Better the Second Time Around: Battling negative body image during pregnancy

By April Wallace, nwaMotherlode contributing writer

I have so much more respect for my body now that I’m toward the end of my second pregnancy.

Last time, I was actually ashamed of my body—disgusted with it, even. Third trimester was the worst part, and it spun out of control in the final month.

I didn’t have maternity photos taken because I didn’t feel like the glowing, beautiful Madonna I thought I should have been. I compared myself to the gorgeous images I’d seen on Instagram and professional pages and found myself extremely wanting.

I felt like I’d been through hell the last nine months—sometimes physically, sometimes mentally and emotionally, and at times, all three.

My relationship had been put to the test more than a few times, too. But at the heart of it, I didn’t think I was beautiful.

I grew up struggling with what must have been an undiagnosed eating disorder. It’s something you don’t fully grow out of, no matter how much time passes. The mental work to keep a healthy view of myself, and to not belittle or tear myself down for the way my body looks, is still more or less constant.

So what could be more terrifying to someone with this sort of problem than pregnancy?

You face 40 weeks of watching the numbers on the scale steadily rise and have no clue where they will cap. You have no way to predict how long it will take them to come back down, either. Only general guesses and smart eating and exercise habits stand between you and it.

It didn’t matter that I had access to all the right information.

I knew the breakdown of that weight gain: how much was increased blood volume, breast weight, water retention, placenta, amniotic fluid, (not to mention the baby himself) and why my baby needed all of it.

It didn’t matter that my medical staff told me my particular scale numbers were appropriate and healthy for both baby and me.

It didn’t matter that my doctor described my frame as tiny and my gain as minimal.

I was unimpressed when my friends assured me by saying that there was no question I would lose the weight.

The first time, I lived each day of my pregnancy in fear of gaining too much weight, eating the wrong thing, not losing enough once the baby was born and having to adjust my self image.

I made myself miserable worrying about it constantly.

Even on the days that my baby and I would have benefited more from getting rested, I worked out. I recorded my weight multiple times a week and was upset if the doctor’s scale reflected a couple pounds heavier than I expected. I found a pregnancy weight gain calculator on a pregnancy and childbirth informational website. Instead of using it once in a while to generally make sure I was in a safe range, I entered my information each time I gained a pound or two—active fretting.

It was unhealthy after the baby arrived, too. I returned to my long evening walks too soon, which re-injured my c-section scar and gave me a longer healing timeline.

Every woman faces this weight gain and her fluctuating body image differently, but I hope you take it from me in my second pregnancy experience: Our bodies are truly amazing and deserving of our own respect and appreciation, that much is clear to me now.

That we are capable of creating an entirely new life is just the beginning.

During pregnancy, our bodies know what the baby needs and compensate for any deficiencies—many precautions by our OBs are ensuring that the mother is taken care of during pregnancy because her body is busy taking care of baby. Baby doesn’t have enough calcium? He’ll take it from mom and keep on growing.

One of the first things your body does in pregnancy is to create the placenta. That’s right, grow an extra organ. It’s completed by about month 4, and yes, that’s why you’re exhausted in first trimester.

This time, I could feel bad about how bloated and awful I felt during that time, or I could lay down for a nap while thinking of how productive my body was being. It was caring for my baby already, so it became apparent to me that I needed to be kind to my body.

I’m in awe of what our bodies can do, especially if you trust and listen to your body.

Now, I can’t help but think that my aversion to coffee, something I ordinarily love and have a couple times a day at least, is my body watching out for my baby’s development by making sure he doesn’t get too much caffeine. When I’ve had a ton of water in a day but I’m still thirsty, I trust my body’s signals are clues for me to give my baby exactly what he needs.

Having been through my first pregnancy and seen my resulting beautiful, healthy baby has changed my view of it entirely. I wonder now why I ever felt bad about my body while it was growing him. Having had a little time since then has given me more perspective.

My body not only created him, but took care of him while healing itself. It was his sole source of food for months and months. We brought him home in the summer of 2017 and didn’t buy him outside food until the following spring.

My body is an automatic comfort to my child even now that he’s an increasingly independent toddler. Isn’t it amazing how just a mother’s smell can calm the baby? The longer I’m a mom, the more it’s apparent to me that our minds and bodies are hardwired to protect them. I’ve never woken up faster and easier than those times when my body simply knew he needed something, even with so few audible clues. Clearly, the motherly body and its natural instincts are highly sophisticated.

This time, I keep that in mind as my body once again grows, stretches and gains.

Rather than be embarrassed about how misshapen my midsection is at nearly 9 months pregnant, I picture how small and perfect Henry was in the crook of my arm that very first morning he had on the outside. Instead of groaning when I step on the scale, I think of how much growing the baby is doing at this point and breathe a sigh of relief for my only easily readable sign that he’s on track.

On the rare occasion that I take my measurements, I take a little pride in knowing that my body must know what it’s doing. That fat will likely be used to jumpstart breastfeeding in the first month of my new baby’s life.

One day I’ll be back to the more strenuous workouts that I miss, the ones that tone my body and make me feel a more typical sense of pride in how I look. But for now I get the rare honor of seeing it do something entirely different—give my baby boy a good start in life.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to a beautiful and curious baby and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her baby while he’s still a baby. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction.