Like we discussed in our episodes on baby bumps and post-pregnancy weight, new mamas have to endure a whole heck of a lot of body-related comments from friends and family, coworkers and even strangers (especially strangers, in some cases). While I understood this fact logically, I still wasn't fully prepared for some of the ridiculous things people have said about our fabulous listeners' bodies, whether during or after pregnancy.
It seems like people just can't remember the importance of minding their own business. These are just four of the many stories we've received about the unwarranted, unkind and downright ugly body snarking listeners have witnessed and endured -- and how they dealt.
Alana: "You don't even look pregnant!"
My sister-in-law is just about to make the 37-week mark, and it has been lovely and eye-opening to watch her throughout his beautiful process. She was, and still is, quite proud of her baby bump, as she says she generally feels awful and uncomfortable but the bump gives her hope that it's all going to be worth it, which of course it will be. What has been interesting is the attitudes others have taken to her physical signs of pregnancy. She has a very slight frame, and a narrow waist, and she has always had the mantra of "try to eat healthy and stop when you're full." So she is, naturally and genetically, small and svelte. The only noticeable change has been swelling of her ankles and now the huge, glorious bump that is my future nephew.
At her baby shower, it was astounding to me to hear so many women, her friends and even her sisters, make comments like "You don't even look pregnant!" or "When you see her from behind you'd never know." These comments were delivered as though they were extremely complimentary, or even with some jealousy from women who had been larger when they themselves were pregnant. She was polite and thanked them, but under her breath started to get irate, saying at one point, "Of course I'm pregnant, you're at my (include expletive here) baby shower!"
It amazed me that people, specifically women, thought that she would want to hear that it looks like nothing had changed, when of course her body has changed. A suppose it's a "real life" example of the tabloid baby bump stalkers and commenters. Having a small frame, she felt self-conscious that she wasn't big enough, and even had someone say to her, "When you get prgenant..." when she was already seven months into the process! It has certainly made me more aware that it's not just the media pushing these expectations on soon-to-be mothers.
Tawny: Unsolicited advice
I just finished listening to your "Baby Bump" episode and I just kept yelling "OMG, yes!" in my head the whole time. I gave birth to my first son late last summer, and let me tell you, as much as I loved being pregnant, I was astounded at the amount of body shaming I endured!
The tabloid-generated shaming of pregnant women certainly did not help my self confidence, as I was NOT a gal who gained weight just in the bump, but really gained weight all over. When I posted on Facebook that I was craving sugar, I got hit with people saying I should probably go see the doctor, and to be careful or I might get gestational diabetes. When I said I was craving Spam, I was told that it wasn't good for the baby (ONE serving of Spam over the course of NINE MONTHS!) and made to feel I was a bad mom before my son was even born. I constantly compared myself to other pregnant women, especially celebrities, but how could I not when even my own father-in-law had the audacity to tell me EVERY time he saw me how huge I was getting, and that there was NO WAY I could make it to full term with the size of my belly!
What's really interesting is that once I had the baby, people focused their attention on the size of my son. A perfectly healthy child, whose doctor is absolutely happy about his growth, and people have the gall to comment on whether he's big enough or small enough for his age. Babies vary immensely in size in that first year or so, and I couldn't believe that anyone thought it was their business to tell me if they thought my son should be bigger or smaller than he is. While I was somewhat expecting body shaming during my pregnancy, I was blown away to see judgment transferred from me to my son. I don't want him to get caught in the cycle of feeling shamed, or shaming anyone else when he gets older.
Elisabeth: "Hey fat belly lady!"
I'm currently close to 35 weeks' pregnant, and it's recently gotten a lot warmer in New York City, so suddenly my pregnant body is on display on the subway, the sidewalks and at work.
I had no idea how much attention pregnant women get, and it's kind of shocking. While I appreciate the occasional offer of a seat on the subway (which doesn't even happen as often as you would hope), the rest of the attention from total strangers varies from mild congratulatory remarks to guesses on how far along I am or whether I'm having a boy or girl, to street harassment of a sexual nature. Yeah -- it feels a LOT more violating when your unborn child is involved.
Recently I was waiting for a bus on the Upper West Side when a man starts yelling at me, "HEY, FAT BELLY LADY!" I didn't even know he was talking to me at first because I think of myself as pregnant, not fat, but then the people around me started looking at me too, and I realized I was the fat belly lady he was yelling at. He yelled it several times and then asked repeatedly if I'm having twins. I ignored him but as I got on the bus, felt a little shaky and like I was about to cry, and I noticed that I also felt shame, for some reason. My logical brain knows there's nothing to be ashamed of and that I'm proud of what my body is doing, but being singled out and having your body commented on during such an intense, emotional, vulnerable time is difficult.
I work in education, primarily around other women, most of whom have had babies before, and yet it feels like my body is the only thing people want to talk about. There's some sort of comment almost every day, things like, "Your face looks a little bloated today," or after a week of being on spring break, "Oh my god, you totally popped since I saw you last," or "You seem to be slowing down a lot." I also get a lot of opinionated commentary on the fact that I'm planning to give birth naturally, and have been regaled with horror stories about my coworkers' birthing experiences, which is totally unhelpful for keeping a positive mindset moving toward my own birth.
I don't know how much of it has to do with celebrities or the "baby bump" culture, but it does seem that society always has something to say about a woman's body, at every phase of her life. It gives me a lot of anxiety to perform simple tasks like going to the grocery store, feeling like I'm an easy target for comments, judgments and looks.
Lauren: Exercise is selfish
I'm the proud parent of a spunky 15-month-old boy, but it still grinds my gears when I think of the critiques, judgment and criticisms related to my decision to be physically active during my pregnancy. I wanted to stay healthy for both of us, and I followed my doctor's advice related to exercise. Before my husband and I got pregnant, I ran twice a week, took spin classes, Turbo Kicked (think zumba and kickboxing) and lifted weights. During my pregnancy, I ran until month eight, and I kept up with the spinning and Turbo Kick until three weeks before my son was born. I also walked daily right up to the birth. I gained the right amount of weight and did not deprive myself in the food department. Momma wants a sea-salt chocolate chip cookie or five. I personally think exercising during my pregnancy helped with the birth, recovery and any postpartum issues.
However every workout was met with opinions. My husband's grandmother openly told me and other family members that she was horrified that I was going to the gym. My mom, who loved the fact that I was exercising, would casually remind me to take it down a notch and not work too hard, which I was constantly doing. One can't exactly burpie or do a jumping jack with an extra 40 lbs and a new center of gravity. Some fellow gym goers would stare or ask if I should still be spinning, walking, kickboxing, etc. Others implied that I was selfishly putting my body before my unborn child's well-being.
I did have a few positive reactions. One woman thanked me for being in a TurboKick class with her. She said that I inspired her to push herself harder. (Thanks?) The gym instructors loved having me in their classes, and they helped me to modify the exercise as my bump grew.
During those 41 weeks, I accepted that every horrific birth story, judgy exercise comment, or weird baby-raising nugget of advice was rooted in that person's own issues but with ultimately good intentions. I would listen politely, mentally tune out if I needed to, and thank them for thinking of me and my son. I drew the line if they tried to touch the bump without permission.