pregnancy

No Effs to Give: On Body Image at Eight Months Pregnant

I recently posted a few pictures on Instagram from our babymoon in Thailand. A few people kindly commented on how confident I looked. At first I thought they were just being nice, but looking back at the photos, I can see what they mean.

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It’s true that I’m not self-conscious about my body or about how I look pregnant. It’s not that I look at my swollen belly and my stretch marks and think, “I’ve earned these tiger stripes,” or whatever it is the mommy bloggers like to say. I know I look huge. I am huge. But it’s also abundantly clear why I’m huge. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

My confidence is that of a person who has zero effs left to give. And I realized that that is a far cry from who I was nine months ago.

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Back in January, I wrote this post about how very much I was struggling with my body. I had reached an all-time low, exhausted by self-loathing and feeling powerless to make any lasting change.

I spilled my guts about my desperation, and six weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Hilarious, God. Truly.

As you probably know, my initial reaction to the news was not positive. I admit, one of my first panicked thoughts was, “I can’t be pregnant now. I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am going to be HUUUUGGGE.” I understand that extra weight and a changing body are a small price to pay for creating a whole new life, but at the time it felt like one more way my life was being taken from me.

Now here I am 8 months pregnant and it turns out that losing control has been one of the best things that’s ever happened for my relationship with my body. I have felt freedom from self-criticism and self-hatred for the first time since I was ten years old and became aware of my body as female and of all the expectations that go along with that.

Some pregnant women are filled with love and appreciation for what their bodies are capable of as they move through the stages of pregnancy. And yes, it is miraculous. But for the most part, I have not felt this way. Most of the time I feel this odd combination of being intensely aware of everything going on in my body while also feeling like a stranger in it. I feel every ache and pain and jab and stab acutely, and at the same time I have the sense that I am floating around inside of this vessel I do not recognize, just waiting to get my life back. While this distance from my body has been isolating in some ways, it’s been healing in others.

Let me be clear. I have not particularly enjoyed pregnancy. I do not feel beautiful, sexy, or powerful the way some women seem to feel during pregnancy. I don’t particularly likethe way I look pregnant and I definitely don’t like the way I feel. But I’m also not disgusted by my body the way I was pre-pregnancy. I just honestly don’t care.

For the first time in my life, what is happening to my body is really and truly beyond my control. I could eat organic kale for every meal and workout twice a day and I would still going to have this giant belly. Since there is nothing I can do to change what my body looks like right now, I have no brain space or energy to waste worrying about it.

My expectations of my pregnant body are so vastly different from what my expectations of my body have always been. As an adolescent growing up with the mixture of societal pressures and the targeted messages of purity culture, I was constantly aware of the wrongnessof my body. There was the shame of not being attractive enough, along with the shame of being inappropriately attractive. I felt the expectation to simultaneously figure out how to be thin, toned, feminine perfection, and to dress in way that protected helpless men from that thin, toned, feminine perfection.

As I got older, I stripped off some of the burdens of purity culture, but struggled as my weight fluctuated and my self-worth rose and fell with the expansion or shrinking of my thighs.

Now for the first time, my attractiveness is utterly irrelevant. I take up more space than ever before. People are hyper-aware of me and my body. And at the same time, I have never felt more invisible. I feel no expectation, from myself or from anyone else, to be attractive. My body is no longer an aesthetic object, it is pure function. I am an incubator. That’s all.

Of course, I don’t want to feel this way forever. I don’t want “mother” to become my identity. I don’t want to disappear. I want to walk down the street and have someone think (but maybe not say) “Daaaaayummmmn, girl!” But there are also things I hope I take with me from this time.

I hope my base level expectations of my body have permanently changed. Instead of valuing myself based on arbitrary measures of attractiveness, I hope my foremost expectation of my body is for it to be healthy and strong so that I can do everything I need to do. No more. No less.

I want to feel attractive again someday, but I hope that feeling is based on confidence and acceptance, not meeting an external expectation. I think it can be incredibly attractive for someone to say, “My body is just my body. I look how I look.” If I can accept without difficulty the fact that I have blue eyes and small hands, could I also accept whatever shape my body ends up being when this ride is over?

I don’t know what to expect or how things will change post-partum, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated.  Whatever the next part of the journey looks like, I kind of hope that I’ll continue to be fresh out of effs to give.

