This is me at 28 weeks pregnant, right before I headed out to my ultrasound to check in on how my baby boy is doing. I felt happy, relaxed, and even confident about how I looked — so much so that I wanted to take a picture of myself to capture the moment. After seeing my child on the ultrasound measuring weeks ahead, I felt even more pride in this belly for nurturing a big healthy baby.
Hours later, at a prenatal massage I was treating myself to, the massage therapist asked how far along I was and when I told her, she responded with shock and said, “Oh, wow. You have a long way to go. Are you carrying more than one baby?” No, I was not. My happiness and confidence went right out the window. All that pride I felt for my ability to carry a big baby somehow seemed misplaced, and I felt embarrassed that I got it wrong. My feelings of guilt and even shame for how I look bubbled to the surface.
You see, outside of a few short months, I have been pregnant for over a year now. I lost my first baby at 21 weeks, and less than three months later, still in the midst of grief and sadness, somehow managed to conceive my current pregnancy. My body never really had a chance to recover. And how could it after the trauma I suffered? I created and carried a baby all the way past the halfway mark, only to lose her.
Emotionally, it was crushing. And physically, my body went through all the motions of recovery after delivering a child — postpartum hormones, bleeding, abdominal cramps, and, most painful of all, having my milk come in with no baby to feed. Even when the weight came off because I was too sad to eat, my postpartum belly stuck around, reminding me that I should be pregnant but was no longer. I learned a lot about what my body was capable of in those weeks, but I also learned that when you lose a baby, regardless of the gestational age, there is often a twinge (or much more) of guilt that you did something wrong and that your body failed you. I was no exception to that theory and internalized it deeply.
I looked at my body with disappointment and anger. I was scared to be intimate again but when we did, I just assumed my body would let me down when it came to conception. It didn’t. I conceived so quickly that I doubted my body’s ability to continue carrying the pregnancy and create a healthy baby. My first trimester was filled with constant anxiety and self-loathing. But as the weeks ticked by, I started to realize that maybe my body wouldn’t fail me this time and the baby inside of me might be one I would hold in my arms after 40 weeks. I became comfortable, even in awe of my body and how resilient it is.
What the massage therapist commenting on my size didn’t realize was the long and painful road I had traveled to get to this stage of pregnancy and feel happy about it. She didn’t see that the baby inside of me brought me back to life out of the sadness of grief and despair. She couldn’t see that my body isn’t just carrying one baby, it’s carrying the memory of another, along with the hopes and dreams of having a living child and starting a much-wanted family. I know this woman or anyone else I encounter will never be able to see all this, but the one person who can is me. And really, I’m the only one who matters when it comes to how I view my body. This body never failed me; what failed me was my perception of how amazing this body is.
The truth is, we are all carrying something. Maybe it’s new life, maybe it’s past loss, or maybe a little bit of both. Maybe it’s fear and hope and joy and pain all mingled in all together. But whatever it is you’re carrying, it sure as hell is more significant than what you see in the mirror.