Finding the Buddha

I walked into my friend Danielle’s office the other day and she said, “You look pregnant today!”

Our coworker, David, was already in her office, and he looked a bit dumb-founded as to what he should say. He has kids of his own, but I don’t know that that’s a given in these circumstances, that he’d know the right response. Every woman is different, so I didn’t blame him when he looked at me blankly.

“Oh it’s way better to start looking pregnant,” Danielle explained. “Before that you just look thick and like you’ve put on weight.”

She’s 100% correct. And for someone who gained 15 pounds before she got pregnant, to gain even more, in the very place I’m most self-conscious about, royally sucks. It just does. I always knew I wasn’t built for Pregnant Cute. Much like any other “Cute” that’s supposedly universally accepted, “Pregnant Cute” is the sort of pregnant that reveals itself in belly only. From the back, no one would know. From the front, it’s very, very clear that your body is naturally incapable of gaining weight in any other place than your uterus. Also, you are tall and have a long torso, so that baby growing in your womb is clearly deviated from your breasts, from your thighs.

It’s entirely possible you are still wearing your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans well into your third trimester. I’ve heard tales of those ladies. All they need is a ponytail holder and a smile.

I don’t begrudge those ladies this genetic advantage. After all, they can’t help how their bodies are built, any more than I can. I don’t hate them, nor am I jealous of them, save for their expanded fashion options, and I feel that way about all people who shop for clothes with ease, pregnant or not. Mostly I blame people who continue to be threatened and skeeved out by womens’ bodies, who insist they not betray their rudimentary function, which includes gaining weight and making a baby. Which isn’t to say all women need to/can/should use their bodies to bear children, but you get what I’m saying.

Knowing all of this, it’s hard not to be Pregnant Cute when a goodly portion of your life has been spent in service of getting your hands around your poor body image. But then I started to show and did that thing that pregnant ladies do, something I traditionally avoid at all possible costs: I started to touch my belly.

It’s such an awful, ridiculous cliche, I know, but you have to understand the lengths to which I’ve gone to ignore my stomach, even at its smallest size. I am here to tell you: at my lowest weight, I still had a roll-y, rubbery gut. We’ve come to a d├ętente in recent years: I won’t actively hate and loath my stomach as long as I don’t have to pay it much attention. This seems like a decent arrangement, and it’s kept me from hating myself for having a body that easily packs on weight. Whatever it takes to keep ridiculously useless shit such as, “I feel so fat!” from coming out of my mouth, so be it.

But my stomach refuses to honor this arrangement, now that it has to vie for space with my uterus and the kid growing inside of it. I can’t blame it, obviously. Plus, this baby is the product of two people who are so ridiculously stubborn and determined that there’s no way my stomach could keep up its end of the bargain anyway, even if it wanted to.

So here I am, talking with someone in my office, and I’m lying back, rubbing the very area I have long despised. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the opportunity that’s beginning to present itself here.

At the top of my list, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I don’t raise my daughter to place all of her self-worth into how she looks, specifically the number on the scale. I want her to value her body, and to take care of it and treat it with kindness. But the only way that’s ever going to happen is if I raise her in an environment where people value who they are first, and what they look like second. And so of course that begins with me.

And good God is that a tall order.

Because my first trimester was a mess of nausea and woe, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks celebrating. And it’s included Snickers bars, my beloved Baked Cheetos and sundry of treats. Being able to eat again with joy has been a joy. But as is the case with most folks who use food to express their feelings, I’ve been way too overindulgent. Yes, I’m starving. All of the time. But my kid and my body deserve more fruits and vegetables, and maybe a little less salt and vinegar potato chips. Because it’s great to talk about how we might be in the future, when all that really counts is how we act right now. I had a rough few months that were out of my hands, but that’s no excuse for falling into bad habits, especially those I want to keep from handing down. I mean, I’m still going to have potato chips, and probably every day with my lunch, but that’s going to be a conscious choice.

So the eating is a huge part of it, but there are other things that are more subtle.

My stomach won’t be denied right now, and maybe it’s time to be kinder to it. I’ve spent a lot of time being frustrated with myself for needing to sleep so much. Everyone has been reminding me that I need the sleep, that my body has been working overtime for this, but OH MY GOD. How it is that I can’t force my body into submission remains beyond me. I constantly want to tell myself to “Suck it.” And this is generally how I treat my physical flaws: bulldoze and conquer. I show no mercy. In many so, so many ways, it’s worked for me. But in others? It means I’m not particularly kind to myself. How is it even remotely a good idea to not be kind toward the very area of my body that’s working so hard to bring my daughter into the world? Why in God’s name am I giving so much power to something like a body part? Like my body’s need for extra sleep, I need to allow my stomach some place of honor in this process.

Friday I wore a t-shirt and jeans to work. The t-shirt wasn’t particularly loose whatsoever, and with the maternity jeans allowing my midsection plenty of space to relax, everything was clearly on display. And it was really, really OK.

A long time ago, I began to purge Fat Talk from my vocabulary. Not raising a child in a home where she hears women pick apart their appearance is a good first step. I’m not perfect at this, but I feel confident in that she’s not going to hear me bemoan my belly, and assign it value to my self-worth, as I make my way through the day. But she needs to see action, because that’s equally, if not more, important. She needs to see that fruit isn’t a punishment, and neither is exercise. She needs to see that our bodies are a gift, no matter which form they take, but they’re not the total sum of who we are.

After all, if she inherits my husband’s genes, she’s liable to have the metabolism of a jack rabbit and have a body that doesn’t mirror my own at all. And while if this is the case she’s likely not to face the body image issues I have, it’s unlikely she’ll escape the world’s need to put her in a box because of how she looks. Her mom still needs to be the one to help her have a healthy attitude about this thing that carries around our souls.

And so I’m starting to make peace with my own, because right now it’s not just carrying around my soul, it’s a temporary spot for the soul of the person who means more than anything. That’s certainly something to honor.