Pregnancy Week 17: Pregnancy Body Image and My Muffin Bump

Pregnancy Week 17

Week 17 quick stat breakdown:

Baby is the size of a: pomegranate, chipmunk, video game controller? (About 5 inches long and 5 ounces).

The baby’s bones are transforming from cartilage to actual bone, and its body starting to build fat.

Speaking of building fat, I thought I’d devote this week to talking about pregnancy body image. (Mine, more specifically).

It’s the last day of week 17 for this pregnancy, and aside from some still sporadic (thank goodness) heartburn and the occasional flutter kicks I feel low in my pelvis, I’ve mostly just felt fat this week, to be honest.

I am carrying lowwwww this time around, surely because my abdominal muscles are still pretty wrecked (and neglected) from the last time they got stretched to the limit a mere 19 months ago. So I’m at the bump stage where if I’m wearing the right maternity clothes, and I let it all hang out, I look pregnant, but if I’m minding my posture at all, or wearing something with the slightest trace of a waistband, all I see is muffin top.

Mostly, I’m okay with this. I feel grateful to have hit a stage in my life where my self worth doesn’t feel entirely hinged on what I see in the mirror. My pregnancy with my first baby and childbirth gave me a profound respect for my body’s abilities and a strong antidote to the idea that I owe the world a certain degree of beauty to occupy space here. (Sure, when I go too far between haircuts or wake to discover my weird allergies have given me one puffy purple eye in the morning, I feel less like going to the grocery store, but I haven’t crumpled into tears while standing on the scale in a long time.)

That being said, I sorta miss the “just a bump” look I was rocking at 17 weeks the last time around. I’m having more of a spreading-out pregnancy this time around, and I still need to make peace with this different, and still entirely fine and healthy, pregnancy body of mine.

Fortunately I’m still in the phase where it’s very questionable whether I’m actually pregnant, so the only commentary I’m fighting in this battle for self-esteem is my own. But judging by my last pregnancy, that will change soon, and I’m bracing myself.

Last time around, a coworker stopped me in the ladies’ room to reflect on how big I looked compared to another coworker who was pregnant, six weeks ahead of me, and how she was carrying “just in the belly” and I was carrying “all over” with hand motions to drive home the point that I looked like a behemoth. It was a cruel thing to say in such a casual, innocent tone, I would have flipped my shit had this woman not confided in me months before I became pregnant that she had finally given up after 10 years of infertility. I told myself she was coming from a place of deep pain and tried to feel sympathy for her while I internally seethed.

That being said, if you know me and see me in person, please remember this common courtesy that I, if not all pregnant women, appreciate, regarding our bodies: If you wouldn’t say it to a non-pregnant acquaintance, keep it to yourself.

I don’t want to say how big, or small, or pudgy, or like I’m carrying twins, or guppies, or donuts, I look.

As the moms at One Bad Mother have wisely advised, the only appropriate thing to say to a pregnant woman is, “You look great.”

Pregnancy Week 17: Pregnancy Body Image and My Muffin Bump

Hey new mom: Neglecting yourself? Schedule a photo shoot.

Blah blah blah, it’s been awhile. As I mentioned in my last post (and like every post, because I like to complain-brag about being the busiest mom everrrrr, even though I’m not, and complaining about busyness as a mark of superiority is just about the worst)… I’ve been hustling. Writing freelance articles. Babysitting once a week for a friend. Painting the living room. Clearing away storm damage. Flossing, occasionally. Fantasizing the plot to the novel I’ll never write write someday. Oh yeah, and coparenting The Baby with my superhuman husband.

So let’s skip over that part where I whine about not having enough time to blog and just check in about more interesting things.

Mandated self care

I’ve been following a local (we’re nearly neighbors) photographer on Instagram for awhile and scheduled a mini session for last weekend, something I’ve been wanting to do for months, which meant I had to address the growing list of sad, new mom atrocities going on with my personal appearance.

I schlepped The Baby out to Old Navy for a quick low-budget shopping session, as my day-to-day uniform, without fail, is a stretched-out V-neck tee from Target with a pair of shorts. Or jeans, if it’s not 80 degrees out. Or workout pants, if I’m taking a walk.  Since becoming a WAHM, my wardrobe has shrunken considerably and nothing I had was up to the task of making me look autumnal, maternal and sophisticated enough to warrant the cash we were shelling out to capture this moment in our life.

I wound up getting a dress, a cozy cardigan, and (of course) a baby sweater and pants.

Old Navy floral cami dress
This dress.

I also got my first haircut in 11 months. The previous salon encounter was a week or so before my baby shower. I was teetering into “enormously pregnant” territory and ended up getting a bob, which I opted for because my hair was greasy AF from pregnancy hormones. This time around, I left it long because it stays ponytailed at all times lest I lose it by the handfuls to my grabby, grabby monster baby.

