On Pregnancy Weight Gain (aka, in defense of growing all over while I'm growing a baby)

This Tuesday Ruby and I passed the 25 week mark. She's steadily kicking and about the size of a rutabaga (whatever the hell that means), and I'm, for lack of a better word, ballooning.

I assumed going into this pregnancy that I would gain a lot of weight. My family traditionally gets big while pregnant and I have a lifelong history with trying to keep my weight healthy. I have a history of obesity in my family that has been passed along to me. I've never been obese, and when I've been medically "overweight" (in high school and pre-pregnancy), it's been based on a ridiculous BMI system that's reflective of nothing that actually has to do with health. In fact, the only times in my life that I've ever been what most people would call "thin", I was incredibly active at my job (waiting tables 60 hours a week is hard work), didn't have a car (walking everywhere burns calories), and eating probably less than I should have (I was just too busy to stop and sit down for meals).

Left: Around 120-125 pounds while I was working as a waitress in college Right: The day I got married. Around 140-145 pounds and medically "overweight"
In short, if I eat healthfully and am moderately active, I will be on the cusp of being overweight. If do all of that but I'm stressed out and have a few desserts a week, I get yelled at by my doctors to lose weight. As a result of all of this--and the ridiculous importance and emphasis our society places on women's bodies as objects to be judged by others--I've spent years worrying about it and beating myself up. My relationships with both food and my body have never been healthy.

So when I found out I was pregnant, something that Grant and I were SO excited about and have waited SO long to happen, I knew that the body I had beaten myself up about being too big and too soft and too round was about to get bigger and softer and rounder. But this time it was different. Maybe the overwhelming happiness of the news that we were going to be parents silenced any concerns. Probably. Maybe the fact that I was growing a child changed my perspective on what my body's purpose was--no longer a source of objectification to be poked and prodded and judged by anyone who so felt inclined, but a perfectly crafted machine capable of producing and fostering life itself. Probably. And even though I knew I was going to get bigger (most likely a lot bigger), I wasn't concerned about it.

Unlike most women, my first trimester went by swimmingly without a bit of morning sickness. Not having to ralph up food every two seconds meant that I was able to ensure that the baby and I got every bit of nutrition we needed. But just because I didn't have to see the food twice didn't mean that I wanted to see it once. I had a lot of food aversions for about the first 5 months of pregnancy. Most of the time they weren't if-you-put-that-food-in-front-of-my-face-I'll-vom aversions, it was just a general disinterest in food. I could usually finish the meals and snacks I needed to hit the calories and vitamins myself and the baby needed, but I didn't enjoy eating the way I always have. And the weirdest thing happened. For the first time since I can remember (like, for the past 20 years), I wasn't thinking about food constantly. If you've had a disordered relationship with food, you know what I mean. If you haven't, please let me explain. When I wake up, I think about what I want to eat. When I see a picture of food, I get fixated on it. My early afternoons are consumed by what I'm going to eat for lunch. My late afternoons are consumed by what I'm going to eat for dinner. My evenings are consumed by either thinking about a dessert I wish I could have or feeling guilty about a dessert I just ate. The compulsion to eat more or eat things that aren't healthy are ever-present. And that's the cycle: obsession-guilt-obsession-guilt. The cycle constantly plays in my head for the majority of my waking hours. And it's been like that for as long as I can remember.

So when that suddenly all went away, it was astounding. For the first time in my life I got to experience what it's like to have a "normal" relationship with food. Not thinking about it all the time was incredibly freeing. Lunch time rolled around and I knew I needed to eat to fuel by body, not quiet my mind. Making healthy choices were SO MUCH easier because there wasn't a nagging background track of eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, clouding my judgment. And when I wanted a brownie or an extra dinner roll I didn't feel guilty about it. I started this pregnancy heavier than I've ever been, but for those first months, I felt emotionally lighter than I've ever felt. Throughout my first trimester I only gained around 10 pounds, which was shocking to someone who assumed that I would just steadily gain more and more weight throughout.
18 weeks into my pregnancy and I was basically all bump
Between my fourth and fifth month, I gradually got my appetite back. Food wasn't just something to keep Ruby and I going, I liked eating again. Poached egg and avocado? Amazing. A few of Grant's french fries? Wow. Donuts? The best thing I've ever eaten. But just because I wanted to eat didn't mean that I threw health out the window. I still diligently kept track of my food intake to ensure that I got the right amount of calories, but now it was about making sure I didn't have too much instead of ensuring that I had enough. The main difference in my eating was that I wanted dessert. Throughout the first months I barely wanted meals, let alone extras, so I had no dessert at all. Now I had what I think most people call cravings. Except I'd felt those my entire life so I didn't notice them as much. Thinking about donuts all day long and crying upon learning that you can't have a donut? Sounds like a Tuesday. So aside from eating really healthfully and hitting my caloric mark for the day, I also had a brownie or ice cream a couple times a week. Pretty standard practice for a pregnant lady.

