How to Love Your Body Before, During, & After Pregnancy
By: Kaitlyn Pattock Illustration: Marylou Faure
It’s no secret that women’s bodies go through several dramatic changes in their lifetime and it’s no secret that it can be difficult, no matter what age, to accept and love your body through each phase. From puberty, we compare ourselves to ridiculously unachievable standards set by the media with all of their Photoshop, angles, and lighting. Then we hit our 20’s, otherwise known as ‘childbearing years’, and start to feel the societal pressure to procreate, and we’re expected to stay picture perfect while rapidly gaining weight on a hormonal roller coaster. Next, the baby comes, and you gotta snapback girl! Well, it’s not that easy. But, experiencing all of this while your body magically creates a life and then adjusts to nurturing it can be quite a beautiful journey.
I’d love to say I was one of those women who decided to get pregnant and then just did. My husband and I made a preconception consultation appointment a few months after our wedding just to make sure everything was good to go. Meanwhile, we had been trying casually while they ran a few tests and for 6 months we just kept reading negative pregnancy tests. I couldn’t help but feel like something was wrong with me. My mind raced at night thinking I couldn’t get pregnant. I blamed myself and it was hard to love my body when it wasn’t doing what it was designed to do. I soon learned that I had very high blood sugar causing an irregular cycle and I had to be put on a medication that diabetics take to lower their blood sugar. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it could be worse, and it was worth a shot. A month later I cried tears of joy when I read my positive result. And then 5 more just to be sure. I was so happy, but I knew things were about to get really intense.
I admire mamas who make rockin’ the bump look so effortless and cool. Spoiler alert: it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. The first trimester I was so tired I could fall asleep standing up, but I was banned from caffeine. I felt sick to my stomach if I went more than a few hours without eating, but you can’t eat too much because you don’t want to gain weight too quickly, and it can only be healthy stuff! Then the hormones kicked in telling me to overreact to these things, and I was very emotional about my body adjusting to pregnancy. I also started showing very early, because I have a small frame, so I felt as if I just looked like I ate a giant burrito, and suddenly all my clothes felt unflattering and uncomfortable. I just wanted the ‘glow’ that everyone talks about, but honestly, it felt super awkward at first.
Things started looking up in the second trimester. I could finally announce my pregnancy and was visibly showing, so I started shopping for cute maternity clothes. The fatigue and nausea went away, I started to feel more settled into my pregnancy and everything began to feel very real. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and so amazed by my body creating a miracle. I loved my body more than I ever had in my whole life. I loved feeling my son’s kicks and energy, we named him Maverick and wrote him a few letters telling him how much we loved him, and started getting the nursery ready. We also signed up for childbirth classes and realized that the baby eventually had to come out somehow. It became apparent that what was about to come didn’t seem as pleasant as this short-lived bliss.
I grew, and grew, and grew, and at every appointment, my baby was measuring big. My back hurt, my hips hurt, my feet hurt. My petite body was carrying a big, healthy boy and it was taking its toll on me physically. Rolling over at night was a chore causing me to have disrupted sleep on top of peeing every 2 hours. Even my maternity clothes started to squeeze me and I couldn’t touch my feet or even see them for that matter! Soon my larger than average belly was explained when I failed my glucose tolerance test and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was so upset. I did everything I could to make sure I was staying healthy for baby, read every book, asked every question, and still, I was now considered ‘high risk’. This really threw off my birth plan to go as natural as possible and that was a hard pill to swallow on its own.
I now had to track every crumb that went into my mouth and check my sugar with a finger prick and test strip 4 times a day. It felt like a nightmare and I questioned myself again. Was this my fault? Will it affect my baby? Luckily the only common side effects I saw from this were just a bigger baby and more fluid, which explained why my belly was so gargantuan. I had people asking if I was due soon when I was 6 months along. I weighed the most I ever have in my whole life and gained it in such a short amount of time. I felt like a whale and waddled like a penguin and it definitely affected my self-esteem. I was officially over being pregnant and hoping he would come early- like most women do when every movement is an inconvenience.
It’s true what they say, though. When you hold your baby in your arms for the first time, all of the hardships from the past 9 months seem so insignificant. I was overwhelmed with emotion and so excited to be a mom. I had zero desire to take a look at my naked body in my euphoric new baby state, but when that moment finally came, there was nothing that could’ve prepared me for it! I still looked pregnant, but my belly felt like a sack of Jell-O, and I had some stretch marks and stitches. It was brutal and I spent the first few weeks healing, adjusting to motherhood, dealing with hormones, hating my reflection, and learning how to breastfeed, all while trying to get to know my son and enjoy him.
I did my best to stay positive and remind myself that I just had a baby, but the ugly truth is that the postpartum body just isn’t pretty. I tried to stay realistic with my goals and not compare myself to others or even my pre-baby body. I got cleared to workout at 6 weeks, and after about a gallon of cocoa butter, some pretty tight shapewear, and staying consistent with breastfeeding (burns a ton of calories), I was finally back to my normal weight at 3 months post baby and coming around to loving my mom bod.
My son is now a year old and although I believe my body will never be the same, I am comfortable in my own skin. I am proud of my body for creating a child, housing him for 9 months, and then feeding him for an additional 12 months. It takes real strength and resilience to go through all of those ups and downs with weight gain, weight loss, hormones, and the standards we face. Women don’t get enough credit for this, but in the end, the prize of your sweet baby and motherhood make it all worth it!
The important things to remember are that each of us is different, and to embrace each stage, even the difficult ones, because a better one is waiting on just the other side if you’re patient with yourself. Even though I’m currently in the next body transition of post-weaning where your breasts go from grapefruits to flapjacks, I keep telling myself that they nourished my child and I can actually say I love my body for giving me the greatest gift on Earth. I’m sure by the time my weight and hormones finally level out, I’ll probably be ready to do it all over again, but with more wisdom and confidence under my belt, no matter which loop it’s on!