Friday, April 18, 2014

When Your Body Is Not The Norm

April 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Pregnancy

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

WATRD

Comments

10 Responses to “When Your Body Is Not The Norm”
  1. Melissa says:

    Candice, this is a beautiful, honest and thought-provoking post. You’re right, every pregnancy is different and therefore each woman’s experience is different. Thanks for shedding light on your experience.

    One thing I’m learning on this pregnancy journey is that it’s not what I have expected! I never had morning sickness and have felt wonderful the whole time (save for the anxiety about all the testing we went through) and people will comment “Oh you’re so LUCKY, I …. (and share their story)”! but really, the agony we went through was much worse than puking could ever be (IMO). And morning sickness seems to be “normal.”

    I also haven’t gained much weight (yet) — but I also started my pregnancy about 10-15 lbs overweight. So I’m sure that has something to do with it, though I DO admit, I like having a bump because it does make me feel connected to her … but I wonder if that has more to do with being nearly 20 weeks now vs. having a bump. I can feel her move … no kicks, but movement. So that makes it feel “real” — the bump is just a physical display of pregnancy for me; what you feel inside matters most. I’d bet that even without a visible bump, you felt very connected to your little boy!

    I dunno, there seems to be the media’s take on “normal” and our own “normal.” And even this pregnancy might not be the same experience later on, ya know?

    Anyway, I’m all over the place here, but awesome post!

  2. I was rather unaffected by pregnancy in general. I nver got sick, never had any problems related to the being pregnant. I feel as though I was terribly lucky. I have always been tall and thin (not skinny, more sturdy). I gained 25 lbs with my first and almost 40 with the second, but with almost no working out I was back to my pre-baby body with in a year. I am lucky to have good genes. My body seems to not have been affected at all by my pregnancies. Even my boobs managed to come out unscathed. I know that I am in no way close to what is ‘normal’ but I hate that damn word. No one is ‘normal!’ And all that word does is make EVERYONE feel bad about themselves. I wish it could be erased from our vocabulary.

    • CandiceBP says:

      I commend you for saying the weight came off within a year. So many women would see that as an extensively long time when, really, it’s fully reasonable for the weight loss to take that long.

      I never got sick either… and, yeah, the word “normal” just needs to stay away from stuff like this. The more we talk, the more we see the variety of experiences, the clearer it is that there is no norm.

  3. ellie says:

    I think that not showing much is fairly common for tall women. I’m short and was huge. I lost the weight, but still have a rounded belly from all that stretching, so that people often ask me if I’m pregnant. Since my son died at six days old and I haven’t been able to get pregnant since, that’s often an awkward conversation. I wish that society would stop with the “normal” already! I like my belly just the way it is, but I don’t like having to explain it OR comfort people who feel stupid for asking a stupid question.

    • CandiceBP says:

      Ellie, I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish I had something stronger than that to say, but truly, you have my deepest sympathies and my strongest admiration for even being able to talk about it at all.

      I’m 5’6″, which I don’t think is tall… but you’re right, I did notice that the taller women I saw at the doctor’s office did show less/later. And I have friends who have never been pregnant who have been mistaken for pregnant. People really need to just mind their own business.

      • ellie says:

        Candice – thanks. I don’t like to make people uncomfortable, but it’s part of who I am. It’s been 3 years though, and I have a good life.

        Five foot six is, I suppose, average height. I was thinking about who you might be able to talk to about not looking the way pregnant women are expected to look.

        And yes, people should mind their own business. Even if a women is pregnant, she may not want to talk about it for a number of reasons. I think that people just get excited about babies, and don’t mean any harm, but it’s not a good idea.

  4. I had lost 160lbs (after having weightloss surgery) right before getting pregnant but was still 260 at 5’9″ and I really never showed much. And that bothered me. Like you being the fat girl my whole life…i just felt excluded from one more experience “regular girls” have. I bought maternity clothes,even though i didn’t have to cause i wanted to look pregnant!!

    Like you I gained about 10-15lbs and by my 6week check up i was back to prepregnancy weight. However in the next 3 years of my beautiful daughters life i gained back 60lbs. The way i felt about my pregnant body is the reason i gained weight back. I still did not accept my body and wanted to be different. Motivated by self-hate I would never be successdul.

    About a year ago that all shifted….self love and acceptance have changed my life (and my body too but that’s secondary) I don’t know if you have ever read my blog…but feel free to check it out…more of my story can be found there! http://www.radicalhateloss.com

    thanks for the post!!

    • CandiceBP says:

      Yes, I have read your blog. You’ve been on a wonderful journey and you have great perspective on it. It’s such a shame that even something like pregnancy comes with body image expectations of all kinds. Some women stress over getting bigger and others over not being big enough. There really needs to be a place of peace.

  5. Lori says:

    Women carry so differently. I have a very tall (about 5’10″), thin friend who, even in her fourth pregnancy–where she was carrying twins–didn’t show at all until about 6 months and didn’t get really big until the very end. I have a very large friend who tends to carry her weight in her stomach anyway who still ended up being very, very obviously pregnant (at least to people who knew her) by about 14 weeks in her third pregnancy.

    In both my pregnancies I didn’t show much until about 6 months, but then I got huge. I tend to carry high and all in front, like I’ve got a basketball under my shirt. I think because, even though I’m fat, when I’m not pregnant I’m very hourglass-shaped, the pregnancy weight, while tends to go all to my stomach and boobs, makes me look very obviously pregnant. The interesting thing was that even though I ended my second pregnancy weighing about 25 pounds less than I did at the end of my first pregnancy, I ended up showing at least as much.

    But, yeah, it’s frustrating when your body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with what you think your body should be doing.

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