DISCLAIMER: This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but frankly, I’ve been too afraid. Weight is one of the trickiest subjects to discuss in our culture. It's right up there with politics and religion and cilantro (seriously, ask someone how they feel about cilantro). I wanted to find the perfect words to share with you — something funny and honest and poignant that everyone could relate to and no one could get offended by. These are not those words.
Regardless of whether you’ve ever been pregnant, you’ve probably noticed that the act of procreation is a free pass for the entire world to comment on your size, weight and appearance. Innocent comments: “Awww, look at your cute little bump!” Insensitive comments: “Wow, you really ballooned overnight!” Just plain rude comments: “Are you trying to hide it — is that why you’re dressed like that?” I’ve heard all of those and more just in the last month or so.
I’m sure you’re also aware, as a woman in America, people pretty much feel the right to comment on your body anyway. It’s just that — unless you’re a celebrity or a politician — those comments are supposed to be whispered furtively behind your back. In polite society, it’s perfectly acceptable to think someone is grotesque, it’s just considered polite not to say it to their face.
And if you try to tell me you never do that — that you have never sized up another woman and silently judged their weight, body type, skin color, hair, makeup or clothes — then I’m going to tell you to cut the crap. Because we all do it. I do it all the time.
And, let’s get really real, pregnant women are some of the worst offenders of all. Our culture puts motherhood on this bizarre pedestal — the only politically correct way to discuss it is in hushed reverent tones using words like “beautiful” and “magical.” This is problematic, in my opinion, because it breeds the assumption that pregnancy makes you uniquely qualified to judge others. Just Google “breast vs. formula feeding.” Or c-section. Or epidural. Or attachment parenting. Mommy blogs and forums can be horribly vicious places, with every mother convinced of her sacred responsibility to tell others they’re not doing it her way and therefore doing it wrong. No, actually, they’re not just wrong, they’re a bad parent. An abusive parent. For letting their kid … I don’t know … have a pacifier or something.
This insidious thinking trickles over into body critiques, naturally. Some mommies-to-be feel morally superior for “putting health first” throughout pregnancy, while others feel equally superior for ignoring the scale and “listening to our babies.” I even read a blog once where a woman was ripped to shreds in the comments for dropping some of her more intimate personal grooming habits during pregnancy. Some mothers called her selfish and said her husband would certainly leave her. Others applauded her for sacrificing her own vanity and putting her child’s needs above the patriarchy. It sounds insane, right? That anyone would get so worked up over Susie-from-Wisconsin’s pubic hair? That’s because it is insane. It’s certifiably nuts.
There is a very short list of people who have the right to discuss your body — publicly or privately. And it’s pretty much limited to you and your healthcare provider. I feel the need to add “healthcare provider” because I think being a doctor must be tough in that regard. During one particular prenatal visit a few months ago, I had gained about 7 lbs. in four weeks. The usual guideline for healthy weight gain during pregnancy (if your BMI is normal to start, which mine was) is about one pound per week in your second trimester. So, the provider I saw that day — Dr. Robinson — mentioned it during my appointment. He wasn’t rude, he wasn’t cruel, he just asked me to keep an eye it.
My female friends and family were horrified by this. “You are beautiful!” they cried. “You are perfect, don’t listen to him!” Ummm, isn’t he the one person I should listen to? His job is to help me have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
If I gained 7 lbs. a month throughout my pregnancy, I’d be significantly overweight. I’d be at-risk for preeclampsia, blood clots and miscarriage. My baby would be at-risk for premature birth, neural tube defects and — later in life — diabetes and heart disease. So forgive me if, when it comes to the health of my unborn child, I trust the expert with the medical degree over my well-meaning friends.
If you’re waiting for the grand conclusion where I dispense some kind of sage advice, then prepare for disappointment. I don’t have any. I’m an overly neurotic white girl with 31 years of my own body-image baggage to haul around. Hardly the person you want making sweeping pronouncements for the good of society. But, for what it’s worth, I am going to make an effort to judge others less and forgive myself more. To listen to my doctors and ignore pretty much everyone else. To remember that billions of people on this planet have the ability to procreate and it doesn’t make me uniquely qualified to do … well, anything. That’s all I’ve got for you.