Over the course of my adult life, my weight has generally fluctuated between 115 and 125 pounds. I was about 117 at my wedding, 124 before I got pregnant, and have never gone over 135. Today—in the middle of week 32 of my first pregnancy—I weigh 164. That’s right—I have gained 40 pounds and they say you gain the fastest towards the end, so I can only expect to go up and up from here.
In May 2009, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) made changes to the guidelines concerning weight gain during pregnancy. The last recommendations had been released in 1990 and many things have changed since then about the childbearing woman. Taking into consideration the demographics of the current childbearing woman, the IOM made their new guidelines using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) body mass index (BMI) as the starting point. For women like me, who were a normal weight before pregnancy with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 the recommended weight gain guideline is 25-35 pounds.
Now I know these guidelines are general, so what about my specific case? Well my obstetrician said in his opinion I can safely gain 20 kilos, about 45 pounds. Well that’s better, but I’m still headed towards maxing out. My obstetric nurses are not at all pleased with my rate of weight gain and boy do they let me know it. I’ve tried to explain though that I’m not doing anything wrong—this is just how I carry! I eat right, live an active lifestyle, and even joined a weekly prenatal exercise class. I sleep enough, drink enough water, and all my other indicators (e.g., blood pressure, edema (or lack thereof, in this case), glucose tolerance test results, etc.) are completely normal/healthy. So I’ve convinced myself, if not the nurses, that I’m just fine the way I am and there’s nothing I ought to do differently, nothing to worry about, this is just me and it’s fine.
But my confidence is slipping. And I feel guilty about it.
This guy at work calls me “Big Mama” and I kind of love it—I so want to live up to that motherly role, that carrying the weight of raising the next generation concept, that in charge of the foundation of the future role, that go-to makes-it-all-better type, that nourishing headquarters of humanity idea! But most of the time I just feel fat.
I feel unattractive and kind of like a failure because I’m not one of those women who look exactly the same as before pregnancy save having swallowed a basketball. But then I feel ashamed for not being proud of this amazing thing I’m doing—bringing a new life into the world. Shouldn’t that be enough for me? So many women long for that and can’t have it, and here I am wishing I was thinner? Who am I to contradict nature? How dare I not accept wholeheartedly what this journey entails! This is a blessing. But alas, I still feel fat.
It doesn’t help when people say, “Wow, you’ve really gotten big all over!” Or, “That picture you just posted on Facebook really isn’t representative—you look much bigger in person.” Or, “Now I see it… I didn’t see any swelling in your face until this week.” Or, “People probably think you’re farther along than you are because you look so tired. Are you tired?” [No—I was not tired when she asked. I actually had put on make-up with extra care that morning and thought I looked particularly together…] Then there’s, “In my family, we were all big babies—at least 5 kilo—and I have to tell you, it looks like you’re carrying at least that!” Or, “How are you week 32??? You look week 42!” Or, “When are you due—in a week or two?” [No, in two and a half months.] Or, “Are you both due the same time?” [Indicating myself and a woman a full trimester ahead of me.] Or, “You’re only going to get much bigger.” [I can thank my mom for that last one. She claims I’m carrying just like her and so she certainly doesn’t mean this in a bad way. But I do not find it encouraging, nevertheless.]
Maybe that’s part of why I’m so focused on my size—it’s all I ever hear about! No one looks me up and down and says, “Wow! What a miracle! Do you feel so blessed? What an honor! I can’t wait to be/miss being/am so loving being pregnant.” Heck, I don’t even hear, “You’re glowing!” It’s either, “You’re huge,” or “You’re not that big.” And so I feel focused on all the wrong things, and then guilty about that, and the vicious cycle is quickly spiraling out of control. And so I’ve decided to focus on what I’ll do about it.
I will do nothing differently between now and the birth as far as eating and exercising. Between preparing to defend my Master’s thesis in medical neurobiology, making arrangements for maternity leave from my lab, the upcoming holidays, and physically feeling like a wale who swallowed an elephant in Saharan heat, the last thing I need is to take on another source of stress. Besides, I really am doing things pretty okay as is. I will work on my mindset. I will remind myself that this extra weight is supporting a life—and not just any life—my baby! I will remind myself that my new shape is uniquely feminine and that that is beautiful. I will also get a bit more strict about keeping my legs shaved and nails painted. The last thing I need is to fall into the trap of, “Well I feel ugly and don’t deserve to feel polished anyway at this weight, so I won’t take care of my appearance in any way” which clearly feeds on itself and lands me in a very bad place.
I will also plan for afterwards. I have goals: I will reach 125 pounds by three months post partum and 115 by six months. I will walk at least an hour a day starting no later than one week postpartum and join a weekly postpartum exercise class as soon as medically cleared (when the bleeding stops/up to about six weeks postpartum). I will eat a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and vegan proteins. I will eat no sweets or red meat and only a little chicken and fish. I will eat only low-fat dairy and generally stay away from carbs, making occasional exceptions for whole grains only. And I’ll continue to drink lots of water. When I go back to work, I will always take the stairs—never the elevator, and I will walk 15 minutes to my bus to work instead of taking the bus across the street from my house four stops to reach it. I will lean on friends for encouragement, asking them to walk with me or as soon as I’m able, schlep me to their Zumba/yoga/Pilates classes with them.
This phase in my size will end and it will end happily—with a healthy child, Gd willing, and an empowered mother who knows that her changing shape was meaningful and important and put positive energy in the world. That’s the goal.