I was 7 months pregnant and somehow shopping for maternity tops again. I grabbed a likely candidate from the pile and wrestled it on.
Well, that doesn’t look cute at all. I scrunched my nose at the image in the mirror. Must be something wrong with this shirt.
The significance of that thought left me in total shock.
I had spent the last 30 years struggling with my weight, criticizing my body at every turn. Stepping into a dressing room was an invitation for self-loathing — the only variable each time was the degree. If I was lucky, I would find an outfit that properly hid my figure such that I looked pretty OK. It was always my body that failed the test, never the clothing.
That day, I realized that pregnancy had changed something fundamental for me: I loved how I looked. I loved my bump, I loved what it signified, and I loved how people treated me. I was very fortunate to be experiencing a “magical unicorn pregnancy” with almost no unpleasant symptoms thus far, and everything about it made me feel great. (Don’t hate me — I got plenty sick with baby No. 2.)
Somehow, my pregnant brain concluded that I looked awesome, and that clothes should make me look awesome too. Any shirt that didn’t look cute on me just wasn’t a cute shirt. My default assumption (must be something wrong with me) no longer applied. It was total freedom. I gloried in the horizontal stripes and favored tops with cute little empire ties to emphasize my shape. I sought a “visible belly outline” everywhere I went. For the first time in my existence, I loved seeing myself in the mirror.
Unfortunately, this burst of body positivity vaporized pretty much upon my daughter’s birth. I had underestimated how much baby weight would hang on, and for how long. I struggled with nursing tops that were just a little small, but was too proud to swap them out. I continued wearing my maternity jeans postpartum with my head hung low. I was terrified someone in the grocery store would ask me when I was due.
Somehow, I was right back where I started.
Now, it’s two years later, and I am 5 months pregnant again. This time, I pulled out my trusty box of maternity clothes almost immediately, grabbing those elastic waists while still in my 9th week. I couldn’t wait to get in that mindset again, and I am happy to say it has returned in full force. I still have my moments. I’m starting this pregnancy with 20 pounds leftover from the first one. Sadly, some of my favorite maternity clothes don’t fit this time, but I haven’t yet reconciled myself to giving them away.
Still, I love my belly again. I wear outfits I wouldn’t consider in a million years if I wasn’t pregnant. I don tight tops with yoga pants, and I don’t care. In fact, I prefer them because they highlight the belly even more. Since I am naturally overweight, it’s not always clear that I am pregnant now. Occasionally I look in the mirror and think, hmm…what if someone sees me and thinks I’m just fat, not pregnant? Oh well, that’s THEIR problem. God, what I wouldn’t give to hold onto this attitude all the time.
To give life to my new baby girl and still keep the understanding that my body is awesome. Even better, to teach my daughters that their bodies are awesome, and make them believe it. To teach my daughters that clothes are here to make us look good, and if they don’t do that, it’s not our bodies that are the problem. That whatever thoughts other people have about our bodies are not our problem.
I believe those things are true objectively. That’s the world I want to live in, and the person I want to be. Yet, somehow, I can only do it in these brief windows. I’m going to try harder this time though. Maybe it’s just practice, training my brain to recognize my own beauty. In that case, I’ve got five more months to get in peak self-esteem condition.
See you at the finish line!