One of the quickest ways to irritate a pregnant woman is to bring up weight gain guidelines during pregnancy. It’s a strange thing, I’ve spent thirty years in a society that has unequivocally told me that being thin is the ultimate goal of every woman, that no woman is happy with her body unless she’s a size (insert size here that’s smaller than your current size), and then I got pregnant, and everything was turned upside-down.
Suddenly, not only am I expected to be ashamed of how much I weigh or what the number on my jeans tag is, I’m also expected to gain weight. Suggested ranges of weight gain for pregnant women vary, but they’re all based on BMI. Imagine being a pregnant woman frantically searching for information about how much weight gain is appropriate and finding an article which suggests women with a BMI in the obese range shouldn’t gain any weight at all. One can’t help but wonder what sort of world we live in where a woman is expected to support the creation of a new life for nine months, with all the subsequent plumbing (placenta, blood, etc.) and not gain a pound. But I digress.
Women who don’t gain any weight are simultaneously bad mothers for not wanting to support the growth of the fetus to their utmost ability and someone to be admired for fighting the dreaded baby weight. At some point, the uterus and its passenger began to take up enough room in a my abdomen that the baby bump formed, except it’s not a baby bump, it’s an internal organs bump, and I, the former champion of the Thanksgiving challenge, am now unable to finish a burger at Red Robin because the kid is crowding my stomach, even though, oh God, I would possibly cut someone to eat the rest of that heavenly Banzai Burger. And while I’m sitting there almost in tears because there’s more burger that I’d love to taste, there’s also a tiny voice in my head that I thought I’d silenced that’s praising me for not eating the whole thing because really, you don’t need that, do you?
At prenatal appointments, I’ve seen over my midwife’s shoulder that my recorded weight has dropped 17 lbs. since the first day of my last period (which is officially the day one becomes pregnant in medical timing, regardless of actual conception timing), and I’ve felt some things. First, there’s a deep and shameful spark of pride that “heck yeah, I’m LOSING weight!” followed by a massive wave of guilt. I feel guilty that no matter how much I’ve considered myself a feminist, no matter how much I see pictures of women of all sizes and think they’re beautiful and powerful, no matter how much I’ve raged against the patriarchy, canceled my Vogue subscription, talked about health at any size, discussed Photoshopping, and refused to feel shame when I wear a swimsuit, no matter all of these things, my first instinct is to feel pride that I’ve lost weight at a point in her life when it is medically sound that I not lose weight at all.
At this point in my pregnancy, someone has already told me about how much weight she gained when she was pregnant, and how she was “so FAT!”, and she named a number that’s within ten pounds of the my current weight, and regardless of the speaker’s height or build or personal medical history, I spent the rest of my day torn between worrying that I’m already unlovable enough to my husband (what with the gas and the fatigue and the headaches and the weird pregnancy pillow in bed) that any weight gain will render me completely unlovable, and anger at myself for letting one person’s comment break through my defenses to the point where I doubt herself so much, with a side helping of “I am not a feminist, I am a bad person if I let anything like that get to me, I should know better than to let one person’s comment freak me out that way”.
And just when I calmed myself down, I remembered that we’re going to find out the sex of the baby next week, and I realized that now I won’t be just fighting against these messages for myself, I’ll be fighting against them for my child. And how can I fight them for my kid if I can’t even successfully fight them for myself?