Being really awkward at haircuts is sort of my thing. I get them really infrequently so I never have a go-to hairstylist to catch up with, I know nothing about hairstyles so my description of what I want is usually unhelpfully vague (and generally limited to an angled bob, or the light trimming of a very long, grown out bob), and I do almost nothing to help move the conversation along.

I’ll answer any question I’m asked, but it always feels weirdly intrusive to ask questions of the person I’m paying to groom me, so the usual back-and-forth of a conversation ends up being a lopsided exchange that fades into awkward silence. Helpful hint for fellow awkwards: Just have a baby, and get a stylist who also has children. The only lull in conversation this time around happened when she was blowdrying my hair.

I didn’t even feel particularly embarrassed to discover I had grey primer (wall primer, not makeup) on my face as I checked out my new (very conservative trim of a) haircut. Because motherhood makes it easy to utterly give up puts everything into perspective.

Finally, for the first time since a friend’s wedding last June, I painted my nails. (I was pretty paranoid about chemicals during pregnancy, so other than that one time, I didn’t bother. Also, I almost never bother to begin with.)

sad-manicure
My manicure as of yesterday, because the house painting never ends.

Yeah, this is about as low of a bar as I could hurdle in terms of personal grooming, but it’s higher than the bar I’ve set for myself for many months now, so I consider it a success.

So, new moms if you’ve been neglecting yourself terribly, put a non-refundable deposit down on a family photo shoot. You’ll take care of yourself if the alternative is spending money to forever memorialize your frizzy split ends, stained shirts and unibrow!

That’s it for tonight. The Baby is turning nine months old in a few days (what?!) I will be back soon, if for no other reason than to report back on how many babies he succeeded in poking in the eyes at tomorrow’s lap-sit story time at the library.

lilly-handmade-chocolates
People watching and eating some chocolate

Oh! One quick P.S. The Husband, The Baby and I traveled up to our old neighborhood to have brunch and indulge in a little wine and chocolate, c/o a raffle we won for donating to a friend’s Kickstarter. So there was some legitimate, non-mandated self care in there, too. Don’t forget to make time for eggs baked in cream, truffles and a stroll through your favorite city.

Hey new mom: Neglecting yourself? Schedule a photo shoot.

A love letter to my library

summer reading
The summer reading saga continues!

What better way to rebound from a somewhat belligerent (though I would still argue justified) rant about a place that made me feel like crap as a mom than to talk about a place that makes me feel wonderful every time I set foot in it?

I am, of course, referring to my local library.

The library was one of the first places I ventured with The Baby during maternity leave. Ever since then, it has become a routine destination for my attempts to leave the house on a daily basis.

Of course, perk No. 1 of the library is that it’s free (or, really, really, cheap, if you tend to have overdue books here and there…) Now that I’m no longer in a super walkable neighborhood (frown), I can’t just throw the baby in a carrier and take a walk around the block to count as my outing. Generally, I have to run an errand, which almost always means going into a store of some sort and spending money. And as a post-Great-Recession, one-and-some-change-income family, we don’t go shopping just to shop.

The Baby isn’t quite big enough that places specifically made for kids (children’s museum, playground) are a worthwhile trip. Right now he’s basically just psyched by anything that isn’t our house. But I know when he does start to get more interested in play and exploration, my library’s children’s section is a great place to spend some time!

Another great thing about the library is the great sense of possibility I feel every time I step inside. Thinking about raising goats? Pick up a how-to book. Itching for a good conspiracy? Read about the JFK assassination. Etc. ad nauseam. While the Internet is a vast resource to learn about anything I could possibly imagine, you can’t beat the feeling of wandering the aisles and coming across something you weren’t looking for that piques your interest.

I find myself unintentionally choosing books around a theme almost every trip. My last library haul centered around ghost stories and, more practically speaking, raising goats. (That’s still in the works, though slow-going.) In the ghost story genre, I read The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce and I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I love a good ghost story, and while neither of these was life-changingly good, they satisfied the part of me that gets a thrill from a few chills down my spine.

(For those of you following along, I haven’t finished Cannery Row yet. I returned Doubter’s Almanac unfinished because I always read too many books at once, it was due back at the library and it didn’t hook me in the first three chapters.)

I’ll spare you the review on the goat raising book.

Today’s haul was exclusively nonfiction. (I have another randomly chosen novel I renewed from the last trip, resting unread under by bed still.) Anyway, I picked up two books on writing fiction, something I did obsessively as a child and teenager but haven’t touched since then but have been daydreaming about. I’m hoping that reading about writing will give me the little nudge to try it out again (though I will keep those exercises to myself and stick with the real-life navel gazing for this particular outlet.)

