When I was pregnant with my daughter in 2016, I did not have the delightful “baby bump” that pregnant ladies are famous for until my third trimester. This was for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from my tall, broad shouldered frame to my heavily muscular core. After all, I competed in a triathlon when I was 8 weeks pregnant with her—I wasn’t going to let that training and $100 entrance fee go to waste!
But it was also because I could not eat.
Like many women, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a painful complication of pregnancy that goes beyond the typical “morning sickness.” In this case, it means an almost unending amount of seasickness, as if you’re perpetually on a rocking ship in a storm, with no hope of reaching a calm shore any time soon. Also, food aversions are so powerful, that even a small glass of orange juice can elicit a violent spat of vomiting for the victim. Heightened by a pregnant mom’s super sensitive nose, various smells can trigger even more sickness. Drained, even traveling by car can make the pregnant person go home and vomit until she collapses.
Naturally, she loses weight from these awful symptoms. Her eyes are sunken. She is beyond exhausted. In many cases, the pregnant individual ends up in the hospital, receiving IV fluids to keep her hydrated. Sometimes, the sickness is so terrible, the mother even resorts to ending her pregnancy, simply because she is in so much pain.
I’m speaking all of this from personal experience. I had hyperemesis gravidarum with my daughter, and now I’m working my way through it again, as I am due with another baby girl in the summer of 2021.
Like many people who have been pregnant, I have the usual nausea and exhaustion, but in my case, as it was before, I’ve already lost 2% of weight off my not-terribly-huge body, and I’m already getting concerned comments from the few individuals that I’ve told.
I wish there was a card I could carry that would announce this issue whenever I told someone I was expecting. Because, without fail, everyone whom I told I was pregnant would follow up with looking at my flat stomach and protruding cheekbones, then asking ‘”how?” Even somewhat cruel comments, such as “Are you starving the baby?” are not completely off the table, especially by older individuals who were encouraged to “eat for two,” during their pregnancies in the 1980’s.
Worse was the inevitable grabs of my midsection, the poking, the ‘”is there really a baby in there?” comments. Quite possibly the worst was when an older male relative, in public, lifted my shirt and loudly yelled: “Are you really pregnant?”
Yes, I was pregnant, and somehow, combined with being sick, meant that my body was suddenly for all and sundry to comment, touch, and lecture on.
Another older, male relative (why is it always men?) insisted on ordering extra pork onto my meal at lunch, despite knowing that I have severe aversions to meat while pregnant. Sure enough, the moment the ham-laden pasta was put in front of me, I immediately ran to the bathroom to vomit, and texted my husband to send the dish back as soon as possible. When I made it back to the table, I was lectured by my family, as if I were a naughty child, about how necessary it was that I should be eating, in order to protect my unborn child.
From a sociological perspective, this makes sense: when there’s a pregnant individual, everyone cares about the child within their womb. This child will, after all, become a member of their community. Protecting an unborn child is a sign that a member of society is advocating for the continuation of that society. However, this means policing a body that, rightfully, belongs to the owner of said body first and foremost. It is why abortion clinics are picketed, why birth control pills are scrutinized, and why, post-birth, most attention will be paid to the newborn infant, while their mother bleeds and shakes off postpartum infection a few feet away.
Kind though this mindset may be, it is so dangerous, as it dismisses the person carrying the child itself, and the experience that they are having. It means that anything, and everything, that they put in their mouths is under intense scrutiny.
It falls into the terrifying role that women’s bodies stand in Western society, where laws and jurisdictions also dictate how and what we can do with our reproductive organs. Even safe, medical advice—such as my OB/GYN prescribing me Zofran when I called her earlier this year, sobbing, after spending most of Thanksgiving either on the couch or with my head in the toilet.
Of course, when I told the few people that we’ve told thus far that I’m expecting, they were horrified that I was taking “a drug” that my skilled physician had given to me.
I began to cry back, “This is the drug that’s helping me eat. That’s helping me carry this baby. Please, please, why can’t you just be kind?” The comments slowly eroded, and I’ve been able to snack, and put on a little bit of weight. Most importantly, the second baby inside of me is fine, as was her sister before her, even if she made her mom sick for a bit.
So please, I kindly ask, if someone who is thin mentions they are pregnant, congratulate them, and tell them they’re doing the best they can.
But whatever you do, don’t comment on their weight.