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I’ll never forget the moment I looked in the mirror and noticed I was showing. I was 14 weeks and out of nowhere my belly just exploded outwards, screaming “PREGNANT!” Having struggled with infertility, a protruding belly caused by a growing miraculous life had been an elusive privilege. I should have been ecstatic and overjoyed with the sight, but instead, I was immediately struck by fear. What will people say? What will they think? Will they whisper among themselves that this is just fat? Our pregnancy at this point was definitely no secret, but I wondered what I could wear to conceal the oversized mound waving ‘hello-I’m here!” to the world.
Looking back, I wish I had been a little easier on myself. After all, that 14 week POP was nothing compared to the giant beach ball dropping jaws at seven months. Or the 8-month mountain that induced the perpetually asked question “How many?” Or the edema-laden feet that were so puffy it felt like the skin was going to rip open. Or the war against the excessive and rapid weight gain caused by gestational diabetes. But at the time… there were whispers ringing in my ears. Ones I had heard before, murmured behind the backs of those that paraded baby- bellies ahead of mine. Ones that criticized women’s bumps and argued that someone shouldn’t be that big, or that small at that point in pregnancy. Ones that leaned in, in hushed tones and said “She better be careful- she’s putting on too much weight.”
As my pregnancy continued and friends with their own bumps gathered around, I learned that I wasn’t alone. Almost every pregnant woman I know expressed her dread of snide remarks and her desire to hide under a tent, all stemming from these disparaging vocal opinions. And the shaming didn’t stop with bump size. There was shaming about whether you swelled or not, and whether you were too fat to gain pregnancy weight or not. There was fault-finding for those that acquired gestational diabetes and huffy remarks about food choices for those that weren’t embarking on pristinely clean diets while they housed an infant in their womb. There was shaming over epidurals and how natural or unnatural the births were. There were “wimpy labels” plastered on the women who had debilitating morning sickness and eye-rolls for the women who suffered complications. There were gasps of disgust for those that had to take potentially risky medications while they were pregnant. There was even condemnation for women who had c-sections. During a season meant to be so full of rejoicing and excitement, it seemed that feasts of guilt were forever being prepared by an endless supply of female critics.
And I think I know why.
I think it’s because pregnancy is a big, big deal. It is a big deal for anyone who has walked through it. It’s something that transforms your life and changes who you are as a person, and it affects every woman in a way that she’ll never forget. For those that marched through with beautiful flawless pregnancies and deliveries, that’s an experience that they reflect on with tremendous satisfaction. For those who fought through war-like pregnancies and suffered untold battles as they struggled to bring life into this world, that is an accomplishment that is near and dear to them. For those that laid themselves on an operating table ready to be sliced open for the life and well-being of their child, that was a sacrifice that they endured and triumphed over. For those that endured the excruciating pain of childbirth for several days without medication to ease their anguish, that powerful soul-altering event is forever branded in their memories.
The stories, the women, the bodies, the struggles and triumphs…. they are as unique as the women they represent.
And that’s what we need to remember. There’s no “right way” to be pregnant or to grow a bump, or deliver a baby. The right way is to simply enjoy your pregnancy, do the best you can do with the cards you are given, and be supportive and encouraging to others around you. To understand that just because one had an easy pregnancy, doesn’t mean everyone will. To realize that your co-worker is not less of a woman because she had a c-section or an epidural and you battled through it without medication. To accept that every body shape and build is different, and babies carry different; that some people get puffy and some people naturally slenderize through the process.
I’ll be honest, that even as I wrestled with the frustration of judgment from others for my early battles in pregnancy, I was highly critical of women who didn’t suffer. As they insinuated wimpiness on my part, I rolled my eyes about their “unicorn pregnancies”.
I get why a woman feels like she has a corner on pregnancy. It’s because pregnancy has a corner on us. Once you’ve been there, you’re absolutely never the same. Pregnancy, regardless of how you experience it, is a sacrifice and surrender of yourself from the very special beginnings all the way to the dramatic conclusion. You give yourself up and march through months of crucifixion in order to bring new life into this world. As a result, you are an altogether new creature. It’s one of the most transforming events you will ever encounter throughout the entirety of your existence.
No wonder we’re so vocal.
We simply cannot forget something so powerfully significant.
The problem is, that somehow, along the way, we forget that an experience different from ours is no less powerful than ours. That the triumphant, unblemished 9 months for your friend were just as incredible and monumental in the big picture of her life, as the full-pregnancy martyrdom of hyperemesis gravidarum in yours. That the c-section delivery was every bit as beautiful and dramatic as the 54 hours of dry-labor without medication. That the joy of the baby growing within had nothing to do with the size and shape of the bump without.
The difference is not failure.
It’s simply our own beautiful, customized life-changing story.