 kilos only (in Italy, many gynae will tell you off if you put on more weight than that-but what’s the secret to putting on only 11 kilos, I wonder?). Only one of my sisters put on 16 kilos, because she had to stay in bed at a certain point. I didn’t have to, but I will be the only one that takes a lot longer than their standard three months to get back to an acceptable shape, because, to make things even more difficult, breastfeeding doesn’t seem to speed up my weight loss at all. Not sure how body positive I’m going to be in two months time, when my already very large breasts will seem to inflate to a reach a J cup. Terrified already.

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