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A Letter to My Daughter: You’re Not the Best and Other Things I Hope to Teach You

People like to write sappy letters to their unborn children. It’s a thing. I get it. There’s something all mushy gushy about imagining your little person and all your hopes and dreams for them. I too have some hopes for my daughter. Mostly I hope she’s going to be a badass baller with a mane of red hair. But there are also some things I really hope to teach her. I decided to share them with you I guess so you can start judging my parenting skills before I even start parenting properly? Or something?

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Dear Daughter (who has a freaking awesome name that I can’t wait to use), 

These are some things I hope you learn from my words and actions in the next 18 or so years. 

You are important. And so is everyone else.

You are fantastically gifted. You are treasured. You are infinitely adored. AND you are an oh-so-tiny speck in a great big universe. 

What I’m trying to say is that the world does not revolve around you, Darling. We live in constant balance between our own wants and the needs and desires of the people in our families, our communities, and the world. 

We are so blessed to get to be a part of this big messy world. But we have a responsibility to God, to nature, and to the other humans we share this planet with to recognize that we are not the most important beings in the universe. 

I want you to grow to understand that each person you come into contact with is important and is loved, whether they know it or not. And because of that, they deserve your respect and compassion, just as you deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. 

You’re not the best at everything. And that’s OK. 

I promise that I will always be proud of your efforts in whatever you do. I will be proud when they end in triumph, and I will be proud when you put your heart into something and fail. You do not have to be the best to have done well. You only have to have given the best of yourself in the trying.

I will try to teach you how to be genuinely happy to see other people come alive doing what they are good at. Even if you suck at it. Especially if you suck at it. Because then you will understand how to love people well when they are not good at the things that come easily to you.

Mom and Dad love you enormously and unconditionally. But we love each other first.

We have a history. 12 years together before you even existed. You were created out of our love for each other (and also a little too much fun in Vietnam, but that’s another story). You don’t have to be jealous of the love we have for each other or the time we spend together. It is our love for each other that will help us to love you well.  

It’s OK to be sad.

Sometimes, Mom gets sad, but it’s not because of you. Sometimes it’s not because of anything. Sometimes you might feel sad and not even know why, and that’s ok.

Our brains and our emotions are weird. They don’t always communicate clearly. Sometimes the feelings come before the understanding. Sometimes the understanding comes and the feelings show up behind schedule. Sometimes you just need to cry a little for no real reason. So cry.  And then take a deep breath, take a sip of water, blow your nose, and keep on going.

Lies are not cool.

From day one, one of my biggest goals as a mother is to never, ever lie to you.

Even if you ask about something difficult. Even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear. Even if the truth makes me look bad. Even if it means admitting that I just don’t know. 

I will not lie to you about how Santa gets around the world in one night or where babies come from or what it means to die. I hope that practicing radical honesty with you will help you to trust me and to extend that same level of honesty back and to know that nothing is off-limits. 

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And now, here are a few requests I have for you. Because it’s cool to put expectations on the unborn, right?

Try not to have stupid hobbies or interests. Please?

I hope you never feel constrained by the ridiculous notion that certain activities are gendered. There are no “girl things” or “boy things.” If you like playing with dolls, awesome. If you like catching frogs, also awesome. I hope as you grow that you will find yourself fascinated by things I’ve never even thought about. I want you to develop passions that challenge and inspire you. 

But for the love of goodness could you please not choose something stupid to put your heart into? Mostly I’m thinking of activities your parents will have to sacrifice all of their evenings and weekends to help you participate in while wanting to tear our own fingernails out. 

I mean, if cup stacking is what really, truly lights your fire, I will support you. But…I will also probably tell you that that’s an objectively stupid hobby. But like, nicely.

If it’s a dumb sport, you get a pass cause Dad and I made an arrangement a long time ago that if we ever had kids that were into dumb sports that would be his responsibility.

Please, please, please love books.

I’m just gonna say it, OK? If you don’t love books, we can’t be friends. 

Of course, I will still love you. I just won’t like you as much. 

Kidding. (Not kidding).

Just promise me you’ll try.

Love,

Mom

 

Adulting So Hard: In Which I Carry My Own Pee All Around Hong Kong

Today I went for my glucose tolerance test and a check up at the public hospital where I’ll be giving birth (in just 3 ½ months. Apparently.) I don’t have the results yet, but I’ve been assured that IF I have gestational diabetes, they’ll be sure to tell me. 

One of the amazing advantages of the public healthcare system in Hong Kong is that if you are eligible to use it (which I am) the services are either free or extremely affordable. These hospitals are very efficient and safe, but since the government is paying for everything, they are pretty stingy about providing any creature comforts…like, you know, urine sample collection cups. 

