Little Green Lives
Beautifully Imperfect – Loving the Pregnant Body You Have
I confess I'm a huge Instagram fan. Beautiful pictures inspire me, from the restoration of 1950's farmhouses, to vintage interiors, new raw vegan meals, to world travel with kiddies in tow. I enjoy reading the captions carefully crafted by those that I follow – who doesn't love a little peek into other people lives? I'll admit it: scrolling through my Instagram feed is my guilty pleasure before going to bed at night.
It may just be because I’m pregnant (baby number 4 is due July) that I’m drawn to the seemingly endless beautiful pictures of pregnant women popping up on my feed daily, at the moment. These women appear positively glowing, confident, exuding health and happiness with tanned shapely bumps, sporting sun dresses with thoughtful expressions and protective hands on their bumps.
Maternity photography is now a huge industry, with women, couples, and families keen to capture precious memories before their new babies arrive. But what if our bodies are not shimmering with hormones, or sporting perfectly formed baby bumps? How do these pictures affect our self image? How do they make us feel about our own pregnant bodies?
As a midwife who has delivered over 1000 babies around the world, I have met amazing women with all body sizes and shapes, from large Samoan mamas in NZ to petite young mothers in Africa and the beach body beautiful in Australia. All unique in how their bodies have changed and grown during pregnancy. All beautiful and incredible because their bodies are doing the miraculous job of growing new little human beings ready to be born into this world.
Some pregnant women love their new looks, their growing bumps, fuller breasts, a new glowing complexion, glossy hair. They feel sexy, attractive, bursting with self confidence. Others feel overwhelmed about how their bodies are changing and expanding, completely beyond their control.
Some women sail through pregnancy, maintaining normal lives, continuing their gym and yoga schedules, their work and social lives remaining the same. Others experience an anxious, uncomfortable, even painful 9 months, struggling with numerous pregnancy symptoms. Many women struggle, but they hesitate to discuss their concerns for fear of not appearing to be grateful for the opportunity to be pregnant.
Pregnancy isn’t always a walk in the park. Beyond the flowing maternity dress or super trendy maternity jeans, for some there are compression tights, pelvic and perineal supports, stretch marks, varicose veins, body hair, hemorrhoids, aches and pains, and debilitating nausea. All can contribute to a negative self image, low confidence and a reluctance to get undressed or wear a bathing suit in front of partners and friends.
As a woman writer, I feel compelled to help others feel more normal so here are a few truths about my pregnancy and body:
I am 35, and this is my fourth pregnancy. I have previously enjoyed being pregnant, but this time around, I am struggling. I have abdominal separation and my pelvic floor was recently given a 2/5 by a pelvic health physiotherapist. I'm working on it though, and hoping to avoid getting any colds along the way, as coughing and sneezing can prove just a little embarrassing (3 previous pregnancies and vaginal births have seen to that!).
I have varicose veins weaving their way across my right leg. They have gotten progressively worse during each pregnancy but this time arrived much earlier. Doing battle with my super tight thigh high compression stockings has become my morning routine. Not the most glamorous scene, getting dressed wearing my big industrial blue gloves, which are supposed to aid the process, swearing at the bloody things as I adopt all manner of undignified positions while attempting to put them on.
My babies always seem to sit low in my pelvis, causing extreme pressure, so at 25 weeks I have a real swagger about me already. I take full advantage of those randomly positioned chairs around stores, because it feels so good to take the weight off my aching legs.
Trust me: sharing your feelings with others is one of the very best things you can do. You’d be amazed at how many women have experienced the same, and knowing that can help you feel normal. Better still if you have others to laugh with; I can now comfortably laugh about my pelvic floor (but not too hard of course) with my group of girlfriends. I do suggest picking your moments, because starting a conversation in the staff room following a Starbucks coffee run may not be the best time to discuss labial varicose veins. Discussing these issues, though, even when there are no miracle cures, can provide reassurance it’s not just you.
Knowing that all of the above are common pregnancy-related complaints which will likely disappear within 6 weeks of delivery is important. And, for those complaints that don't resolve, we shouldn’t accept them as “normal” consequences of pregnancy and birth. You should seek help from your midwife, family doctor, naturopath, and other medical professionals.
Despite not being in the best shape this pregnancy, I may have to don that bikini, peel away those compression tights and supports, and have a picture or two taken, because this is the very last time I will be pregnant. This body of mine is doing an incredible job and I am very grateful for it working so hard. Whatever my body looks and feels like following this last pregnancy, I will do my best to feel positive.
Growing a new life is miraculous. I'm still in complete awe of the process. However, even charmed pregnancies can be challenging, requiring women to show extraordinary levels of physical and emotional strength and endurance. It may not be portrayed on Instagram, but take comfort that you are not alone.
Pregnant women all have different physical and emotional needs, so give the pregnant women around you the support and love they deserve. You have no idea how much they might need it.