All my mamas and mamas-to-be: if there's one thing we all have in common, it's that our bodies are changing, rapidly. Especially in the early stages.
What we're told to expect isn't true for everyone
Most pregnancy books say you aren’t really supposed to be ‘showing’ yet in the first trimester. First of all, I call bullshit. Second, what does that even mean?
I may not have had an obvious, round, pregnant bump (that anyone who doesn’t know me would immediately recognize) in the first few months, but that was exactly the problem. I had bloating and constipation the likes of which I didn't know were possible. These things pushed my belly out farther in the 2nd and third month than some days of my 4th!
As a former trainer, current health coach and life-long health enthusiast, I have always worked very hard to keep myself in shape mentally and physically. I have not struggled with weight other than the occasional +(-)5 lbs goal. Having this new beer-gut-like belly was foreign to me, and very uncomfortable.
When my body started to change - which was almost instantly - it wasn't that quintessential baby bump (of course) in the beginning, but I immediately noticed thickening in my mid section, plus that awful bloating and constipation. I felt like by mid day, I had a 4-month belly as early as 7 weeks.
The bump before the “bump” is a seldom talked about, but I imagine, much thought about change.
What I've experienced instead
The books tell us we aren't showing...so why did I feel like I swallowed cantaloupe by 1pm every day? Was I normal? Did I look pregnant (which I'd be totally fine with) or just like I'd taken a liking to beer and wings? And should I feel guilty as a health coach who helps clients with confidence in whatever state their bodies are in, that I don't want the latter to be true? Was I allowed to feel guilty about being uncomfortable with my body changing, but still happy to be pregnant?
Here's the thing: It is possible to experience two conflicting feelings at once. It is possible to be very excited about your changing body - which I did, and do - and at the same time, feel frustrated that you don’t look ‘pregnant’ yet. It is possible to be happy you have a growing baby inside of you, and also be uncomfortable feeling soft, fluffy, bloated and - dare I say - fat.
Well, I dare to say it. Because it’s what I felt. It's what I feel. And how we look, of course, has nothing to do with self-worth or value in this world. Of course. But I feel fat right now, in this in-between stage. My whole adult life, I've worked very hard to keep my body composition in a range that felt good for my body. So feeling soft, fluffy and bloated all the time doesn't equate to a positive feeling for me. That's just the truth. Sorry, not sorry. I won’t pretend like I would feel okay with these changes in my body for any reason other than pregnancy or postpartum recovery. It's just not the physical state that makes me feel my best.
And even though it was and is due to pregnancy, no one else knew that early on, and strangers still likely don't.
And I know that what matters, is how we feel in our bodies, not how others perceive us. What matters, is that we are nourishing our bodies and putting our health first, not the way we look or our body composition. I know these things to be true. But I'll never claim it's easy to ignore perceptions and societal pressures.
We're feeling things we "shouldn't" be concerned over
So, now cue the guilt. Cue my brain shaming me for even being remotely concerned with appearance when my only concern should be the health of this baby. And that is, by far, my biggest concern. A healthy baby will trump any feelings about what I look like or how long it takes to recover. I can say that with certainty. But just because that is my largest concern, doesn't mean I don't have others. And that, is perfectly normal.
My husbands response was always supportive, but also leaned on the ‘your body is changing because you are growing a human in there, of course it’s going to get bigger’ concept. And that's a very appropriate response. I can rationally understand it. But I've struggled to get him to understand that I could be both beyond excited for these changes to be happening, and still uncomfortable with how I looked (look) - AND honestly, eager to get to the real bump stage where at least everyone else immediately knows why my mid-section is expanding.
I was much more excited for the 2nd trimester and beyond (and not just because of symptoms and worries about miscarriages decreasing) than I was for the first. I am embracing my more noticeable and obvious bump with open arms.
It’s that damn bump before the bump that was a bit of a blow to my confidence and self-esteem.
I used to live in spandex workout pants and crop tops. I felt confident in my body. I worked damn hard to get it feeling and looking that way, and I wasn’t super modest about showing it off.
And I still love my body. I still feed it all the nutrients to help baby girl be her absolute healthiest. I still exercise to stay strong and encourage a continued healthy pregnancy and delivery.
I’m self-conscious, uncomfortable and less confident right now.
Both can be true. And we don't need to feel guilty about the latter.
This whole thing is a lot to get used to. One day you are waking up focused on your life, your career, pushing yourself in workouts, wearing cute and flattering clothes, killing it in the gym, being pumped at your results and enjoying drinks at brunch and a glass of red at dinner... and then boom:
In the 3 minutes it takes for those 2 pink lines to show, your entire priority set changes. And you are so incredibly thrilled to change it. But it’s not an easy adjustment.
You're thrilled, AND it's hard to change your workouts from intense strength building sweat sessions, to maintenance, pelvic floor activation and stopping when you are tired rather than pushing through.
You're overjoyed, AND it's still hard to make sure you are eating all the various foods you likely ignored before. Even though you ate healthily, you were never this worried about DHA, folic acid and iron.
You're grateful, AND it’s still difficult to look at your growing belly in the mirror in the morning, see it double in size from bloat and constipation by the afternoon, and feel confident enough to go on a walk, passing strangers and wondering who thinks you’re pregnant and who just thinks you’re chubby.
It’s even harder to have to go through these thoughts alone, before you start telling friends and family about your new bundle of joy. Your husband/partner just can never fully understand exactly how you feel. The articles and books never talk about this part - at least not the ones I’ve come across.
So what’s my brilliant health-coach-trainer-has-it-all-together advice?
I’ll let you know when someone more insightful shares it with me.
What I do know, is that it is okay to be both excited for the pregnancy and frustrated with what it is doing to your body.
I know that it is normal if you can’t wait to actually 'pop,' just because you want strangers to
know why you look the way you do - and it’s also normal not to care.
I know that it doesn’t make you a self-absorbed bad future-mom if you care about how your body looks, because you’ve always put so much effort and dedication into your health, that you got used to looking a certain way as a result.
I know that it doesn't make you vain to feel upset and embarrassed that you look like you’ve gained weight, and to feel uncomfortable in public in your normal clothes.
It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling about your body in this stage and you don’t have to feel guilty about that. You are no less excited about your new little babe, because you have some emotions about your changing body that aren’t quite so positive.
Feel those feelings, mama. And know that you are not alone. There’s at least one other mom-to-be out there feeling all the feelings right along with you. ;)