The myth of the “pre-baby body”

Guest post by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly

This is probably the most revealing picture I will ever post of myself on the Internet. Look at my belly! I’m coming up on 36 weeks now; in this picture I’m at 31. I officially have the pregnant lady waddle, and getting from a sitting to standing position is way harder than I ever realized it could be. Sometimes she kicks so hard that I actually double over — this gives Mike a small heart attack every time it happens. (I’m so glad she’s strong, but damn…she’s really strong.)

As I get closer and closer to my baby’s birth, my body changes more dramatically by the day. I’m tiny-boned and have practically no body fat when I’m not pregnant, so I’ve had a petite pregnancy, and it turns out people LOVE a skinny pregnant women. Strangers consistently approach me to tell me how great my body looks, and I have mixed feelings about it. I try to take compliments as compliments and just leave it there, but honestly, all of our weird social body issues extend to pregnancy too, and that kind of freaks me out. So here’s my pregnancy reality check.

I’ve gained 35 pounds so far, which means that by the time I give birth I will have blown my doctor’s recommended 30 pound weight gain out of the water. And honestly? I just don’t care. I eat when I’m hungry, take my vitamins, do weekly prenatal yoga, sleep when I’m tired, and have good results on my lab tests. This is the amount of weight my body has decided it needs to make a healthy baby, and I’m inclined to let my body take the lead on this one.

The fact that I look as slim as I do while carrying this much extra weight is just a result of my genes, which are — and this extends to everyone, everywhere — entirely a matter of chance. The genetic wheel spun and I got skinny, where some people get fat or short or red-headed or hazel-eyed, and anything that’s perceived as particularly flattering or desirable about my pregnancy body is entirely a matter of chance, and not a matter of diet, exercise, or will-power.

Contrary to what Gisele most-women-let-themselves-turn-into-garbage-disposals Bundchen would like you to think, you cannot just will yourself into a supermodel’s pregnancy body. You can be healthy and treat yourself right, but your body is going to pad itself in the ways it needs to support your little one, and that’s a GOOD THING. And you know what? The whole “pre-baby body” thing is a myth. A fantasy. If you have a baby, your body is going to change. No matter what the media tells you about celebrities “getting back their bodies,” IT IS A MYTH. Pregnancy changes bodies, and that’s OKAY. That’s the way it SHOULD BE.

I might get my pre-baby weight back — I have no idea, we’ll see — but the landscape has changed now. What’s stretched will probably not unstretch, my A-cup breasts (which are currently a C-cup) are not going to be as perky unless I surgically encourage them, my hips despite my small frame will probably never be quite as narrow, and my ass, frankly, looks like a road map. That may fade, but it’s not going to disappear. I have cellulite now. The body I had before motherhood is not going to be the body I have after motherhood, and that’s okay. IT’S ALL OKAY!

I, with the help of the man I love more than anything, AM MAKING A BABY. A little person who will talk and grow and learn and have opinions and wear questionable outfits and get dirty and fall off her bike, who will have friends and sleepovers and good days and bad days, who is already making me happier than I can even describe and will also probably drive me crazy, who will read books and knock things over, who will want and need and like and dislike things.

The idea of a daughter is approximately one million times more exciting than the idea of having my “pre-baby body” forever, and I have nothing but respect for what will be my post-baby body. My body was awesome before, my body is awesome now, and my body will be awesome after I give birth.

Comments on The myth of the “pre-baby body”

  1. “my A-cup breasts (which are currently a C-cup) are not going to be as perky unless I surgically encourage them”

    Yup. I just spewed beverage all over my work computer. Through my nose, even. And I’m now getting extemely worried looks from my co-workers. Thanks for the post! Made my monday brighter 😉

  2. Absolutely!! This post made me so happy….I work at a gym caring for the little ones of our patrons and I can’t tell you how many pregnant women I see out there daily busting their butts to “maintain their figure” while pregnant. Don’t get me wrong, I know the whole serious exercise during pregnancy thing is a can of worms and I am NOT trying to open it. Instead, what bothers me is the desperate look on these almost moms faces, the need to be their old selves carrying a watermelon rather than their new glorious pregnant goddess selves.
    Thank you for being you.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I was so sick during my pregnancy that I wasn’t able to exercise that much. I came out of my pregnancy feeling horribly out of shape and like a completely different person. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that different doesn’t mean bad. Pregnancy and motherhood have both been extremely empowering except for the way I feel about my body. But you are right, I made a healthy baby with this body–anything that can do that has to be pretty powerful and awesome.

