As soon as I became visibly pregnant, people started paying attention to my body differently.
I didn’t show much at first, because I carry my weight in the front and I typically have a nice, rounded tummy. Also, I unintentionally lost fifteen pounds in the first trimester due to the restricted-carb gestational diabetes diet, so I didn’t gain any significant pregnancy weight until almost the third trimester. When people in my second trimester looked for and complimented my “bump,” they were mostly complimenting the natural tummy shape that I always have, albeit a little bit hardened up and perkier. The difference was, all of a sudden, my belly was culturally acceptable and beautiful and a symbol of fertility and womanhood.
A lot of people couldn’t tell I was pregnant by looking at me up until a month ago. Even now that I’m clearly showing and my belly looks pregnant even to most strangers, folks tell me I don’t look eight months, that I look small for how far along I am. I don’t remember the last time someone told me I looked small. “Thank you?” is my typical reply. “Well, fuck the patriarchy for making women’s bodies fair game for cultural critique and for deciding what I should look like at all times and for giving you permission to openly express your feelings about my body,” is what I want to say.
I much prefer the folks who just say, “You look great!” and very much prefer the folks who don’t stare at or comment on my body at all. I’m sure I’ve said similar things to other pregnant women before, though. I’m going to remember, in the future, to keep my opinions about pregnant people’s bodies to myself.
On the plus side (no pun intended), I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so safe showing my stomach, unafraid that people are going to give me dirty looks for wearing a fitted tank top to run errands. It’s affirming in a way that’s very uncomfortable because being pregnant is the most cishet-acceptable way to be a woman in the patriarchy and I’m reaping the rewards of that in a way that feels yucky. It’s freeing and enraging.
I’m super glad, though, that I came into this pregnancy loving my pre-pregnancy body. It’s going to help me a lot in embracing my yet-unknown post-pregnancy body. My body is doing its own thing right now, to care for Baby T. Rex, and I often feel like I’m not in control of it at all. I’m going to come out on the other side changed, physically and in many other ways. I can’t imagine how much much harder it would be if I still hated the way I look, if I still resented my body and cursed every stretch mark.
This constant focus on my body has led me to think about body image issues as a future parent and how to break or at least disrupt the cycle of shitty self-esteem. But when do we start internalizing body shame?
Like many little kids, I started out experiencing my body as a source of fun and sensory pleasure and I never felt self-conscious. It was a challenge to keep me in clothes as a toddler, especially in the warm summer months. I loved running around nude-y rude-y, feeling free in my skin. When I was just a little bit older, I liked to lay naked in front of the living room fireplace after my bath. I’d spread out my bath towel, lie down on my stomach, and watch TV or read a book, letting the slow, constant heat lap at the exposed skin on my bare back.
Even in elementary school, I wasn’t very concerned about my appearance. I wasn’t particularly feminine and I didn’t like wearing dresses. I loved putting on my mom’s blush with the big fluffy brush she kept in the bathroom drawer, but I wasn’t otherwise into makeup or hair or clothes.
Somewhere in the two years between fifth and seventh grade, I changed. A lot. I ran face-first into puberty at age twelve. I started reading teen magazines and wearing more make-up and more skirts and fitted tops and “doing” my hair. By the time I was thirteen, I was very aware of my appearance, particularly my size because I was, by my own estimation, fat. My thighs were fat and my arms were fat and most of all my stomach was fat. Fat fat fat. FAT.
My weight fluctuated a lot in my teen years. I usually hovered somewhere around a size 12. My closest friends were around a size six. We all hated our bodies. I would work myself into tears shopping for jeans or a bathing suit. I would be thrilled when I could squeeze into a smaller size skirt or top. I flirted with Slim Fast and skipping meals when I felt like I was gaining weight. I hated looking at myself naked. I’d pick out all the things that were wrong with me — my arm flab, the line where my bra dug into my back fat, the place where my thighs rubbed together, my belly that was never flat enough.
In addition to all that body self-loathing, I was the only Korean girl in my high school. I could never be as pretty as my white best friends or the girls in the dELiA*s and Alloy catalogs I shopped from. Even if I managed to lose weight, no one would be attracted to me. I was forever doomed to be the fat and funny best friend, the ugly Korean sidekick to my hot besties.
It was a long road back to loving my body, to reveling in the feeling of the sun on my back and arms, to embracing the pleasure of spreading out naked on my bed after a hot shower, to taking solace in stripping off my clothes after a long day and just being in my skin. But I did get here.
I still have broad shoulders. I still have a soft, round belly; thighs that kiss in the middle; and sturdy, thick arms. I’m bigger than I was when I was a teen. I’m thicker and rounder and I have a double chin and I have more stretch marks. My body aches more and has more challenges with every passing year, but I’m grateful for all it provides me and I’m sorry for all the years I spent hating it and treating it like the enemy. When my body was strongest and in its very prime, I was too busy punishing it and loathing it to realize. Yet, my body is still strong. Pregnancy has proved to me how strong my body is.
I think now about my future kid, about Remi, and how important it is to spread body-positive messages in our home. They’re going to be exposed to all that negative stuff everywhere else — on TV, on the school bus, from well-meaning friends and family.
