A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Body Expectations

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?

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

4 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Body Expectations”

I am past childbearing age. Been there done that, had the hysto, have two sons. My observations are based on “older” experiences, my own, and growing up with a physician dad who practiced OB from the 60’s-mid 80’s. A couple points:

(1) OB-GYN, the professional practice has been framed by patriarchy. Women were there in the early days doing the baby business. Then the men took over when medicine went professional. Women were pushed aside, sidelined to OB-GYN nurses for a long time. Midwives were not incorporated into mainstream medicine until the 70’s here in the U.S.

(2) Medicine, the practice of western medicine that is, especially here in the U.S. is still clinical. It’s about clinical analysis, trusting results that have been recorded and “proven” by scientific methods. Other methods that cannot be quantifyingly measured are not respected as much. Yes there are more holistic practices and methods being incorporated into modern day western OB-GYN, but there is still a long way to go.

I’m really enjoying this series you’re writing. :)

This post made me remember something my mom told me – when she was pregnant with me (25 years ago) she began craving gummi bears like whoa; the next time she went to her OB, he chastised her for gaining more weight than she should have in a week even though overall she gained a relatively small amount weight during her whole pregnancy. And even though this has nothing to do with pregnancy, for me, I can relate to that struggle of “I must be a bad feminist because I care about my weight and feel crappy because this pair of pants won’t fit.”

When I was pregnant with my first child my doctor told me not to worry so much about my weight, I had more important things to deal with. It was the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me.

I think a lot of women lose weight at the beginning of their pregnancies, what with the ‘morning’ sickness and all. The whole weight gain thing varies so much from woman to woman, I think it’s silly to try and make rules about it. As long as you are staying healthy I side with my old doctor – you have better things to do with you time.

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