Each time I go for an antenatal check up, I have to provide a urine sample. By provide, I mean, I have to come in with a jar of pee in hand. I’ve been instructed that this must be first morning urine, so no collecting upon arrival. This has come to feel almost normal to me now, but I distinctly remember my first time.

I wake up and luckily remember to get that sample. I screw the lid on the newly christened pee jar and stick it in a Ziploc bag. Then I put that bag inside of an opaque paper bag so that no one can see what it is. Then I take PJ (pee jar) on a joyride through Hong Kong starting with two subway rides to get to my office. 

Since I’m not turning the sample in within an hour, I have to refrigerate it. I do not think any of my coworkers know what was in the paper bag in the back of the mini fridge that day, and I’d like to keep it that way. For all of our sakes.

After lunch, I take PJ on a long bus ride to the hospital where I check in, then queue up to turn in my sample and check my weight and blood pressure. At each stop of this assembly line, I have to present my appointment slip, ID card, and a card where the nurse will write down my weight, BP, etc., so I am holding all these things in my hands along with PJ inside of a Ziploc bag inside of a paper bag. I get up to the desk and have to juggle all of these papers and take out PJ and open the lid and set it all onto a numbered grid on the table without spilling any pee. (Hah.) 

I leave my pee and get in another line to use the scale. The scale is digital and announces your weight in a loud voice so the nurse can write it down without getting up from the desk where she is collecting urine samples and taking blood pressure. 

I take off my shoes and step on the scale. I am pleased to see that, being overweight before I got pregnant, I have not gained yet and am still at my pre-pregnancy weight which is announced by the loud computerized voice to the entire room of 15-odd pregnant women and nurses.

I get into line to have my blood pressure taken. Meanwhile, the woman behind me steps on the scale. Y’all, I am not exaggerating. She is visibly about 8 months pregnant. She is obviously quite slim normally, but is of average height, not just an exceptionally small person. She steps on the scale and the electronic voice belts out a number that is 50 lbs less than mine

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My self-satisfaction immediately disintegrates.

I go back to collect my pee jar. “Take it to the bathroom to empty it,” the nurse says. The nearest bathroom is outside of the waiting room down the busy hospital corridor. I try to juggle my papers, my full backpack, and my bags (plastic and paper) while screwing the lid back on the jar and getting out of the way as quickly as possible. Then, arms completely full, I start towards the hallway only to feel a slosh of slightly chilled pee trickle over my fingers. Feeling my gag reflex rising, I shoved my important papers into my armpit and tried to hoof it to the bathroom while fiddling with the lid, resulting in more pee-slosh. I slow to a waddle, trailing small drips of urine behind me the way my poor childhood dog Chloe used to do when she got scared. It is the ultimate walk of shame.

I am pleased to say that after many such visits, my technique has improved. Today’s interaction went off without a hitch. You know you’ve really nailed adulting when you can successfully navigate the healthcare system in a city of 7.5 million people who speak a different language from you without getting pee on anyone. 

Hashtag Winning. Hashtag Crushing It.

 

6 Lies Y’all Told Me About Pregnancy

I usually roll my eyes at “Things nobody tells you about x, y, z” posts. First off, they very rarely contain information I haven’t heard before. (Just because nobody told you something doesn’t mean nobody is talking about it. Maybe lots of people were talking about it and you’ve just never paid attention). I also usually roll my eyes at listicles. But…I still write a lot of them for my side hustle. So this post is a listicle, but it is not about things supposedly nobody told me. Instead this is a post about what I would like to call “Lies.” Mostly told to me by people like you. Possibly you yourself. (If you think it might have been you, you’re probably right). Fair warning…there’s some TMI here.*

Lie #1: “Morning sickness gets better as soon as you reach the 2nd trimester”

Liars go to hell! I thought benevolently, pouring sweat and streaming tears as I wretched into an outdoor public toilet at 16 weeks. My nausea and aversion to all food did dissipate between 18 and 19 weeks, but let it be known that that was 6 weeks past the date I had been promised my salvation. And I am one of the lucky ones. I have a friend who threw up every single day of her pregnancy and others who had to be hospitalized for dehydration. 

Lie # 2: “Your boobs will look amazing.”

First off, I’m not into big boobs on me. I find them annoying to keep covered and also think they make me look like a Pillsbury biscuit canister that has exploded and is oozing biscuit dough out of all of the crevices in the previously vacuum-sealed container. 

