Putting My Demons Aside: Dealing With Body Image In Pregnancy

Your body was in the exact state it needed to be in to create and nurture a successful pregnancy.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I have struggled quite severely with my weight and body image all of my adult life. I have fallen into the diet trap and therefore seen myself at both a size 10 and a size 20 over the years. So becoming pregnant was an interesting prospect for me as I was well aware that my body was going to change in many ways, most of which I couldn’t control

Like many people, I have never really been 100% happy with my body and I have fallen victim to expectations and other people’s comments all too often. However one of the very first people to hear of our news (and someone who has made a very positive impact on me in many ways) said something to me that sticks with me even now. She said, ‘Emily, you need to be kind to yourself and appreciate your body, because it was in the exact state it needed to be in to create and nurture a successful pregnancy, and it was obviously ready’. I will never forget that.

However, there were some things that happened along the way that did present a potential challenge to my mental health and self image. Although I in no way wish to sound negative throughout this post, I hope that by highlighting these things, it might help people think about how pregnant women may be feeling at any one time as believe me, it isn’t all glowing and rosey blooming ecstasy.

BMI – the dreaded three letters

Regardless of your views on the validity and usefulness of BMI (Body Mass Index) to assess health, the NHS still use it as a marker in many aspects of healthcare. As a result I have always cared about what my BMI was because and was nervous about what they may say at my booking appointment at 10 weeks.

During the first appointment with the midwife, also known as the booking appointment, there is opportunity to go into any concerns, queries and health concerns (both physical and mental) you may have. It was during this time that I raised my previous struggles with my weight and my present self image challenges. Despite this, I left the appointment feeling as though the main focus was on my weight and BMI. I had at this point crept into the high end of the ‘overweight’ category and into the NHS’s group for a special care pathway. I was told that although they don’t advise losing weight during pregnancy, ideally I would not gain any weight from where I was (which, given the fact that I would soon have 7lbs worth of baby in me meant I would in fact need to lose weight) and so I left the appointment feeling low and like I was doing potential harm to my unborn baby, instead of excited and elated as expectant parents should be.

How Many Are In There?!

Something that really surprised me during my pregnancy was just how eye opening it was in terms of other people’s expectations of how a pregnant woman should look. Anyone who has been pregnant or read anything about pregnancy will know that everyone has their own opinions on how things should be done or what is for the best and for the most part, these opinions are all kindly bestowed. However I do feel as though sometimes things can be said that could be potentially damaging to a woman’s self image.

One particular instance for me was at a social gathering I attended at 6 months pregnant where I was proudly sporting my growing bump. I was receiving the most beautiful compliments and happy comments from people and I felt great. However I then bumped into a relative who, hopefully unwittingly, commented on how big I was and asked ‘are you sure there is only one in there?’. This got me really thinking about these kind of comments. Sure, the relative in question did not know I suffered with body image issues and sure, they said it in a light hearted way, but it didn’t feel good.

Every pregnancy is different and every woman holds her pregnancy in their own unique and beautiful way. You never know what the woman you are speaking to has been through, or indeed what they are currently feeling or what effect your ‘innocent’ comment may have on them. My feeling is therefore that perhaps a ‘think before you speak’ attitude could work well in situations such as this to avoid any potential upset.

A Little House Guest

As pregnancy progresses, and the little house guest grows larger, little niggles, aches and pains occur. For me the worst of these were pain in my left hip, which was extreme at times and required a very sexy strap/support round my hips and heartburn. The heartburn was the worst. It kept me up at night from around 25 weeks and by the end was so bad I was frequently in tears at night and could always, always be found clutching a pack of indigestion relief tablets. This, combined with the shattered immune system that comes with protecting a little one as a priority made me feel as though my body didn’t really belong to me and this frustrated me and made me a little resentful at times – I just wanted my body back!

Crystal Clear Clarity

All the above being said, I knew that I wasn’t the first and would not be the last woman to experience everything I have written about. I know it was normal while carrying a baby and all-in-all I had a very healthy pregnancy. We moved onto Crystal Clear the week I started my maternity leave and as a result my last month of pregnancy was calmer and more serene than it would have been if we had not moved on to the boat. The peaceful effect it had on me would undoubtedly have been felt by Jemima too and it made me even more sure that raising a baby on a boat would be a wonderful thing to do.

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