There Are Good Parts to Being Pregnant Too
And not just the getting-a-baby part
There are plenty of articles about what not to say or do around pregnant women. When I got pregnant, I was determined buck the stereotype of hypersensitive pregnant lady and try not to be offended by well-meaning people (taking offense to well-meaning people is a sometimes necessary but often unhelpful national pastime).
Despite my good intentions, it was often hard to be both kind and pregnant. There are a lot of unexpected indignities and frustrations to deal with: Having the same conversation over and over, having people constantly comment on my body, having men look me up and down because suddenly that’s fine when there is obviously no way they are attracted to your burgeoning physique. During one particularly difficult day, I snapped at yet another co-worker who passed me in the hallway and almost started to speak: “Unless you’re going to tell me how amazing I look, I do NOT want to hear it right now.”
So yeah, my planned equanimity, virtuously offering the benefit of the doubt to anyone not actively malicious, didn’t always come off as hoped.
Sometimes it feels like society oscillates between viewing pregnant women as radiant new age goddesses and unpredictable monsters that must be placated by any means possible.
I’ve only had one kid, but I feel pretty confident saying it’s somewhere in between (and sometimes both at once?).
But was really incredible to me was what pregnancy taught me beyond the stereotypes: about my own personality, my identity, and my body. Despite the unsleepable hip aches, interminable tummy itches, and hidden stretch marks that I didn’t find out about until after my belly deflated, they were well worth learning.
A greater sense of embodiment and empathy
There is a lot of conversation right now happening about embodiment. Racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, fat shaming: these are major issues people face because of the bodies they inhabit. I am young, able-bodied, white. And sure, I’m a woman, but with few exceptions I’m too absent-minded to be aware of men treating me a certain way because of that fact. I’ve always felt much more aware of my mind than of my body.
But then I got pregnant and gave birth. And it shed some bright new light on what it meant to be an embodied person: to be seen by others (and to experience my own self) as and for my body. It was both frustrating and enlightening to see more explicitly how my body can shape my thinking and shape how the world sees me.
If anything, this was a lesson in empathy with the many whose experience of the world is shaped far more by the bodies they inhabit than mine is.
Finally seeing food as a friend, not an enemy
Food has often been my enemy. I love food. I gush about good food and feel offended by bad food. But from the age of 13 on, I’ve also taken nearly every bite with a dash of guilt, hounded by the question that haunts so many Western women: will this make me fatter than I am now?
Then I got pregnant. And you know what? For the first time, I saw food as nutrition, as an ally in the creation of a thriving new being. We like to talk a lot about eating for health, but more often than not it feels like a screen for eating to be thin.
While pregnant, I finally got to experience pleasure in consuming calories beyond just taste. It felt good to give my body, and my baby, what was needed.
A renewed sense of body positivity
I’m not going to say I’m 100% body positive about my post-partum bod. But pregnancy has a way of proving how, even with bulges and imperfections, bodies are amazing. Like, more amazing that we could ever understand.
We have yet to create a more perfect incubator than a womb or a more perfect food than breast milk. And it’s far easier to accept the brand new layers of fat on your backside when you know it’s purpose-built for nourishing a baby.
I struggle with the typical North American female body issues (see point 2). But pregnancy, and the experience of purposeful weight gain, helped me see my body not as an ideal I wasn’t reaching, but as a miraculous specimen designed to give life, to create, and to nourish.
Even though my stomach will never be the same again (not that it was terribly impressive to begin with), I’ve never been more confident in my skin. It’s hard to hate on something that’s been through so much for you.
The opportunity to sacrifice for another person
I know, I know, Garfunkel and Oates, pregnant women are smug. But being allowed to incubate another person is remarkable.
It goes without saying that women need not experience pregnancy to sacrifice for another. But pregnancy, though common, is a concentrated and dramatic lesson in how discomfort, pain, and even indignity can be used for good. In a culture that often values comfort and security above all else, I was grateful for the chance to give something up in this way, even parts of my body, my identity, and my own self.
Of course not every pregnant women will feel this way about their experience — each pregnancy and birth (and motherhood, and life in general…) is so vastly different. And it goes without saying that pregnancy is not a prerequisite for any of these revelations.
But I’m grateful for this life-altering experience, despite the cankles. I might just do it again one day.
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