Expert Q&A: I Can't Stand My Pregnant Body! Is There Something Wrong With Me? by Bailey Gaddis, Author, Birth Educator, Doula
Q. "I’ve heard so many women talk about loving their pregnant body, but I can’t stand mine. I can barely look in the mirror, and I feel so unsexy. My body shame is even making me resent my baby. Is there something wrong with me?"
A. With a culture that has historically valued a flat stomach and slim thighs above all else, it’s so normal for pregnant women to feel uncomfortable and unattractive as their body shifts. Even women who never had body issues can have physical insecurities triggered during pregnancy.
The cause of much of this insecurity is the speed at which the changes are happening. We barely have time to integrate with what’s happening. It’s like, bam! – one morning we wake up and it looks like someone drew a line down our belly with a brown Sharpie. Then bam! – our fingers are too pudgy for our rings and our nose has gotten wider and squishier. And oh look – now our favorite clothes don’t fit, parts of our body we didn’t think would bulge are bulging, and our feet feel like they were injected with Play-Doh. And the changes don’t stop for at least twelve months. I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t be thrown by these almost constant shifts in appearance?
If you’re thinking, “Um, those ladies who are always waxing lyrical about their pregnant bodies don’t seem bothered by the same changes I’m experiencing,” I hear you. But while those I’ve-never-felt-so-radiant wenches (just kidding, I’m just jealous!) probably aren’t lying, I can almost guarantee they have moments when they look in the mirror and feel a jolt of insecurity when they notice how wide their hips have become or see the fresh stretch marks on their thighs. It can be a shock for anyone – even if they’re not talking about it.
But this shock can feel really big if you, like me, have struggled with body image. When I was in high school, I was convinced that if I were just skinny enough, everything I ever wanted to happen would happen – like my skinny body would be my fairy godmother. So in pursuit of this totally logical dream I would starve, then binge, starve, then binge. After lots of therapy I got it under control and began loving my body (most of the time) ... but then I conceived Hudson.
When I began showing, all I could focus on was the spreading and softening of the faint outline of abs I had worked so hard for, and my butt, which had always been a pancake, becoming a lumpy pancake. I felt like the most unsavory pregnant lady in the history of pregnant ladies. This led me to believe Eric would never ever want to have sex with me again. He tried everything to convince me otherwise, but nothing worked. I felt horny (because pregnancy hormones can cause mega-arousal) but didn’t act on it because I was sure my body was incapable of inspiring lust and would probably horrify Eric if he saw it naked.
This all made me feel discouraged and resentful. Especially resentful. I was resentful that my husband got to have a baby without dealing with any physical changes or feeling like he’d lost his sex appeal. I was also resentful that I was giving up what felt like every fiber of my body and desirability for my baby.
While I didn’t feel too bad about resenting my husband (I mean really, why can’t nature make them feel a few contractions?), I hated that the shock of my body changing made me feel even a tinge of resentment against my baby. That I could feel anything but total love for him devastated me. So, yeah, a majority of my first trimester was spent in a sexless pit of resentment and guilt. Fun, right?! But mamas, I got out.
Bolstered by the brighter perspective brought on by the body image–enhancing tools of working out, therapy and the weird stand-naked-in-front-of-a-mirror exercise I outline below, I finally realized that unconditional love for my child can live in harmony with a splash of resentment and a sprinkle of annoyance. Thoughts of our children are not always going to cause hearts to pop out of our eyes – and that’s OK.
You will save yourself a world of self-inflicted emotional torture later down the road by giving yourself grace now for having feelings about your baby that aren’t all rosy. (Of course, if those thoughts turn violent in any way, alert your medical care provider.) If you’re feeling irked that baby’s making your skin ripple with stretch marks and your sexy time turn into “just rub my feet” time, it’s all good. You’re not alone. You’re part of a tribe of strong, radiant, multilayered women also feeling so many feels about their body and baby.
What to Do
While training your mind to sprinkle grace over the whole range of emotions about how baby is impacting your body image and sensuality, give yourself physiological support by talking with your care provider about starting (or continuing) an exercise program. Exercise not only strengthens the body for birth but also releases endorphins that elevate your mood and help you see yourself in a more attractive, sexy-time glow. Up the exercise benefits by being active outside, as the combination of fresh air, vitamin D and movement is magic.
In addition to discovering a movement plan that works for you, try this:
Eat mindfully. Think about what you’re eating, as certain foods can exaggerate the anxiety and depression sometimes triggered by body image stressors, while others can enhance your energy and mood. Soda and other high-sugar drinks, pretty much anything with high-fructose corn syrup, white bread, too much coffee, and fried foods are major culprits when it comes to making you feel blah. On the flip side, whole grains; chickpeas; Brazil nuts; eggs; omega-3 fatty acids; foods high in antioxidants, like berries; and probiotic-rich nosh, such as yogurt and kefir, can all help your mind and body smile. Make sure your diet supports any special circumstances you might have by running it by your care provider.
Get naked in front of a mirror. Release body shame and up your feelings of sexiness by standing naked in front of a mirror and finding one area of your body that you love. After you find that area (and it can be as small as your lips or a smooth patch of skin at the base of your neck), really focus on it. Allow yourself to fill with thoughts about how beautiful that area is and how appreciative you are that it’s nourished by blood and oxygen and all the other miraculous functions of the body. Each time you do this exercise, find a new area to focus on.
The point is to start training the mind to shift focus from the parts of our body we don’t like – the parts we usually obsess over – and realize that our body is actually covered in beauty. Know that this exercise can feel super uncomfortable in the beginning, as the act of immediately homing in on cellulite or extra padding is ingrained in us. But if you commit to pushing past the discomfort and the inclination to body-shame, you’ll slowly move into a space of adoration for your body that can create a whole new body. Pretty cool!
Seek therapy. For those who have struggled with eating disorders or exercise addiction, pregnancy might reignite old thought patterns. Give yourself the customized emotional nourishment you deserve by finding a therapist you trust and connect with. A good therapist can offer wonderful support for integrating with your changing body and figuring out how to fall in love with it, or at least come to terms with it. They can also help you work through the feelings toward your baby these changes might trigger.
Excerpted from the book Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood. Copyright ©2021 by Bailey Gaddis. Printed with permission from New World Library.
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