Taking My Body Back

Pregnancy changes you, and I choose to celebrate that

I am 5 months pregnant, and until recently I've been feeling pretty sexy – a little glorious in all my pregnant majesty with belly outthrust, butt and thighs cushioned, and breasts … well, they refuse to grow for some mysterious reason, but whatever. I like how my new size feels essential and full of purpose. I am carrying a baby human. I am holding the trump card. Kiss my pregnant belly, Victoria's Secret.

And then something changed. Maybe it was the series of absolutely terrible photos someone took of me in my favorite dress at a party, looking lumbering and bloated and lopsided. Maybe it's the fact that practically everything I read about pregnancy tells me I should be worried. Specifically, I should be worried about the way I look.

I've learned how important it is to "get your body back." The goal is to reclaim your former body as soon as is humanly possible after giving birth. Magazines and the Internet are full of tips, regimens, and exercises to help us spring back practically unaffected by the herculean act of creating a human.

"Congratulations!" read a recent email in my inbox. "You've reached your 23rd week of pregnancy! How your life will change at this stage of pregnancy?" I click through, of course, and learn that I might develop stretch marks. So I guess I should prepare myself for that "life-changing" event. "Many women find stretch marks upsetting," the notification continues, "but don't worry, they will fade, even if they never completely go away."

And then there are my fellow pregnant women in online forums who get so upset because they've gained a few extra pounds. "Ten lbs. this month!!! I HATE MYSELF!!!"

One woman wrote, triumphantly it seemed, "I only gained 10 pounds with each pregnancy and I lost them immediately the day I gave birth, so I never had to worry!"

"Don't worry," I read somewhere else, "it's normal to feel unattractive at this stage of pregnancy."

"Don't worry, even if you gain a little extra weight, it's probably ok. But don't use this as an excuse to pig out!"

"Don't worry, there is no evidence breastfeeding causes your breasts to sag."

"Don't worry, many women find that their vagina has returned practically to normal six weeks after the birth."

We are reassured over and over again not to worry. But I wasn't worrying. I was feeling proud of, even enjoying, my largeness. And then I was inundated by still more messages about how I should focus on the "after."

After my baby is born, it appears my mission will be to negate every last trace of this monumental transformation. I am supposed to shred the evidence of this remarkable, dramatic evolution in which I rearranged my organs, opened my rib cage, and nearly doubled my blood volume to be a good home for a growing human. 

Suddenly, I am worried. What if I am ruined? What if I will never look good again?

My belly button grows shallower each day. I am afraid to look down in the morning, because it might be gone. Irrationally, I'm nervous about the fragile skin there that looks knotted from the inside, as though it will split open when stretched.

I am supposed to want my old body back, because it's assumed that my old body is better. It makes me think about the idea that we all have this optimal body that we're always trying to get to. Whatever body we're in right now is probably not the right body. It's not our ideal body. So we should work to get to that better one, just out of reach, but ultimately (we're assured) achievable.

When I've written about body image and weight in the past, commenters have reminded me that it's easy to think of weight dichotomously – thin people on one side of an uncrossable line and heavy people on the other. But over the course of their life, people inhabit many versions of their body. Bodies are always changing. I like being reminded that it's the nature of bodies to change.

It can actually be hard to keep up with the many versions of our bodies, but I imagine us walking around with all those versions interacting all the time – our many bodies in perpetual dialogue.

And at the same time, I know exactly what the magazines mean when they tell me to make sure I get my body back. They mean the one with the least amount of evidence of life. They mean something like erasure. And automatically, I want that. What if I have stretch marks? What if I can't lose the weight? What if my breasts sag and I am always a little lumbering after this? What if I have a different body then, one that I don't quite recognize?

Well, I will have a different body then. We are always growing into new, different bodies because that is the way that bodies work. That's the way it's supposed to be. A body is a long story with twists and surprises and secret abilities. I never knew my body could do the things it is doing now, and I am instinctively proud.

But even if I wasn't pregnant, the evolution of my body wouldn't be any less interesting or relevant. My body would just be telling a different story about my life.

Which is why I want everyone to shut up about what I should worry about right now and stop telling me that I should want my old body back and how soon I should try to get it. How I should be preparing now, even before my daughter is done growing inside it. Stretch marks are not life-changing. She is life-changing. She is becoming a part of my story and the story of my body.

So I choose to sit here right now, looking down at my disappearing belly button, touching my newly stretched skin, and admiring its flexibility. And I know that I need to get my body back from all of those other people and their opinions about what exactly it should be doing and how it should look at any given moment. It is my body, and we are on an adventure.

A version of this article originally ran on the Huffington Post and is reprinted here with permission from the author.