I also got Baby Knows Best, a parenting book about the “RIE way,” which I’ve never heard of. But I like reading about child development and don’t know that much about it, so it’s always interesting to broaden my horizons on that front. I’ll either learn some knew ways to help The Baby grow into an awesome Kid and Adult, or I’ll find something else to call bullshit on and get sanctimonious about. Win-win.

Finally, I got On the Move, A Life by Oliver Sacks, whom you’ll recognize if you’re a Radiolab fan, as he was a beloved neuroscientist who explored some amazing facets of the human brain and struggled with his identity and love and human mortality and who was a beautiful storyteller on top of being a brilliant scientist. He died not too long ago and Radiolab gave him a beautiful tribute, and I can’t wait to read this book.

So there’s an update on what’s on my nightstand, and a reminder to my fellow new moms to go feed your soul at the library!

One more parting tip: Libraries usually have a shelf of used books for sale for CHEAP (a “Friends of the Library” fundraiser type deal), and it’s a great place to pick up children’s books, especially board books because you can clean off the pages before you hand them over to your baby. I picked up a few gems today for a buck!

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A love letter to my library

The misogyny of “get your body back”

My mid-morning errand today involved going to Target to buy things I needed (diapers, coffee) and a few things I didn’t really need, that nevertheless will make my life a little easier (Dollar Spot mini binder with abundant list inserts to replace my near-full daily to-do list notebook, underwear that isn’t so old and stretched out that it barely stays up – sorry, I have no dignity).

What I came across, and what should come as no surprise yet still filled me with rage and dismay, was something I really, really didn’t need: a glaring reminder that I personally and new moms across the Western world owe it to society to GET OUR BODIES BACK after baby.

I was meandering through the baby aisles looking for a non-plastic sippy cup option (no luck) as The Baby has taken to clanking his bottom teeth on the shot glass I fill with water to offer him at meals. At the end of the bottles and breast pumps aisle, there it was, shining like a beacon of judgment: A rack of fitness magazines showing off the extremely fit, glowing bodies of women.

Body shaming at Target
While you’re worried about making sure your baby is thriving, don’t forget: You’re not good enough!

To this I say (and here comes some French, with no apologies), FUCK YOU, TARGET.

Like just about any woman with a pulse in America, I have fought my whole life to come to a place where I can love and accept my body as it is. It took me marveling with wonder and gratitude at my body’s ability to grow and push out and feed another human being. I’ve finally been able to quit grimacing at the way my thighs spread out on a seat or glowering at my arm hair or wishing I were different, or better. I am finally content with who I am, and while I have never had to endure the stigma of being extremely overweight or otherwise extremely far from conventionally acceptable appearance, I feel something almost like grief at the first 30 years of my life spent looking in the mirror and not feeling like enough.

And I have nothing against exercise. In fact, I credit exercise with helping me maintain my sanity and maybe having an almost obscenely quick and easy labor. I have been craving a chance to go running again and take every opportunity to walk around the farm or get a good stretch in, because it makes me feel good.

But this display isn’t about exercise. It’s about exploiting the vulnerability of women whose bodies have been stretched and taxed and transformed in ways that definitely don’t always feel comfortable or normal or acceptable. Society seems to think pregnant women’s bodies are public space, open for any remarks or criticisms that might come to mind. And then when baby actually arrives, even though life is 1000% different and priorities have shifted like tectonic plates, there’s that shitty expectation that if you don’t get your body “back,” you have tumbled headlong toward permanent fat frump town and your worth as a woman is forever revoked.

Exhausted new mothers who face fear and judgment and limitless guilt in every direction. It’s not enough to keep a baby alive and fed and happy and appropriately enriched. Better make room in your cart for instructions on putting yourself back together, because you’re (still) broken.

How dare you, Target.

How dare you strategically place this column of manufactured perfection in this spot, amplifying those insecurities for new mothers who are just trying to find a pump so they can go back to work or the right bottle in hopes of easing colic.

I know Target didn’t invent this expectation, but they certainly have no problem taking advantage of it to sell more magazines.

This makes me angry and sad, and makes me want to say to new moms who come across this and other post-baby fitspo and feel the monstrous weight of inadequacy:

You are good enough.

You’re more than good enough, in fact. You are a goddamn superhero, and you don’t owe it to anyone to look a certain way.

Dear New Mom: You're good enough.

I know this may seem like a big soapbox for a small transgression, but this and every instance of post-baby body pressure is yet another form of misogyny that we shouldn’t have to fucking put up with. If we don’t call it out when we see it, if we don’t condemn it for how it makes us feel and for how it reinforces society’s apparent say in how women must occupy space in a certain way, then it’s never going to get better.