  4. Such a fantastic read, I’m glad you got republished. 🙂

    I love you, and I love your body no matter what nature does to it.

    Sidenote: I love how I am a shadowy figure lurking in the background. I made a face for this picture and I’m sad I’m in silhouette. 🙂

  5. Thank you ever so much for writing such an inspiring piece. I’m at 25 weeks right now and although I’ve had some small changes they’re nothing compared to what I know is yet to come.

    It seems like the whole post-birth “get-your pre-baby-body-back-as-fast-as-humanly-possible (if not sooner!)” mind set gets shoved down your throat as soon as you get pregnant. Coming to terms with the changes and being comfortable in my own skin is usually something that I’m ok with but its still awesome to hear such an amazingly positive outlook about pregnant and post-baby body.

  6. after my first son was born i remember looking down at my stomach and touching it saying HEY THIS ISN’T MY BODY! (i went from being a size 14 to a nice size 8, then smaller)

    now that i’m 33 weeks pregnant i wonder what my body will morph into now and let me tell you it’s ok to gain more than 30 lbs i’m @ the 40 lbs weight mark and as i told my dr if i’m healthy and the baby is healthy does it really matter

  7. I think this is actually the one aspect of my pregnancy I struggle with the most. I’ve had body image issues almost my entire life, and being pregnant – as much joy as it has brought me – sometimes makes it even harder. I’d love to be one of those women who proudly admire their round bellies and newfound curves, but instead I’ve had to drape towels over all my full-length mirrors for fear of a breakdown. I guess I’m having a hard time coming to terms with my body not really “belonging” to me anymore. I very much hope that I can find the confidence that you have and start seeing myself as beautiful as I see other pregnant mamas.

    • Feeling like my body wasn’t mine was exactly the problem for me–not just because I woke up one day 50 lbs heavier with stretch marks and puffy cheeks and went, “Whose ass is this?” (which bothered me a lot more than I thought it would or like to admit, even 7 years later). Part of the trouble was feeling like everyone in the damn world had a claim to my body. By the time my daughter was born, I’d lost track of how many strangers had put their hands in my vagina, not to mention walked up to me in the grocery store and grabbed my belly. Then I breastfed for a year, which was beautiful and fantastic and all that, but at the end of it, it was such a relief to finally let my body be my own again, with no outside rights to it.

      But you know what? The fastest way to feel like your body belongs to you again is for you to claim it and love it and own it. Easier some days than others, I admit, but we need to “rah-rah” for ourselves and for each other.

      • I’ve found that the best way to deal with strangers randomly feeling up your baby belly is to reach over and start rubbing *their* belly too. When you get the inevitable look of OMG-why-are-you-touching-me, just tell them that’s how you feel.

    • I feel somewhat the same way. I’ve always admired pregnant bodies, something about them has alwasy seemed so beautiful to me.

      But now that I am pregnant I dont feel that way about my own. My breasts dont look or feel like mine at all and my body has changed in places I didnt expect.

      Unfortunately at the moment I just look very fat rather than pregnant and that upsets me (especially since we havent made the news public yet).

      I want to feel good about the changes to my body but havent actively done anything to change my attitude. Thank you for the post and bringing it to my attention in a positive way.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this! I had my daughter at 18, and its taken about 3 years to realize that i wont ever get that 17 year old body back, and frankly i like this womanhood thing alot more. 🙂

  9. As a fat mom, fat before pregnancy, fat after pregnancy ( only gained 17 pounds during pregnancy) I kind of feel like an asshole for saying this, but it is what it is: if Im going to be told I should have a positive body image, I prefer that the woman telling me be overweight too. Its easy for a skinny girl to say she doesnt care that she gained 35 pounds during pregnancy and that she is ok with loving her body and so should everyone else love their own. But bring me a fat mommy with a positive body image to aspire to, thats what I find uplifting.

