At first glance, body image and pregnancy might seem an unlikely pairing, as for many of us, at least at some time during pregnancy, much of our attention is focused upon the discomforts we are experiencing as a result of the hormonal and physical changes our body makes to accommodate and nourish our baby. The first months can be characterised, for many of us, by extreme tiredness and nausea, and this can be especially challenging as this is the time many of us keep our pregnancy news to ourselves. These symptoms can feel very debilitating zapping all our energy and appetite, yet if we look at the amazing early development of our baby; their complex brain, nervous system, organ growth and skeletal development all occurring in this time, we can begin to appreciate just how hard our body is working.
We can begin to perceive the challenges of sickness, nausea and exhaustion differently; we can see these symptoms as our body’s way of asking us to slow down, to simplify our diet and steering us towards eating simple, nutritious foods which pose no threat to our baby. We can learn to welcome these symptoms as evidence of high hormonal levels and see them as good, reassuring signs of pregnancy. We can begin to marvel at our body’s innate wisdom and become a little more gentle upon ourselves as we begin to realise how truly amazing this process of pregnancy is; a whole tiny new human is taking shape, cell by perfect cell, just beneath our skin. Alongside the sickness and exhaustion, we can begin to marvel at our body wisdom, and begin to perceive our physicality in a whole new way.
All of our physiological body systems change to accommodate the growth of our baby; our cardiac output increases by 40%, our blood volume by 30-45%. Our oxygen consumption increases by 20% and our digestion slows. These and many more changes all occur with no conscious input from ourselves. Such changes illustrate to us the inherent wisdom we hold within as we are able to create, nurture and sustain the conditions which will support the miraculous growth of our baby. Our female bodies are strong, powerful and intelligent beyond measure, yet this isn’t always the messages we may have received previously as girls and young women. We can begin to see how the changes we experience during pregnancy have the potential to bring waves of transformation not just in our lives as we learn how to love and mother our babies, but throughout our whole being, and all of our perceptions as we begin to learn just how strong, wise, powerful and innately intuitive we have the potential to be and become.
We worry at lot about the impending labour and birth, yet our worries can be calmed when we look at the preparations our bodies have been making over the months of pregnancy. Hormonal changes relax our ligaments and smooth muscle tone to both support our growing baby and as preparations for labour and birth. Our cervix softens and changes shape as our uterus continues to expand to support the weight of our baby. Braxton hicks contractions illustrates to us how our body is preparing for labour, and changes in size and sensation of our breasts and nipples remind us how our body is preparing to be able to nourish and nurture our baby after her birth. Labour begins as our baby signals his readiness to breathe and our hormones respond to his signal; we are a team. And whilst our culture projects many fears onto the birth process, physiologically, we have this.
As women and girls, we are brought up in a culture where we are taught, from ever-younger ages, that our female bodies are ‘less than’. Huge industries set out to explicitly cultivate our sense of ‘less than’ with the direct intention of getting us to swallow this message and believe that we can purchase our way to beauty, confidence and self-acceptance. As women and girls so many of us, at some time in our lives, find ourselves concerned about our weight and appearance, bringing many of us negative experiences of our body and body image. Yet if we open ourselves up to the marvellous development of our baby and the wisdom our body holds, pregnancy can be a time where we experience a wholly different perspective of our body. As we feel the flutters of movement and waves of love for our baby, we can begin to feel the wisdom, power and intelligence which we hold within.
We can see renewed purpose and wisdom of our menstrual cycle and breasts as intelligence to create and nourish our baby. Similarly we can welcome and enjoy the rounding of our belly and the curves of our breasts and hips, not as being ‘overweight’ and therefore undesirable, but as beautiful and wise. We can welcome the changes as a fuller expression of our femininity and for many women, pregnancy is the first time they actually feel happy in their body, let go of the pressure to be thin and enjoy their beautiful, curvy belly. We can slough off the pressures to be skinny and hold our bellies in and instead truly cherish the unfolding of our baby and the strength, wisdom and ability of our body to create our baby’s first sense of home, love and belonging.
Of course the discomforts, hip pain and lack of sleep can be hard to bear, yet we can balance these out with a new way of experiencing our female body. For perhaps the first time, we can be proud of our body, proud of its wisdom, strength, power and intelligence in creating, birthing and nurturing our baby. We have the opportunity to let go of the (often limiting) ways in which we previously thought about our body and let the awesome experiences of pregnancy, breastfeeding and motherhood bring a breath of transformation and new life into how we perceive ourselves; we can begin to feel proud, happy and empowered in our own skin and develop more positive attitudes of body image to pass on to our sons and daughters.
Allow pregnancy to clear out the outdated, oppressive and patriarchal messages so many of us have embodied regarding our own bodies and how they should look; such beliefs are limiting and diminishing us on so many levels. Allow the love, awe and tenderness you feel towards your baby to embrace yourself also. You are truly amazing and the more we love ourselves the more we are able to love our babies.
So many aspects of motherhood bring us opportunities ripe for growth, learning and transformation. Allow pregnancy to be a time where you look within and pick out those beliefs about your own self, your body and your femininity which are no longer serving you. Embrace your growing bump, or the silvery stretch marks which remind you of previous pregnancies, and create new attitudes towards your body based on love, recognition, strength and wisdom. And if you find this difficult in the beginning, be guided by how you would like your children to think and feel about their own bodies in the future.