Then I went to my last midwife appointment. At my midwives' office my first order of business while I wait for my appointment is to conduct a urine test and weigh myself. They have a scientific scale where I have to move the scales manually. This time I put the large weight on 100 pounds, just like I have since 5th grade. Then I begrudgingly put the next large weight at 50 pounds. This was my starting weight (151) for my pregnancy. Thirty-five pounds heavier than my lightest. Twenty-five more pounds than my working weight in college. Twenty pounds heavier than when I moved to New York. Ten more pounds than I weighed in high school or at my wedding. Then I ticked the smallest weight over to 160...165 (wait, what?) then 170... 171... (this is impossible)...172... 173... and finally landed at 175. I had gained 12 pounds in the past month. I was no longer just a belly. I wasn't even out of the second trimester and I'd already gained all of the weight that I was "supposed" to for the whole pregnancy. Turns out I hadn't dodged that gain-half-my-weight-during-pregnancy bullet.
Far left: Homecoming senior year of high school. I wore a size 8-10 and was medically "overweight" Middle left: During college, while I was working too much and not eating enough. Middle right: Around a year after moving to New York and having a desk job, my doctors start telling me to watch my weight shortly after this. Far right: Weighing 140-145 pounds on my wedding day. I am medically "overweight" and have been told many times by doctors that I need to lose weight. 
But that feeling on the scale, which was bad enough, was nothing compared with how I felt after I left my appointment. After the usual "How are you feeling?" and "Have you have any bleeding or leakage?," my midwife asked me how my urinalysis and weigh-in had gone. I tentatively told her the number on the scale. And then it came. She raised her eyebrows and looked up at me over her glasses, taking in the whole picture of what appeared to be an Orca whale looking slightly scared on her couch. The conversation we had was as pleasant as it could have been. There are other concerns with your pregnancy, so we want to prevent as many health risks as possible. (But are there health risks? My blood pressure is still perfect. My resting heart rate is great. I have no difficulty moving or exercising.) I would recommend you visit a dietician. (But I keep track of everything I eat, want to see? I KNOW that I eat well. I also know that my family has a history of gaining lots of weight with pregnancies.)

Almost like a bag of bricks, it came back. That nagging, constant cycle: obsession-guilt-obsession-guilt.   Throughout the first few months of my pregnancy I'd wondered if, after Ruby was born, my relationship with food would go back to how it had always been. I guess I was always prepared for that, but once you've finally felt what it feels like to be normal, to not have that nagging voice, its presence seems louder and more aggressive when it comes back. The week after that appointment was awful. Lots of crying. Lots of beating myself up. Lots of looking at my body in ways that I hadn't looked at it in months--ways that were fair to neither myself nor my child.

23 weeks along and I had gained 12 more pounds. 
All that fretting and crying and cycling was stressful. Pregnancy up until that point had been the happiest time in my adult life and I didn't like feeling bad about myself and, by association, my daughter. I talked to my friends. I talked to my sister. I talked to my husband. A lot. He has been so supportive, even trying to get me to repeat the mantra, "I am not fat. I am growing a baby." And I came to the conclusion that stressing out about how I looked or what number I saw on the scale was counterproductive to providing a positive and healthy vessel for my child. I may be growing (wider and bigger and lumpier than I ever wanted or envisioned), but the important thing is that I'm growing a child. My body, however visually imperfect it is in society's eyes, is capable of producing and fostering life. That makes me feel more powerful than I ever have before, because creating a human being? That's pretty fucking powerful. That's bigger than any number on any scale that I will ever produce.

I'm not saying that I had some kind of epiphanic realization that brought me automatic inner peace. I still look in the mirror and notice "flaws": I have bra rolls from back fat I've never had before, my thighs rub together when I walk down the hall, my double chin is in full effect. But when I see those things, and that feeling of inadequacy starts to bubble up, I look at my belly. My huge, only-gonna-get-bigger-and-get-stretch-marks-and-stretch-to-the-point-that-my-skin-will-never-recover belly. And then maybe I feel a little kick from what's underneath that belly. A baby... my baby. My daughter, who is strong and healthy and who I hope to raise into the kind of woman who knows that her body is so much more powerful than a number on a scale or whether it measures up to some silly standard of beauty. And most of the time that's enough to quiet the cycle and make me feel powerful all over again.

2 Responses to On Pregnancy Weight Gain (aka, in defense of growing all over while I'm growing a baby)

  1. Rock on mama! Love you lots and can't wait to meet your lil soccer player!

  2. *applause* Preach sistah!

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