Second…this is clearly being spoken by someone who has only ever seen pregnant boobs in clothing. 

Early in pregnancy, your areolas get larger and darker, ostensibly to provide a “landing pad” for the baby to aim for when breastfeeding. In other words, my boobs now look like two pieces of salami ringed by a tiny rim of regular boob flesh which is mottled with bright blue veins and the beginnings of stretch marks. Additionally, my previously perky boobs now point straight down. So when I’m sitting down, I can rest my nipples on my belly-shelf. Sexy.

Lie #3: “Now that you’re in your second trimester, you are probably experiencing a sudden energy boost!” (Quoth “TheBump.com”)

False. If I could sleep 22 hours/day, I would. I am much more tired than I was in my first trimester. I may or may not have fallen asleep while teaching a class recently. (Don’t worry. I think the kids believed me when I said I was just thinking really hard).

Lie #4: “The sex is great!”

Also false. I mean, it’s not not great, but mostly, the sex is…complicated. Not only do you physically have to negotiate what works and what does not anymore with your constantly changing body, but also, it’s hard to feel sexy when your unborn child is kicking you in the vagina, reminding both you and your spouse of their presence there with you in your special moment. 

Another factor in this…grooming the lady bits becomes significantly more difficult when you cannot see them. Lately I’ve just been going at it blind, trying to use my intuition. My “Lily Tingle” if you will. (10 points if you catch the reference). Results have been…suboptimal.

Lie #5: “When your baby kicks it is the most magical feeling in the whole world”

I admit, I really like being able to feel the baby move and know it is OK. What I’m not wild about is feeling like there’s a basket of snakes moving around inside of me. 

When the movement is near the surface, it feels like involuntary muscle spasms. Like when you drink too much caffeine and your eyelid won’t stop twitching. Except much bigger. And in your abdomen. Not something to make me weep in wonder, but not a big deal. 

But when that kid goes for your organs? Uh-uh. My child believes in expressing themselves by alternately grinding a heel into my bladder and ultimate punching me down the vagina. I swear sometimes the shock waves radiate down to my kneecaps. If you have not experienced this, it’s like when you go in for a pelvic exam and the doctor hits a sensitive spot, but instead of pulling away, he punches you there. Sometimes I swear a little hand or foot is just gonna pop right out.

You say magical, I say akin to having a vengeful alien take over your body as its host and show no mercy. Tomato/Tomahto. 

Lie #6: “You might experience more vivid dreams”

Not a lie. Just not nearly warning enough.

After a friend showed me her engagement ring which had been custom-made from some family pieces, I dreamed that she had entrusted me with these precious family heirlooms and I had had them set into a diamond and sapphire encrusted molar. Yes, a molar. As in a tooth. I kept my fancy molar safe in the back of my mouth and then one day it fell out! And some of the stones came loose. I was distraught. My friend had entrusted the family jewels to me. What to do?! Luckily, I was able to track down the little old man who had made the molar in the first place and he successfully put the stones back. (Incidentally, he looked just like the guy who fixes Woody in Toy Story 2 complete with the big magnifying glasses). How I got the molar back into my mouth, I’ll never know. 

I also recently dreamed that my baby fell out. Like whoosh, just fell right out there. Fully clothed in a onesie. And I was just chilling there for a while and then remembered Hey, it’s not supposed to come out this early, I should put it back. And then I kept trying to put it back in there, but an arm or a leg kept falling out like it was a baby doll I couldn’t quite fit into the toy chest. And then I had an epiphany Wait a minute! You’re not supposed to put them back once they come out!  Then I started panicking about how early it was (I think I was 20 weeks at the time) and decided to take a closer look to see if it was OK. I took it back out and laid it on the bed. It was a completely normal-sized baby, except its legs were only 2 inches long. 

This is like every night, y’all.

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If you’re pregnant or have ever been pregnant, maybe you can sympathize. Or at least laugh at me. If you’re thinking of someday being pregnant, take this as an alternative truth, And if none of these things apply to you, I sincerely apologize for any damage this has caused your psyche. Just wait til I tell you about some of the unique experiences of being pregnant in Hong Kong.

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*Obligatory Disclaimer: I know that every body and every pregnancy is different. The liars are probably speaking “their truth” or whatever. And also, please note that I’m really not complaining. Much. I’m very thankful for a (so far) uncomplicated pregnancy. Please take this in the spirit it is intended.