Target, you don’t get to make me feel bad about my postpartum self. I’m good enough.

 

The misogyny of “get your body back”

Unpacking some stuff: On moving, motherhood and fulfillment

I swear I haven’t disappeared from blogging this early in the game. I’ve been moving. With all our stuff. Into a house that is already fully furnished (and then some). With an almost-four-month-old baby.

I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, but I was without Internet and a computer for almost a week and have devoted every waking hour to either trying to spend quality time with The Baby or rotating piles of crap through various rooms in the house.

Instead of coming up with interesting lists of advice or recipes, here’s a general, probably overlong update on life in the (new) TLMB household.

On Saturday, my mom drove up to watch The Baby (thank you!!!) while The Husband, a couple of friends (thank you!!!) and I loaded our hastily packed possessions into a U-Haul and then hastily unpacked them into my grandparents’ already packed house.

It has been a rough few months of wrapping my head around the sad fact that my grandparents will not be living out the rest of their days in their home, like they had hoped and planned for, but instead are languishing in a nursing home, sharing a room about the size of a college dorm in a place that smells like things no one wants to think about. They are too medically fragile for us to take care of them here (my grandfather is receiving hospice care at the nursing home). It’s the only feasible solution, but it really, really sucks.

It has also been an unusually difficult task going through all their earthly possessions, while my grandparents are still alive, and making the call about what to keep and what to sell or throw away.

To describe them as hoarders would be impolite but accurate.

All I want to be is a dancer. An artist. A auther.
Can’t wait to finally publish my first book, “I’m Right.”

While their house wasn’t a path carved out between towering columns of old newspapers, it was close. In addition to the hundreds of pounds of expired canned goods, dozens of bars of soap and overflowing closets of clothes and sheets and towels, I have found a lot of things to be sentimental about (like the miniature rolling pin I used to use to help my grandma make pie, or my great-grandfather’s portrait), and some of things I wish I hadn’t seen.

While they gave me their blessing to move in, and the only practical way to do so is to make space for me and my family, cleaning out my grandparents’ house has made me feel like an eavesdropper on a conversation I’d rather not have heard.

I’ve come across secrets (mostly mundane, but nevertheless illusion-shattering).

I’ve found reminders of how much they adored me but also how they favored me over my brother (which remains a source of tremendous guilt for me and a lingering reason we’re not all that close.)

And most painfully, I’ve found evidence of my grandmother’s great disappointment in life and the myriad ways she tried to fill a gaping psychic void: hundreds of cookbooks, dozens of hobbies and their accompanying unfinished projects, diaries documenting one dull day the same as the next. My grandmother left college to care for her ailing father, and spent the remainder of her adult life as a stay-at-home mother (which was, for her time, the expected path for just about all mothers.) She was a doting grandmother and an avid cook and always, I now suspect, suffering from depression that was certainly part biochemistry but also part unrealized ambitions.

My grandparents’ house was the setting for so many, mostly happy, days of my childhood, but looking at everything again from the perspective of a new mom, especially as a new mom who has chosen to step out of her career for awhile, has been a fraught experience.

I’ve spent the last 12 years away from this place, trying to define who I am, and so much of that has hinged on a satisfying, if not particularly special career. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and honestly only in the past few years have I felt anything approaching contentment with where my professional life was headed. I don’t regret stepping away from this trajectory, but I do have a lot of anxiety about how my days will unfold in the years to come.

Now I am redefining myself again, as a mother.  I’m doing it while returning to this house and beginning to understand the life of a woman who loved me very much, but who now I realize was always unsatisfied to some degree or another with her lot as a homemaker.

My grandmother’s life fell short, in many ways, of what she wanted. Going through her things at the end of her life, and at the beginning of my son’s life and my new life as his mom, has made me realize just how important it is for me to honor my own happiness and fulfillment.

Everyone tells you to cherish every moment with your baby. Just yesterday my dad tearfully said, “Blink, and he’ll be 10 years old. Blink again and he’ll be heading off to college.” Of course, this is the beauty and the agony of parenthood.

While I’m devoted to spending as much time as possible soaking in every second of motherhood and trying not to blink, the past few months have taught me that it’s just as vital for me to actively seek whatever creative, intellectual and communal pursuits make me happy. Making a family doesn’t excuse me from my responsibility to myself to care for my soul.

When I’m facing the end of my life and my progeny are facing the task of going through all my stuff, I want them to know that while I made sacrifices for them,  I don’t have regrets for a life not fully lived.

Does any of this make sense? Or have I spent too much time alone surrounded by boxes?

 

Unpacking some stuff: On moving, motherhood and fulfillment