Pregnancy and Body Image: When Pregnancy Ain’t No Picnic

Today the Pregnancy and Body Image Series continues with Esther’s story of the roller coaster ride her pregnancies, weight gain, and eventual PPD took her on.


During pregnancy I experienced the most self-loathing I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

Before pregnancy, I wouldn’t say that I had any body image problems. I’ve always been pretty average, pretty athletic, and pretty satisfied with the body God gave me. But, during pregnancy, I sure went through roller coasters of emotion regarding my body! Here’s a bit of my journey with pregnancy and body image.

Pregnancy One–Indulgent Guilt

I possessed zero self-control and gave into every craving. For a few months I enjoyed indulging. It was fun to eat out and get cheeseburgers for dinner!

After that (or maybe as a result of that) in the last trimester my mindset unraveled to more like, “Why stop now?” I felt hopeless and talked myself out of exercising. I didn’t feel attractive to myself or my husband. I gained 54 pounds and fast.

Proud of myself that in the first trimester I had only gained 3 pounds due to the nausea and vomiting, I gained those 51 pounds in six months. That’s four pounds… a week! That was a shock to me (and my midwife!). I hated my monthly, then weekly checkups with her. She’d lecture me to “slow down with the weight gain.” (No duh!)

Oh and the mandatory confession! I’d slink back into her room after testing my urine and weighing myself, feeling like a disappointment. As a chronic People Pleaser, I felt her disappointment. I assumed she was upset with me for not taking better care of myself and my developing baby. She was likely disappointed that I was not heeding her advice–she must have thought I had no self control, that I couldn’t stop gaining weight. I felt shame that I couldn’t stop binge snacking in the evenings, or get even some slight exercise in.

It was a vicious cycle. Eating, feeling guilty but not changing my behavior, then eating some more.

Another terrible thing about this pregnancy: I lost my ability to move fluidly. Yoga class became a joke. I couldn’t comfortably cross my legs anymore. I grew too large to bend over and tie my shoes. Simple things like getting up off the floor became difficult. Losing my mobility took the most getting used to. I hated that about my pregnant body.

Save Me Breastfeeding, Please?

My sister, who I assumed had a similar metabolism to me, always told me, “Breastfeeding is the best diet.” I counted on it to lose the weight I had gained. In truth: I counted on breastfeeding to save me. I found myself constantly thinking, “After the baby comes, it’ll all go back to normal.”

And, it did. I realize now that I’m pretty lucky my body behaved in that manner. Some women don’t have that experience. I got back to my high school weight for the first time in 10 years! Just after seven months of nursing. That made me giddy. I reveled in the joy of just being so plain old light!

My bad eating habits continued and once the nursing slowed, 15 pounds crept back on. I wasn’t unhappy with that weight, but when I saw those two pink lines on the second pregnancy test, one of my first thoughts was, “Ooh I’ll get skinny again when nursing!”

Pregnancy Two–Can I be a Skinny Pregnant Girl Now?

I set my sights on those beautiful skinny pregnant people, you know the type. They workout at the gym and look like a basketball was shoved under their shirt-perfect and perky. Me on the other hand, I gained weight in my face, my hips, my thighs, my arms (why??)! I wouldn’t let that happen again, I told myself.

“This time will be different,” I said out loud.

I made collages of skinny pregnant women. I went to the gym a lot, zealous that I wasn’t going to repeat my previous experience. I guilted myself into eating clean, “YOU CAN’T EAT THAT CHEESEBURGER, ESTHER!” I yelled every night at dinner.

And it worked, for a while. I gained weight in a slow and reasonable manner. That continued until I kept spraining my ankles while working out and then while doing simple things like walking. I took a few weeks off to heal and strengthen those joints and lost momentum. Suddenly, I was back to dreading the midwife appointment, even though this time my new midwife was more generous in her standard of how much a “normal” pregnant woman should gain.

By the end of my pregnancy, I wandered into the gym once a week. Thoughts like, “I did great my first two trimesters, now I can coast. And I DESERVE to eat that cupcake,” lingered in my head. (I’m still so tied up with food as reward, more on that later.) I ended up gaining 40 pounds.

The Miracle of Pregnancy?

What’s interesting is the parallel spiritual story that went alongside each of these pregnancies. We were two weeks married and found ourselves expecting with my first. I fell into depression, shocked this could happen to us, afraid of losing my freedom and ruining our marriage forever. Maybe that’s why I gave up with my weight and food.

It was very difficult for me to grasp what a privilege it is to be pregnant, how magical it is to raise another human inside my body, what a blessing it is to carry a baby. I tried really hard at times, reading those natural childbirth books. But still, I couldn’t be amazed at my awkward and swollen body. I just wanted it over with. I really wish I could have felt beautiful while pregnant, some women do. I don’t know how. Even with my second child, whose conception was VERY MUCH PLANNED and anticipated, I continued to under-appreciate the Mystery of Birth. (So kudos to YOU if you felt marvelous during your pregnancy!)

Enter PPD

Number One Son began to act out, just for a few weeks, but that, along with my husband’s coaching obligation, led to six months of struggling with Postpartum Depression.

Angry outbursts, being afraid to be alone with my two boys-afraid for their safety, no desire to get out of bed, no motivation to clean or cook, a bone-deep exhaustion–all that consumed me for weeks. The darkness that envelops you when you lose Hope of ever feeling normal again–it swallowed me up for the first six months of my second son’s life. During that time I remember feeling numb about my body. Like an automaton, trying to get through one day, and then another.

But God rescued me.

Through permission to admit something was really wrong, my husband’s affirmation that I wasn’t feeling right, a counselor, nutritional supplements, and all sorts of tests and prayers by so many saints, He broke through my darkness. It has been a journey recovering the Joy satan robbed me of those six months, a precious, faith building journey.

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