    • I sort of anticipated this comment, so I’m glad it’s out of the way now.

      I’m not going to pretend to have any idea what it’s like to be a bigger girl because I don’t, but the grass is always greener and everyone has their insecurities. Being skinny has meant a whole host of things, including that when I did my battles with the mirror, I felt ashamed of my flat chest, or the way jeans never fit my butt right, or that when I went to school and got shit I got “toothpick” or “anorexic,” compared to a boy or told I was unhealthy looking, what-the-hell-ever. As difficult or traumatic as being overweight? Again, I have no idea.

      But as women on the whole whether we fall on the big or small side (because let’s face it, not a single one of us seems to be considered “just right”) we’re conditioned to look in the mirror and find something to hate. So instead of spending time concentrating on our ability to DO awesome things — like make babies or write poems or play sports — we spend valuable time finding ways to nitpick our appearance. I’m not going to apologize for being both skinny and comfortable with my body, and if the words don’t mean anything for you coming from me, that’s your prerogative — but we’re all women, we all face similar shit, and it makes sense to me to put my energy into a) doing my best and feeling good about it and b) encouraging other women to feel good about themselves, regardless of what number my scale reads or how my pants size compares to yours.

      • Dont get me wrong, Im happy youre happy with your body and I appreciate the message you’re trying to impart. I also am happy for anyone who also was uplifted or inspired by it.

        Having been every size, from 0-16 at some point in my womanhood, and gone the spectrum from having chocolate bars shoved in my face and being called chicken legs ( I weighed 89 pounds in highschool) to now being a size 16 and all that comes with, I can assure you, in my case, being teased and judged for being thin was better. ( holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

        Pregnant and nursing women are powerful and beautiful, even if they gain 100 pounds during pregnancy. Even if they never lose the baby weight. I highly recommend everyone who has a mom or is a mom go to
        Where you can see and hear about the dramatic life changes and body perceptions of a variety or mothers, pre and post baby.

        Thanks for your post and your response. Please dont take it personal that I cant relate.

    • There’s so much that changes about the body besides fat, though. Me and everyone around me knew I’d be skinny before, during, and after pregnancy. I could have written this blog entry word for word when I was pregnant, but I was surprised after I gave birth that I actually was kind of surprised and sad about some things. Like stretch marks on my boobs after the engorgement phase. Or the way I look 7 months pregnant after every time I eat even though my baby is 8 months old and I do ab exercises. I was most worried that my vagina would be all stretched out 😀
      Over time I’ve processed it all for the most part. But I was surprised there was anything to process at all, since I thought I was prepared to love my post baby body.

      • To be perfectly frank, her comment served a purpose. I too have gone from a size 0-16 and I’m not yet pregnant, but trying. Her comment made me feel like I’m not alone. I am not the only fat person trying to get pregnant. It did make me feel better. Thats what her comment served. Yes, I would rather be judged for being to skinny rather than everyone jumping on my case about what I’m doing to get skinnier. But I am going to take this whole post and try to feel okay with myself. I am going to try not be ashamed of myself. I don’t know if I could’ve done that without her comment to make this post relatable. But I do love this post and OBM for opening the dialouge about our bodies.

    • I’m fat woman, now pregnant, and will most likely still be fat after baby, but I still found this post very inspiring.

      I dont believe it is easy for a skinny girl to say she’s ok with loving her baby body and so should everyone else.

      Body image is hard whether you’re fat or thin or anything in between. I’ll admit life seemed a slightly easier when I got down to a temporarily small weight, but you know what? My body issues and self esteem never really changed. And I have plenty of skinny friends who are more screwed up about their bodies than me.

      This post wouldn’t have been any more inspiring to me if it was coming from someone my own size.

      • This post made feel awesome. I’m a naturally big girl running about 270 here at 33 weeks. It’s awesome that my body overall looks just about the same as the pic in this post.

  10. By the time my petite, 5-foot-nothing mother had had two kids, her A cups were DD cups! My changes weren’t quite so dramatic but it did take me about two years to fit back into my old clothes … and the fit wasn’t quite the way it once was. I ended up with hugely lopsided boobs for some reason!

