She declared it so joyfully in the women’s bathroom at Target today, “Mama you are BIG! Big, big, big, big, big, big, big, big…” The “bigs” just kept coming, echoing off of concrete walls and the metal stall, certainly loudly enough and emphatically enough to get her point across to anyone within a half mile radius. All the while, I was trying to gently shush her enthusiasm as I bared my belly at her eye level and tried to pretend it didn’t get to me at all.
She was excited, because she loves that our baby is growing.
“I’m telling the baby now, Mama. Big, big, big, big…”
I can’t deny her honesty, nor the fact that I do feel just exactly as big as she interpreted this afternoon, but Eloise’s public declaration was timely, on a day when I was already feeling the significance of this 29-weeks-along belly in a sizable way.
It’s true that when we’re growing babies, the self-talk in the process comes steadily and often.
Our bodies are changing, rapidly and amazingly, in a full force effort to support and sustain the life (or lives) within. We are carrying around tiny, growing miracles that go from single cells to fully functioning human beings in a matter of months. We are witnesses and bearers of creation in every sense of the word.
And we are also navigating clothes that don’t fit, curves that didn’t previously exist, toddlers who still need picking up, an inability to bend over or see our toes, and 1,001 other things that we weren’t battling pre-pregnancy. Toss in a cocktail of hormones, fewer nights of uninterrupted sleep, and the prospect of being responsible for new life every hour of every day in a matter of months or weeks, and it’s easy to succumb to the trap of negative self-talk and self-perception with little effort.
All of the above factors aside, I can’t hardly begin to address the crazy things people say to women with pregnant bellies, as if beautiful bumps bearing human life are an open door for offhanded comments and challenging opinions. These can be icing on the cake.
Pregnancy is incredible. It’s a wild ride that very regularly results in the most wonderful outcome imaginable: a tiny human to love and care for for years to come. But it’s also a raw journey that we go through both together and alone–it can be unifying for women and still, isolating. It can be encouraging and also terribly hard.
I was reminded again today (not because Eloise was so outwardly joyful about my bump, but because I woke up with a heightened awareness of my body this morning) that the process of pregnancy is not for the faint of spirit or heart. When you are looking in the mirror and everything about your physical self is changing day by day, it can be hard not to judge or criticize or compare yourself…not even to others, but to the self you remember from only days or weeks ago. And if you throw in comparing your pregnant self to other growing mamas, pregnancy can flip from joyful and celebratory to discouraging and overwhelming in a snap.
It isn’t easy to gain weight and curves and bumpy veins and imperfections, even if it’s for a cause you are utterly thrilled about in the end.
Ultimately, what’s been on my mind today and what I want to share here tonight is this: while we know we should be kinder and gentler to our growing, changing bodies during pregnancy (and sometimes, long after), it can be SO hard to quiet the voices in our heads that tell us we’re “less than” because there’s actually more of us staring back into the mirror than there was before.
We’re not “less than” anything. We’re gaining weight and curves and character because we’re growing amazing babies inside. We’re putting on pounds and packing away smaller sizes for now because we’re getting ready to sustain life by nursing for months (or years) to come. We’re sacrificing a physical aesthetic because we’re called to a spiritual one that’s far greater than we can imagine.
If you’re where I am now, or if you’ve been there, or are headed there, or hope to someday be, picture that glorious moment when you cradle your brand new baby in your arms and you just can’t possibly look away because they are the most perfect, precious thing you’ve ever set eyes on. Imagine that empowering moment of becoming a mother for the first time (or the second, third, fourth…) and that space where, suddenly, none of the curves matter in any way at all, because this life was just born from within you and you are witnessing and holding a miracle.
Now there’s some honest self-talk for those of us wondering if we’ve maxed out yet another maternity item or if we’ll ever get back into our pre-pregnancy jeans.
Mamas, what God does within our bodies in nine months time is nothing short of spectacular. The glow that people talk about that feels so hard to obtain? It’s radiating, not because we’ve gotten enough sleep or worked out four times this week or eaten all of the “right” things, but because no one can just can’t quiet the beauty of motherhood by toting a few extra pounds or sporting the only pair of pants that fits for an entire trimester.
Let’s be kinder to ourselves, ok? And for heaven’s sake, friends and family of pregnant people everywhere, let’s please be kinder to the pregnant mamas in our midst.
It is one thing for a sweet and excited big sister to shout her mama’s big belly status to the world because she’s three. It’s another thing entirely to tell an expectant woman that she’s getting big, or that she must have her due date wrong, or that she’s clearly having twins because you’ve somehow forgotten that pregnant bellies are still attached to actual people with feelings. Please just don’t.
There are plenty of other, more helpful things to say to a woman who is growing a baby. Tell her she is beautiful. Tell her she’s doing a great job. Tell her your best story of why parenting has been so incredibly good. But please keep the sizing up and the judgment and the assessing comments to yourselves. I promise you, she has plenty of challenging dialogue to navigate on her own already.
Mamas, you are gorgeous for all of the changes you’re going through. And you’ll be still be gorgeous on the other side of pregnancy when the same thoughts challenge you from a different angle. You’re strong. Able. Powerful. Radiant. You are sustaining life.
On the hard days, put on what makes you feel most beautiful. Take extra time to do something that brings you joy. Then sit for a while in the nursery, or journal or talk or sing to baby, and remind yourself that there’s nothing else in the world but this that garners such incredible reward.
so much love from this growing mama,