My dear birthing body, these lines are for you. The following words are dedicated to your strength, your power, and the endurance you showed during our pregnancy and labour. It is also dedicated to your limitless resilience despite my attitude towards you during some difficult moments. For a long time I had the feeling as you were constantly failing me, but now I realize that instead it was the other way around. I couldn't think of you as my temple but only felt as if you were a cage I so desperately wanted to break free from. Thank you for still being here, now stronger and more present than ever.
“This scar is from when I was skiing; I didn’t see an icy patch and went off the slope. I wear this as a reminder of my skiing accomplishments.” “This is a stretch mark from when I was pregnant with our first child, and this one when I was eight months pregnant with our son. This loose patch of skin just stayed like this after delivery.” Is it funny or sad that these two conversations are totally diametric in society’s perception of what is viewed as success? When did you, my dearest birthing body, become a stigma rather than a badge of honour?
The moment the magic positive symbol showed up on my pregnancy test I was already looking forward to having a big belly to show off, for you to finally be allowed to be big and take up space, for you, my precious body, to be embraced rather than hidden. I was dreaming about hugging you with super tight dresses that would show my pregnant belly to its fullest and that would shout into everyone's face “This is a pregnant belly!” Little did I know that self-consciousness and nervousness about my belly would haunt a good share of my 41+6 week pregnancy, that yet again I would try to fight you and let my mind take me into negative and resentful spaces.
I still remember looking at people's faces during the first two trimesters, and seeing their insecurity and uncertainty about whether to congratulate me for my pregnancy or condemn me for being fat. I still can hear their relieved inhales when I revealed the answer to the question they were asking themselves when observing my belly. The words “wow, haha are you having twins?” or “I bet she’ll be a big lady, just like her mom” are still echoing in my ears, fortunately no longer accompanied with hot flushes of embarrassment. I am beyond sorry that instead of standing up for us and defending you, my dear friend, I resented you in these moments.
Thursday, April 23rd marked the day when I finally let go, started to embrace my pregnant belly and dared a bump photo in the bathroom mirror. After months of sucking in my stomach to make it look smaller because I felt as if I was still on the edge of “is she pregnant or just fat?” I realized how damaging and unnecessary these thoughts were and how awful I had treated you, my sweet pregnant body. I acknowledged that I would never get this magical first time pregnancy experience back and that I would allow myself to be proud and in love with my little bump, which after all was growing a human inside. One thing that helped me get into this headspace was going out on social media and looking for pregnant bodies similar to mine. “You can't be what you can't see” was one of the phrases that was stuck in my head during this research and I started recurating my feed. My suggested social media feed, which by the time had of course adapted itself to pregnancy content, was exclusively showing me thin, white, hetero, cis-female, pregnant bodies. This content was far from diverse and inclusive of all pregnant bodies and sucked me right into a negative headspace which was filled with the feeling of not being able to keep up with these images and the fear of failure. “I don´t look like this, I´m not worthy” was the mantra that manifested itself over weeks of consuming this kind of content. My resentment for you, my wonderful and beautiful body, grew day by day. “Why can't you just be normal? Why can't you just be a glowing, radiant, beautiful body? Why are you so awful, robbing me of the glorious pregnancy experience I would have had if only you were the right size?”. The change of heart happened during the critical months when I was busy writing my thesis about weight discrimination and stigmatisation towards people with a higher body weight. At some point while analyzing my research and connecting the dots, I recognized that I was in fact discriminating against you, my own body. I immediately stopped thinking about my perception towards others and started owning and foremost loving you, my dearest body, again.
Looking back, I am still a bit sad about the lost months in which I was not able to just be happy with you and my pregnant belly. It feels like there were precious moments wasted worrying that I wasn’t looking “big enough”. When I was finally able to enjoy you, my pregnant body, I started giving you all the love and attention you so desperately needed and deserved. The tender and growing love for my baby finally started to overflow into growing love for your abilities and strengths and I was more than once thankful for everything you were able to do. I'm convinced that only through the love and belief I had in you, my dearest, I was able to put up with a 26h labor and vaginally birth my baby.
During my early post-partum period my Doula helped me to grieve the period of resentment I had towards you during my second trimester; And then I nurtured you, my strong body, not only with good food but with lots of massages, steams, rebozo and attention. Pregnancy also changed the way I am able to see you these days. Every morning I step out of the shower and see my belly in the mirror; I do see all the stretch marks, wobbles and dimples but they don’t carry the same meaning as they did in the past. Now I can look at my belly and be truly amazed that this was a spacious home to my baby for almost 10 months and that I grew the most special person within this belly. “Thank you” is all I can and want to say while gently rubbing some lotion on you. You carry my soul and my spirit, you carry it within you, anywhere I go, you go my dear, whatever is done by only me, is your doing, my darling. You carry my soul, you carry it within you.
This essay was kindly edited by TLD Contributor Katie Gilchrist.