    • I’m so happy that you brought up lopsided boobs!! Urgh.. it is a problem few people have to deal with.. I mean, no one has the same sized boobs, but I was a cup size different pre-pregnancy, and all my friends know the story of Big Boob and Little Boob. I always said that when I got pregnant, I hoped Little Boob would catch up. Boy was I wrong!!! Big Boob is now 2 cups bigger and it is way more noticeable!!!! Good lord. It is truly the only thing I am disappointed in my body for! That being said…. it is my baby’s favourite so that has to count for something eh? ha ha Anyways thanks for letting me share that I guess!

  11. Thank you for this post. I love it. I needed it even. I’m amazed by how many people now comment on my appearance (not even health) as if that were somehow acceptable now that I am pregnant.

  12. Thank you for this! I am also a pretty small person and had a petite pregnancy. I got endless constant comments about How! Adorable! My body looked. It made me really uncomfortable because (a) awwwwwkward and (b) I actually had a difficult struggle gaining ENOUGH weight! I had to eat constantly – but not too many carbs, since I had glucose intolerance – even if I wasn’t hungry. Weight checks at the midwives were really stressful, trying to see if I had managed to put on the right amount for the week.

    I will admit to stressing more than I should about returning to looking “normal.”. Although I am typically not someone who dwells on body image issues, I have had to be surprisingly diligent about keeping my thoughts positive regarding my new marks of motherhood (though I doubt i will ever be totally comfortable with this hybrid innie/outie/flat-ish belly button!).

  13. This was great to read. I’ve been skinny my whole life, including through my pregnancy, and the constant comments can get unnerving. I can appreciate a simple “you look great!” but when they start getting specific it’s very awkward. I was told the other day “I’ve never seen a pregnant woman with a waist.” Nobody has been outright rude, but it amazes me how people feel entitled to comment on a woman’s body shape and weight when she’s pregnant.

  14. Thank you for writing this. My son was born in 11 weeks ago and I’ve been feeling really weird about my body lately. This helped put things into perspective again. 🙂

  15. I have a friend who, after hearing about one too many women “getting her body back”, went on a rant about, “where did it go? Was she just a head in a jar? Did she leave it on the bus?”
    The idea of disowning a body that has a little (or a lot of) extra fat after a normal physiological process that tends to leave women heavier (not to mention differently-shaped) than they were before is deeply f-ed up. Almost nobody is precisely the same size and shape as they were before having kids, and it’s high time our society treated that as the non-issue it is.

    That said, thanks for sharing your experience. I just had to make my little point there 😛

  16. I’ve never felt like my body wasn’t mine. I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt at home being me. Once my kids were a bit older, I was able to start back to work and that helped me eat healthier. I think that my body’s in better shape now than when I was 19 (before my 1st).

    To each her own…

    Hunny- I like that website, it’s cool!

  17. Wooohooo!!! ::Applauding::

    I have an 11-month-old son. I am 5’3″ and before I got pregnant, I weighed 136 lbs. I was that 105 lb. girl in school, and really- the extra 30 lbs did well on me. I gained about 35 lbs in my pregnancy. I was “lucky” to only get a few stretch marks, but I loved each one! They were my battle scars- my pride!

    My son has been such a workout that I am now approximately 125 lbs and my body has completely changed. My hips are actually SMALLER (butt reduction from all the squats I do while holding him and picking things up off the floor), my waist is smaller, my breasts are larger.

    Before giving birth, I felt okay with my body. Now, I am proud of it, astonished by it, and so much more comfortable in it. This body made the perfect little boy that is sitting in my lap right now helping me type 🙂 Who could ask for more than that?

  18. AMAZING post! It’s so refreshing to hear this sort of perspective. Women are so bombarded by the media of what the perfect body should look like (aka we should all have approx 6 plastic surgeries before even considering confidence). Women’s bodies are naturally amazing. Co-creating and housing a sentient being and then delivering it into this world? Way cool!!! ps I think I’ll save this article for my husband to read after I have babies. “Honey, that’s not a stretch mark. It’s a badge of love and hard work!”

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