When I first asked our friend, Jenelle, to do this maternity session for us, I didn't really intend on sharing these photos. I just wanted to have a permanent memory of my body, to remember what it looked and felt like to have this little one nestled inside. And to remember the expression on Elie's face when he looked at me. But as she was shooting, Jenelle asked me if I minded gaining the pregnancy weight. I didn't give her a very good answer at the time, but I've thought about her question a lot in the days since. Ironically, in my prenatal yoga class that same weekend, many of the mamas-to-be talked about how difficult embracing the weight gain had been for them, and especially other people's comments about their bodies.
The truth is, I was a little nervous at first, because I didn't know how I was going to feel about the weight gain and the changes that came with it. When I was young, I always struggled with a poor body image. I hated my body, and I always thought I was fat, compared to my friends. Looking back at pictures, I was a perfectly normal-sized little girl, but I never felt that way. I can remember standing in front of the full-length mirror in my parents' room, pinching the fat on my hips and hating it.
Everything changed when I went to college. Instead of gaining the freshman 15, I lost a considerable amount of weight that first year, and I got a lot of attention for it. What started as a healthy endeavor to eat better and get regular exercise morphed into an obsession, resulting in compulsive exercise and very restrictive eating. By my junior year of college, I was unhealthily thin and obsessive about how I looked.
Over the next 15 years or so, I continued to struggle, gaining and losing weight, but never feeling comfortable in my own skin. For 10 years of that time, I was married to someone who put a lot of emphasis on how I looked, being thin, and I had a hard time finding balance. And then, somewhere around the age of 35, I found peace. I gave up giving up, and I stopped obsessing. I started loving myself. And somewhere along the way, I started loving my body.
Obviously, those are the crib notes on a long struggle with self-acceptance, But when I turned 40 last year, I felt more comfortable with myself than I ever thought possible. So, when Jenelle sent me these photos, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and joy seeing my body in this way. When I look at these photos, all I see is a beautiful miracle.
Since we received our positive pregnancy test, I have found people--both loved ones and strangers--to be extraordinary supportive and encouraging. However, once you become pregnant, people automatically feel like it's okay to comment freely on your body, your belly and your looks. From, "You're glowing!" to "Wow, you're big for six months!" to "With the way you're carrying, you're definitely having a boy." It's been interesting. And overall, I really haven't minded. But I think that's because I started in a place where I felt good about myself--I felt completely comfortable in my healthy, perfectly imperfect body. Perhaps that's one advantage of being pregnant at 40. I'm better able to accept myself and be generously thankful to this body for being able to create another human life.
I also have an incredibly supportive, loving husband. Elie tells me every day that I'm beautiful and sexy. He kisses my belly and talks and sings to our baby. He encourages me to rest, to take care of myself. He rubs my back when it aches and does the dishes when I'm too tired. He tells me he's proud of me. I know he loves me just as much when I'm in yoga pants, a top knot and without make-up as he does when I'm in a dress and heels (not that I'm wearing heels, these days). I don't underestimate the power of a positive partner. It's everything.
From the moment we found out I was pregnant, my focus was on having a healthy pregnancy and doing everything within my power to give our baby a flourishing start. I concentrated on getting a wide variety of whole, non-processed foods (like I normally do), but I also didn't restrict myself from sweets, since that's what I seemed to be craving. I just watched portion sizes. I embraced the weight gain, but I just wanted to make sure I put on an appropriate amount of weight for my body and the growth of the baby. If one week I gained two (or three) pounds, I cut back on the sweets. If one week, I didn't gain any, I made sure I ate more. My body seemed to naturally put on the pounds I needed, so that worked for me. I have friends that gained 25 pounds and some that gained 40 or more. As long as the baby is healthy, it's all okay, because every body, every pregnancy, is different.
I don't know if there's a specific moral or take-away message from this post. I only share my story, my experience, in the hopes that it helps someone else who may be struggling with their body image during pregnancy.
It has helped me to remember this time is fleeting. Elie and I will never again have these moments of wonder, where we snuggle together and feel this little wiggle-worm and imagine the moment when we get to meet our child. And as much as it feels like I will be pregnant forever, I know the baby will soon be in my arms, and not dancing around in my belly. I have a feeling I'm going to miss having this sweet little companion tucked inside me, where I can feel every hiccup, every curl of tiny fingers.
Lastly, I've focused on being nice to myself. To give myself grace to absorb the sometimes overwhelming changes that occur every day. I have actually loved being pregnant, even with all of the discomfort and unfamiliar metamorphosis it brings, because I've been given the opportunity to create a life--part me, part Elie, and part entirely unique to this new soul. And every change, every extra centimeter my belly grown, brings us one step closer to meeting our son or daughter. xo, Lisa
Photography by Jenelle Laila.