Body image and pregnancy

Social compulsion; peer pressure; public perception; all, in their individual capacity, enforcing a similar vice against untrained & innocent minds. The last few decades have seen a staggering decline in the value for human substance. The ‘price tag’ for the human form, however, seems to have inflated. Most of us (including myself) have been embattled with concepts such as body shaming / fat shaming. Present times have only compounded concerns.

Since I can remember, I have been battling with accepting my body. It’s been a love hate relationship that, for the last decade, has slowly and steadily been coming to a place where I feel I am taking more ownership of my health, body and well being. But how we see ourselves, our own image of ourselves, has so much to do with whether we are deeply connected to our internal voice, or whether we are allowing the incessant noise on the outside to drown our most deepest, most intimate thoughts. Be it our own families, friends, society in general, print / social media, to televisions and the movies, more than ever before tend to tell us that we’re not enough.

Unattainable standards of beauty are the norm and we, as a people, are most pressured to present our best to the world via our instagram and facebook windows. Open instagram and it’s person after person who not only is somehow reaching the pinnacle of professional and financial success, they’re doing it with toned bodies, travel diaries and a social life that could rival any celebrity out there, and all of this while documenting it beautifully for their social medias. And let’s not even get started on the celebrity content out there. It’s no wonder that the average person feels a constant sense of failure and is forever on a never ending struggle towards the pursuit of perfection.

Pregnancy is the proverbial ‘Cherry on top’. It is enough to instil fear in the most fearless of us as women. For me, pregnancy was something I both looked forward to and was absolutely petrified by. For an absolute control freak and planner such as I, it was the ultimate unknown. How would I handle the emotional charges? What did I have to do to prepare to be a mother? And the biggest trepidation of all was how the incidences of pregnancy would affect my body.

For all those who will, to that, call me vain, I hear you, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it out loud. Would my body ever be the same? Would I be able to exercise and eat right whilst carrying this baby and post-partum? For someone who now for years has constantly controlled and planned all things pertaining to her body, it terrified me to not know what would happen when I would have to grow a baby in my belly. Advice, in such circumstances, never helps. Some told me how just in their first trimester they were double their size to some others who said they barely gained a few pounds during the entire process. I heard all of that and everything in between and came to a place where I became even more petrified than I was before.

Whether one considers it be a blessing or a plague, I am equipped with the innate ability to plan & execute. Deep down inside, I knew & so I enforced my will to plan & control this too. I had, till such point, planned large components of my life, including my marriage. I was adamant that I would not conceive in the first few years of my marriage. I wanted time with my husband before we were both distracted by the pitter patter of tiny feet. I made sure that when the time came for us to want to conceive that I met my Gynaecologist and Nutritionist and drew up plans for everything from nutrition, to vitamins & exercise. With Allah’s Blessing and Grace, we conceived just when I wanted to and I thought to myself maybe I can really, like everything else, prep and plan this pregnancy to the T. And then … WHAM!

I was thrown into a world of emotions (both internal and external) that is not spoken about enough. Here is what I have learned up-till now. Carrying a child is one of the most spiritual things we do as women. It is also the most humbling of all experiences because nothing, not one bit, will ever really remain in your control . Even Doctors are nothing but mere observers to the absolute miracle child-birth is. Here, I was questioning if I would ever be the same again when I realised from the get go that this experience is going to change me from the inside out and I shall never ever be the same again. And the shifts internally and externally will be monumental.

I have seen my body grow softer during these months, contours that were angular are more rounded, from my belly to my arms, my legs to even my feet seem to be morphing into shapes that seem unfamiliar. I see a double chin, I see swelling and sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double take because I see a new me. And even though I see my body change each day to go further from the body I had become accustomed to, all I feel truly is absolute awe and gratitude. It’s funny how being this out of control has given me more inner control than ever before. I realised, after initially trying to fight the process, that going with the flow of it is truly the only option I had, and it’s taught me a big lesson about how it is I want to live my life and how it is I want to see and shape myself. It’s made me respect my body more than ever before. Because for the first time in what seems like an eternity, I am listening to my body, to my inner voice and it has been guiding me through this pregnancy beautifully.

I came into this experience telling myself that I can’t eat this or that, or that I must do this and not do that. From there, I am now at a place where I ask myself for that which is needed emotionally and physically to nourish, protect and grow this baby, & for us both to be our healthiest. While the scale goes up, and stretch marks creep up and my body takes on an entirely new shape, I realise that all of it, each and every part, is allowing me to grow a human being inside my body. I am now, after years of letting a scale or a size define me, able to define myself on how powerful I feel doing the task that my body is allowing me to do. I have gone from being about all that I couldn’t eat or had to do, to what it is that I want to eat and can do to ensure that we are healthy during this time and after.

I have gorged on food that nourishes me and makes me happy; I have danced because that is still my favourite form of exercise; I get dressed in outfits that I love and do my makeup and hair regardless of how big, puffy or swollen I may look because I want to celebrate this time. I want to celebrate each pound that I put on and each stretch mark and wrinkle that I end up getting on this journey. I realised that if I calm down and drown out all the other noises whilst listening to my own inner voice, I shall be fine! And that change in attitude completely changed how I feel about myself and pregnancy as a whole. Because now I know I am fine and shall be fine, I will be bigger when I need to be and then be smaller when I need to be. Because through this experience, after what feels like a lifetime, I am befriending my body. I am kinder to it because it holds someone I already love the most in the world. And it has reminded me that I am meant to be loved like this by me at all times, not just because it is my little ones home at the moment.

I remember during the time I struggled initially while seeing my body change, I was keenly (somewhat detrimentally) staring at myself in a mirror. I kept whining to my husband about gaining weight. I remember him turning around and telling me “the love of my life is carrying the love of our lives … it’s not weight gain.”

My pregnancy has been full of sweet moments such as this coupled with facing some ugly truths about how harsh I can be when it comes to how I view my own body. And how important it is now to change that perception after this experience

In a nutshell, motherhood is one of the most unique and personal experiences that you shall have in your life. You will be told by a hundred people, as I have, how you are doing it wrong and how you are doing it right. I’ve been told I’m not gaining enough weight and then been told I shouldn’t gain anymore weight. Everyone, near and far, has their two bits to add. But through it all, I have continued to remind myself that it’s all okay. Because I decided to take care of me and allow myself the space to grow in all the ways needed for me and my baby.

Pay no heed to what anyone tells you other than that if you allow it to, it will make you more powerful and fearless than you have ever been before. Don’t let anyone’s opinion of you become your reality. The only reality that truly matters is the one that you perceive to be true.

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