Monday, 6 June 2011

Body 'watchfulness': a pregnant pause

Pregnancy can be an alarming process. At perhaps no other time does your body change so swiftly and so radically. As women, we are conditioned to be ‘watchful’ of our bodies, forever checking that we haven’t put on weight/sprouted unacceptable hair/our clothes are well-fitting, age-appropriate, flattering and fashionable/our hair and make-up hasn’t utterly disgraced us in some unimaginable way.

With pregnancy, a woman has to accept that there is no way she can control her body in the way she has been used to doing. Hormonal changes alone will mean weight gain and a complete change of shape. This shouldn’t be distressing, but so often is. Plus, there is always another woman who seems to be doing pregnancy ‘better’ than oneself; she will remain immaculate and her neat little bump will be the only outward bodily change visible.

Pregnancy magazines, which are primarily designed to sell STUFF, don’t help the self-conscious expectant mother either. They’re full of ‘sexy maternity underwear’ (is there any time in the lives of women where they are ‘allowed’ to be unsexy?), and also healthy diet tips, ostensibly there to promote healthy ante-natal nutrition, but clearly with a nod to the weight-conscious woman. Articles ‘warning’ women about hidden calories, with tips about healthier snacking, only serve to guilt-trip women who may be reaching for sugary snacks because of low blood pressure or terrible pregnancy sickness. We all know, surely, that an apple is healthier than a donut – we don’t need it ramming down our throats (I don’t mean literally!).

I recall seeing a full-page piece about a post-natal corset (all black satin and red ribbons). The theory was that if you didn’t strap your ribs down after birth, fat would build up behind your rib cage. Hmm, I’d like to see the science behind that…are we talking about fat lungs here?! Yeah, that definitely sounds like something to worry about. Honestly, what garbage!

As an overweight teenager, and then later a self-conscious woman, I too find the prospect of piling on a few stone a difficult one to tolerate. As much as one tells oneself ‘I’m pregnant, this is what happens’, ‘This shouldn’t be a concern right now – having a healthy baby is more important’, it is difficult to shift a lifetime of conditioning, and it would take a stronger mind than mine to be completely free of this nonsense.

One thing I have learnt is this: after having my daughter in 2007 (and at the height of that pregnancy weighing, as I recall, 14 stone 4 lbs – of which my daughter made up 10 lbs 9 oz!), my self-consciousness and weight-obsessiveness diminished (though sadly didn't disappear entirely) a huge amount. Why? Well, I think I was kind of happy to just let my body ‘be’; it had done something pretty amazing, and I wasn’t going to give it such a hard time anymore. This didn’t mean I didn’t diet and go to the gym to lose the baby weight – I did, but I wasn’t going to go down the ‘I hate my body’ route any longer. I simply couldn’t hate something that had produced someone I love so much.

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