This post should be titled “Weight Gain and Other Symptoms”, but I don’t know how many people are psyched at the thought of reading about other people’s “symptoms”, pregnant or otherwise. “Weight Gain” however, that’s some clickbaity nonsense that no one can resist. Amiright?
Well, this should be no surprise to anyone, but I’ve gained weight while pregnant. I mean, it’s to be expected. You grow a human, you get bigger… bigger means more lbs.
Let’s back up. I have gained weight, but not much. I typically hover around 160 lbs. I’ve mentioned this in past blog posts, specifically how I’ve basically weighed the same on the scale since puberty. My body composition has changed a lot over the years as I’ve incorporated healthier habits into my life. Sometimes I’m a little more, sometimes less. I was pregnant once (actually twice) before, I’ve been sidelined from exercise at times by stress, injury, and illness. I’ve had periods of my life where I eat more (hello stress… and postpartum) and others where I eat less. I generally feel like my body is comfortable at that weight. If I’m really focused on getting “lean” I can maybe get in the low-mid 150’s but that typically requires the kind of focus and discipline that I’m no longer comfortable or driven to adhere to for any length of time. The “leanness” goal is a slippery slope, people.
Ultimately, I don’t give much of my attention to the number on the scale because knowing that I’m “around that 160 number” doesn’t tell me much about the health of my body or how it’s feeling and performing. My clothes usually tell me if I’m gaining or losing size. My energy levels, my strength, and my progress in the gym let me know too. All these factors are much more indicative of my experience in my body at any particular time.
Anyways, back to pregnancy. (I have a point, I promise.) According to the scale, by my third trimester, I’ve gained a little over 10 lbs. Which isn’t much when you consider that average weight gain for a pregnancy is around 25-30 lbs. I basically look like I’ve been smuggling around a regulation-sized basketball in my sweatshirt for the past couple of months. If I were measuring my “progress” as a woman based on my weight alone, given that the guiding principle for all females is that we should remain as small as possible at all times (pregnancy included), this scale reading would give me cause to jump up and down for joy.
Fortunately, I know better than to tie my worth to a number on a machine. I also know that the reason my weight isn’t rocketing into the stratosphere is due to the fact that I’ve lost a ton of muscle mass. I was much stronger going into this pregnancy. Probably the strongest I’ve ever been. During the first trimester my training became sporadic due to nausea, fatigue, and a nagging knee issue. In the second trimester I’d been sidelined by migraines and cold season. As I’ve entered my third trimester there’s been a lot of traveling, more colds, and overall lack of consistent gym time. I’m not as active as I once was and (understandably) my weight is reflection of my current reality. My lean mass has gone down and that deficit has been replaced by baby weight, which is fine and normal and appropriate.
At times it’s also frustrating; to feel physically weaker, to not have a consistent level of activity, to know that the rebuilding phase will take a while and is not anywhere in my immediate future. All in all, I feel fortunate to have a healthy pregnancy, to be able to lift my 40 lb. toddler, and carry around groceries and household stuff like the domestic boss that I am.
When most people see me, the first thing out of their mouth has something to do with how “small” I look. I can’t say that I’m ever prepared for how often people feel the need to comment on my size. Honestly, it usually sounds like an accusation, as though I should be looking some way other than what I am and I have a couple of reactions to these sorts of comments.
The first one being annoyance. I’ve had people aghast at my lack of obvious size since I announced my pregnancy. This is funny because at the beginning of a pregnancy, most women don’t look very pregnant. Those big, huge, wonderful bellies, while fun to see, don’t make their full appearance until the latter months of gestation. It would be not good (as the pregnant person) to live with an unwieldy belly for 9 months straight. Nope. No, thank you.
My second reaction is more measured and not as well, reactive. I tell myself, “They are giving me a compliment”. I have to remind myself that even though I feel it’s inappropriate to make comments about other people’s bodies, other people don’t feel that way and usually the people saying these things are just trying to be nice.
My third reaction is a more fire-in-my-belly, get-out-my-soapbox, passionate one. It’s upsetting to me that society considers giving a compliment about a woman’s body being “small” the highest praise. This cultural belief is one that I want to throw into a wood chipper — and watch with pleasure as its destroyed into tiny, shredded, unrecognizable bits. If you read the story above about my body composition changes during this pregnancy, you will probably notice a couple of things. The obvious being that I’m not a very large pregnant person. You will also see words like fatigue, sickness, injury, migraines. If I were to expand on that list of undesirable pregnancy symptoms they would include things like varicose and spider veins, anxiety, incontinence, constant sinus congestion, bleeding gums, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. Some of these symptoms are temporary and reversible, some are permanent and/or very difficult (or expensive) to heal.
The bottom line is this, go ahead and idealize a small bodies or a small pregnant body, but be aware that you aren’t seeing the full story of that person’s experience. Truth be told, there are worse things than gaining weight. There are permanent (and often invisible) changes to the female body after pregnancy and weight is not necessarily one of them. I think it’s time we stop celebrating or judging people’s health or happiness based solely on how they appear to us from the outside.
Instead of the “OMG, You’re so TINY!” comment, it would be really nice to hear friends, family, and strangers ask me about how I’m feeling or what I’m most enjoying about this pregnancy. Maybe a question or two about the baby’s health or what’s been a challenge or a surprise this time around. It’s refreshing to get to share my story with others rather than field awkward comments about how I “don’t even look pregnant”. (Newsflash: I am.)
There is a pervasive and unrelenting message towards women that the most important thing about them is their body, specifically its size and appeal. This message persists even while a woman’s body is busy changing during pregnancy. I realize that my personal crusade against this message is small and not likely to change the norm. I am not in control of cultural expectations no matter how damaging or dismissive they happen to be.
I guess my hope is for those of you who come to this blog to read about my thoughts and experiences will walk away with more awareness and insight with which to question these expectations or perceptions for yourself — and ultimately become kinder, gentler, and more curious with yourselves and others. We have a lot more to offer the world than our bodies and I think many men and women are starving to be truly seen beyond mere appearance.