I came to a place of loving my body, but the rest of the world didn’t necessarily follow. I recently had a man yell, “You’re fat!” at me from a moving vehicle, to which I laughed and thought, “Yup, I am!” I’m proud to be fat and happy with how I look 99% of the time, but society as a whole doesn’t think I should be. I have to seek out fat-affirming and body-positive spaces and friends. When I choose to wear a body-con dress, I also have to put on my fat femme emotional armor before I leave the house.
I know Waffle still struggles with negative body image. I have shitty days, too. That’s just how it is, no matter how much I work on loving myself. However, I don’t want to expose Remi to it. As much as possible, I don’t want Remi to hear Waffle or me talking about how disgusting we are or how we need to lose weight or diet or any of that negative self-talk. I don’t want to normalize that kind of thinking in our home.
A recent study found that more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as six-to-eight-years old think they should be thinner and that one in four kids engage in dieting behavior by the age of seven. Yikes.
I want Remi to see Waffle and me being confident, attractive, smart people who are also people of size. I want to be able to talk about body positivity at home, about the things they’ll see on TV and learn from peers. I want to try to provide the emotional armor they’ll need to combat sizeism, particularly when they hit those difficult years between puberty and adulthood. I doubt I’ll be able to keep Remi from having a complicated relationship with their body, but I do think body positivity starts at home, with us.
I’m going to start with myself. I’m going to keep on loving my body even when it feels foreign and strange to me, as it does this thing called baby-gestating. When it’s frustrating, I’m going to remember that I can’t control it. I can hate the pregnancy symptoms (Hello, carpal tunnel and itchy skin!), but I can’t blame my body for doing what it needs to do. I’m going to do my best to appreciate how strong my body is right now and to embrace what my body will be after I bring Remi into the world.
8 Random Baby-Making Feelings I’m Currently Over-Processing
1. Feathering the Nest
I’ve been doing a lot of internet research on whether “nesting” is a provable instinctual and/or biological phenomenon. The available data is inconclusive. Lots of folks have told me that I will nest now that I’m in the third trimester. There is even a myth that nesting behavior is a precursor to labor. All of that seems to be scientifically unfounded.
It’s true that many pregnant women start getting into tidying their homes and getting the nursery situated as they near the end of pregnancy, but it’s unclear whether that is instinctual or just, like, practical. It’s also true that the brain chemistry of pregnant women changes to prepare for the nurturing role. However, this is also true of non-gestational dads. (I couldn’t find any studies that weren’t about heteronormative families.) I tend to personally feel like there aren’t hard and fast rules about human behavior, particularly when those behaviors are tied to gender. In our house, if nesting is indeed an instinctual thing, both Waffle and I are doing it.
Traditional nesting activities like prepping the baby room and washing and folding baby clothes and cleaning out closets are definitely stuff Waffle has been more motivated to do. Household management crap like getting house repairs done, getting finances in order, making lists of things we need to purchase and when is more what I’ve been focusing on. Only one of us is pregnant, so…
Either way, we have been getting as prepared as possible over the past few weeks. We have more to do around the house, but if Baby T. Rex came today, it’d be OK. We have the bare minimum in place. I mean, you really just need a spot for the baby to sleep, some diapers, and boob food. The rest you can figure out in time.
2. Constant Craaaaaaaavings
People keep asking what my cravings are and I’m not having too many. Or, rather, because of being on a gestational diabetes diet since February, I don’t get to indulge in cravings very often, so I don’t think about them too much. Actually, I’m kinda resentful of pregnant people who get to indulge in cravings on a whim. I BET THAT’S NICE.
The other day Waffle was eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger that smelled awesome/disgusting and I totally took a small bite. It was awesome/disgusting. That’s about the extent of my ability to indulge without throwing my glucose numbers off.
That said, there are some gestational-diabetes-approved snacks that keep finding their way to my mouth when I’m wanting a not-planned snack. In no particular order, my “indulgent” foods have been:
- String Cheese
- Dill Pickles
- String Cheese
- Dill Pickles
- String Cheese
- Dill Pickles
- Dill Pickles
- Dill Pickles
That’s it. Living on the edge! (Did you know you can buy dill pickles in a club pack?)
3. Got Schooled
We had our birth class two weekends ago at Beautiful Birth Choices. It was an all-day Saturday class because Waffle works nights and it was easier for us to get it done in one long day. We liked the class and the teacher and place enough that we’re planning to hire a doula through them.
As I expected, we were the only queer couple and I was the only non-white person. The instructor, however, was inclusive in the language she used during the class. We tend to let people assume we’re lesbians in such situations, which I’m sure everyone did. It was fine, though, and everyone was cool with us being there.
Some of the info was very basic, but Waffle pointed out that probably the rest of the partners and husbands in the room had never experienced a menstrual cramp and had no exposure to anatomy diagrams of the uterus and boobs and whatnot since their high school health class. So it was probably good foundational information for them.
I learned that the Lamaze techniques you see people in movies doing are no longer typically taught. The “hee hee ho ho” breathing stuff is apparently out of vogue. I was kind of glad because that sounded awkward to practice in front of other people.
