When my husband and I found out we were expecting miracle #2, I was over-the-moon. After years of being told I might never be able to have children, I was lucky enough to carry our first child to term and now I have the privilege of being pregnant with a second.
But within just a few weeks of finding out I was expecting, my old issues with body image began to plague me. I had an immediate swelling of the stomach and felt bloated, which despite being “normal,” especially in a second pregnancy, made me cringe. After spending my teens and early twenties in an endless cycle of counting calories, criticising myself, and feeling insecure, motherhood had made me more confident. But pregnancy #2 seems to have undone all the mental work I’ve done to feel better about myself.
The first several months were horrible. Chasing after a two-year-old while completely exhausted and drained with new pregnancy would have been rough enough. But I also developed severe nausea and vomiting that made it difficult to get through the most basic tasks.
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Last time I was pregnant, I worked out every day. I did challenging yoga flows, ran a few kilometres two days a week, and took our dog for long walks to keep in shape. These aspects of my pregnancy helped me feel fit and healthy, keeping the long-standing body image issues pretty much at bay.
This time, I’ve been so overwhelmed with parenting a toddler and the logistics of childcare for a potential workout, plus slammed with constant sickness, that I literally have not seen the inside of a gym once. Throw in an unusually warm winter, which is causing me to swell everywhere, and things aren’t looking good right now.
Every time I pass by a mirror or see a photo of myself I’m grossed out. We don’t want this baby to feel any less cherished than our first (because of course, she isn’t!) so I stuck with my routine from Pregnancy #1 and we’ve been taking monthly bump shots to document the journey. But whereas my first set of belly-by-the-month pictures are adorable, these new ones make me cry every time. Last month’s even started one of the most ridiculous fights of our marriage, as I yelled at my husband about what angles I needed, and that the camera made me look even huger than I am.
For perspective, I’m in my eighth month and have gained about 10 kgs, well within average range. My doctor is not only fine with this number, he hasn’t brought up my weight once throughout the pregnancy. I eat pretty well, avoid fast food and ice cream, and try to take my daughter to the park to get at least some activity in every day. But I still just feel gross.
The mirror is always waiting for me when we get home. Every time I look in it, I see a blob of a reflection. My belly, to me, looks way too big for how far along I am. I can’t help but constantly compare my shape to what it was with my first pregnancy, and I just feel huge.
This time, it’s not just my bump. My face looks fuller, and my arms and legs are thicker. I know I’m retaining excess water, but all the logical justifications fly out the window when I try to take a selfie with my daughter and have to delete all ten options we shot because I hate what I see. To that end, we have an expensive maternity shoot booked this week, dresses ordered, and ready to go. And all I can think is, I am going to hate all of these pictures because I’m huge.
The few times I’ve mentioned my feelings to family or friends, they’ve told me I’m being ridiculous and that I should just be grateful that I’m pregnant at all. And they’re right. I am grateful — extremely so. I can’t wait to hold my little girl in my arms and get to know the creature who’s been kicking me from within all this time. But I also can’t help how I feel when I see my puffy, exhausted reflection in the mirror.
As much as I love social media, I think the constant visuals we get of “perfect” pregnancies don’t help. Every scroll is greeted with women who look like stick figures with beach balls under their shirts. It sucks comparing myself to these baseless standards, and I know every pregnancy is different. But something in me can’t help but wonder why I don’t look that cute.
I’m grateful that there are only a couple months or less remaining in the pregnancy and I know it will all be worth it when I get to meet her. But in the meantime, it’s agony getting dressed in the morning and dragging myself through the day while trying to avoid my reflection at all costs.
I know I’ll lose the weight eventually, even though it’ll probably take longer this time than last. I also know that any permanent signs my body holds onto will be worth it for the love I have for my kids. And yet… right now I can’t help but feel sorry for that swollen, lumpy girl in the mirror. She might have everything she ever wanted, but the journey has been anything but perfect.