When Your Body Is Not The Norm
Obviously many of us here are used to living in bodies that are outside the perceived “norm” (if we want to avoid even trying to define what the “norm” is anyway). But there are times when our bodies seem to intersect.
For example, it’s generally assumed that all brides will try to lose weight. It’s just the accepted norm, in my experience. If I had a friend or coworker getting married, she was probably talking about her diet and the boot camp classes at her gym. I didn’t do that, though. Actually, I had to exchange my wedding dress for the next larger size a couple of months before the wedding because I had gained weight since buying it. I didn’t try to gain weight, but I was stressed due to graduate school and I’m a stress eater. But that’s a different discussion.
Weddings are one of those experiences where people sometimes have behavioral and physical expectations of others. Another one of those experiences? Pregnancy.
It seems fairly simple, right? A woman gets pregnant, the baby grows, the woman gains weight, her shape changes, and so on. We’re all roughly familiar with the expectations of the process. If you read enough articles or blogs written by pregnant or formerly pregnant women, you also learn that people feel free to comment (often!) about the size of a pregnant woman’s belly.
Even that, in a way, is the norm. But that wasn’t my experience and, even now as my son nears three months of age, I’m still trying to fully process my pregnancy experience.
I didn’t have the big belly. I’ve been overweight or obese most of my life, yet during pregnancy, I didn’t gain much weight. By the time I went in to give birth, I had gained 10 pounds. My son weighed 8 pounds, so I was back at my pre-birth weight before I even came home from the hospital. I was healthy throughout the pregnancy and my son is perfectly healthy, so it’s not that anything was wrong – but by the reactions of people throughout my pregnancy, you might think so.
Three weeks before going out for maternity leave, I attended a meeting at work and mentioned it’d be my last monthly meeting until the fall. Several coworkers asked why and when I told them it was because I was going on maternity leave in a month, they were surprised. I was 36 weeks pregnant and, yet, they were surprised. At my baby shower, exactly one month before my son’s birth day, my brother commented, “You actually look pregnant today!” To which I responded, “I know! I bought this dress because I look pregnant in it and I figured I should look pregnant for my baby shower.” He was always asking me why I didn’t look pregnant. My best guess is that 1 – as an overweight woman, I didn’t need to gain much weight to support my baby, 2 – I went on thyroid medication two weeks before I got pregnant, so if I wasn’t pregnant, I’d probably have been losing weight, and 3 – I had a tummy tuck when I was 30 and I think that prevented my belly from stretching easily. Perhaps it’s this unique combination of factors that leaves me with this seemingly singular experience.
Pre-pregnancy, I worried about pregnancy weight gain and loss and I’m very glad that it didn’t become an issue. However, I now find myself disconnected from the post-pregnancy experience. Just this week I got yet another email (one of probably two dozen now) from a pregnancy/parenting site saying, “We know it’s probably surprising to you how hard it still is to take off the baby weight.” Well… no. And I read articles and blogs where women talk about “finally showing!” – usually around four or five months – and how it’s really connecting them to the pregnancy, how it makes the whole thing seem real. Sometimes I feel like I have little to nothing to offer them in terms of my experience because it seems so removed.
My husband and I remark several times a week that it still seems unreal to us that we have our adorable little son, and sometimes I wonder if my easy pregnancy and lack of pregnancy symptoms and issues that our culture teaches us to expect has shaped a different type of mother in me. It’s easy to find communities of women who struggled with pregnancy and with the related weight gain and loss, but I’ve yet to find someone to connect to about not looking pregnant until the last couple of months of pregnancy.
I thought that being overweight or obese my whole life would prepare me for times in which I feel outside the norm, but it didn’t. I wasn’t ever one of those girls who planned out her whole wedding or spent time daydreaming about being a mom. I didn’t think too much about either of those events until the planning was upon me. But one of the things I simply assumed was that I’d have a “regular” pregnancy. I’d gain weight; I’d get a big, round belly; I’d have to fend off strangers’ touches, and so on. But none of that happened. I finally had to buy maternity pants during my 29th week (so at 7 months pregnant), but I wore my regular shirts (both for work and weekends) up until I went to the hospital. I haven’t read about that type of pregnancy anywhere and I didn’t know what to do with it while it was going on. Whenever anyone said they didn’t realize I was pregnant or that I didn’t look it, I would just smile and say, “I know! He must be hiding in there somewhere.”
Growing up fat, feeling excluded was the norm for me. I was shy and reserved due to my weight. I went to dances with friends. I had to ask someone to my prom. I didn’t go on a date until my mid-20s. I always felt that I missed out on the “normal” introduction to having a love life and now I feel like I missed out on a part of the introduction to motherhood.
By no means do I intend to complain about my pregnancy experience. Considering how it could be, it was good and there’s nothing more precious to me now than my son. But after a while I couldn’t help but notice how similar this experience was to my previous adulthood experiences. Each pregnancy journey, just like any body image journey, is unique to the individual and it seems to be that we must always be prepared to navigate our own personal journeys, no matter what type of journey it is.
How do you feel your body image experience has affected other life experiences? Have you overcome any hurdles that helped you deal with other difficulties or unique experiences?
Guest post by Candice originally published on 7/28/10