We did learn some labor positions and techniques to deal with contraction pain, including ways for our partners to provide physical and emotional support. We went around and tried out the various positions. We did a simulation of negative pain, basically holding ice (a frozen wet sponge) on the underside of our arms for the duration of a contraction while working with our partners, using various techniques to manage the pain like massage, music, scented oils, etc. We talked in more depth about our birth plan.
Overall, it was mainly a review for us of info we’d read in books or online, but it was a good experience to do the class together and have set time to practice labor techniques and talk about our birth plan. If you can swing the cost of a birth class, I’d recommend it.
4. Things I’ve Googled in the Past Week:
- best lotion pregnancy itch
- packing list hospital go bag
- can my cat tell I’m pregnant?
- gestational diabetes breastfeeding
- questions to ask a birth doula
- lgbtq doula rochester ny
- feliway cat baby stress
- refusing episiotomy risks
- introducing baby to cat
- ligiment pain when standing up quickly
5. I’ve Got an Itch to Scratch. I Need Assistance.
Remember how I had an itchy armpit a month ago? That itchy pit spread into two itchy pits which expanded into itchy arms and an itchy back and sides and hips and upper thighs and belly and boobs. I thought I was going to rip my skin off, so I finally alerted my midwives.
I made the mistake of googling my symptoms, which of course led me to a bunch of articles that said itchy skin in the third trimester could by the symptom of a liver issue called obstetric cholestasis. Then I found stories of women who had lost their pregnancies because of obstetric cholestasis. And then I panicked Waffle a bit by relaying all this info to him.
I wasn’t too worried, but I wanted to be cautious. After I let the midwives know I was having EXTREME ITCHINESS, they told me to come in the next day. The tests ultimately came back normal, so that was a relief. Also, while they were getting some blood from me, they re-tested my A1C (hemoglobin) and my blood sugar is steadily in the non-diabetic range, so that’s good news, too!
The itching continues to suck. I was self-treating it with unscented lotion mixed with tea tree oil and lots and lots of witch hazel wipe-downs to soothe my skin throughout the day, but it was like, out of control. I had to reapply lotion and/or witch hazel every two hours. I was ducking into the bathroom or taking my top off at work all the time and at night it was unbearable. I had trouble falling and staying asleep… more than usual.
The midwives prescribed an antihistamine, which I was hesitant to take, but it seems to be helping. I still itch, but it’s manageable itchiness now and I can go a lot longer without reapplying lotion. I also bought this stupid expensive lotion with tea tree oil and vitamin E, which is AMAZING, but I think I’m going to go back to adding tea tree oil to regular unscented lotion because it’s, like, $10/bottle.
6. The Best Laid Plans…
Waffle and I are in the process of writing down our birth plan. We’ve talked about it a lot and there are things we both want. He is putting the labor decisions mainly in my hands. There are only a couple non-negotiables. I feel like it will be less stressful if I’m open to whatever happens in the moment. There are so many variables with labor and I feel more at peace with it all if I don’t make judgments or assumptions about anything.
Like, in an ideal world, I would like to have a natural birth, but if that doesn’t work out for some reason, that’s what it is. I definitely don’t want an elective c-section or to be talked into one if I don’t need one, but if it becomes medically necessary, then that’s what we’ll do.
Some things we are set on in regards to our labor and birth plan:
- no circumcision if our baby is male assigned
- skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after birth
- non-instrumental delivery (no forceps)
- early labor at home (with doula)
- delayed clamping of the umbilical coard
- no episiotomy (unless there is a very pressing medical reason — which is rare)
- alone time with Remi after birth and tests, etc are over and before accepting visitors
Some things we’d prefer, but are fairly open to changing our mind on:
- no pain medications or epidural
- let bag of waters break on their own
- let labor start on its own (no induction)
- vaginal birth
- spontaneous pushing (not forced)
7. Sipping My Way Into Labor
I’ve been drinking red raspberry leaf tea since the second trimester. According to some midwives and herbalists, it helps strengthen your uterus for an easy labor. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Couldn’t hurt, right?
6. Culturing the Korean-American Kid
I know, I know. I have several years to even be thinking about sending my kid to cultural camp, but I wanted to know what’s available locally. One of the perks of living in a medium-size city is that there are enough families with Korean kids locally that there is a Korean Cultural Camp in my city for one weekend every summer. I wanted to go to Korea Camp when I was a kid, when I found out that another family’s KAD (Korean adoptee) kids went to one. There just weren’t any near where I grew up.
Remi is probably going to hate Korean Cultural Camp when they’re old enough to go and also to roll their eyes at me, but I think it’s important to try it out. I’m still learning a lot of new things about my culture and the foods and history of my ancestry. I know absolutely none of the language. I really wish I’d had more exposure to Korean culture as a kid. I feel like I want to be able to share that with Remi.
Most of the Korean cultural camps are religiously affiliated and the one near me is part of the “Christian Service Program” at a Jesuit high school, so hopefully it won’t be too awkward for a queer family to attend. I’ll let you know in, like, six years when Baby T. Rex is old enough to go and also after Remi is, like, you know, born.