Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guest Blogger: Confident, beautiful, strong mama

I'm so excited to introduce you to the wonderful Jenarcissist from The Closet Narcissist. She has graciously agreed to write something for my readers today. I hope you enjoy this post, and take the time to check out The Closet Narcissist, you'll be glad you did.

Hi there, LITM readers. My name (okay, my online alter-ego, emphasis on the "ego" *wink*) is Jenarcissist. I'm one-half of the duo that runs the closet narcissist, a blog, online shop, and web site based all around celebrating self-love and building confidence - and having fun doing it. I was so excited when Melanee approached me to swap guest posts with her. We've been following each other's blogs for a while now, and I always get something special out of reading her posts. Her journey towards her own self-acceptance is so inspiring because she's so raw and personal. It's literally exhilarating to me seeing where she was before and where she is now.

So today's the day when I make a rather big announcement on our blog that I am with child. :) That's right, I am 11 weeks pregnant! I've been waiting on this my whole entire life. Because I've always wanted to be a mom so bad and have always thought there is no more beautiful and radiant woman than a pregnant one, I always assumed pregnancy would be blissful. I had this idealized vision of loving my ever-expanding body while I happily awaited my bundle of joy, totally care-free. I was going to sail through pregnancy with a constant glow and never feel big, only pregnant. What a dolt I was! ;) I thought this guest post would be a good opportunity to talk about my adjusting to this new body and new life.

As excited as I am between bouts of puking, pregnancy has brought about a lot of unexpected things for me. I never in a million years expected to have any sort of body image issues when I was pregnant, but I've struggled with some (and may yet as my hormones keep surging). My relationship with food has changed from enjoying the sheer pleasure of food to feeling like it's a chore because my little one is very demanding and wants me to eat all the time and doesn't care if I'm sick or not. I smell things that I know are not real, which is really bizarre (rubbing alcohol, stinky feet, and blood to be exact...great for an already queasy tummy, right?!). I'm facing an exhaustion unlike anything I have ever known; it's like I'm drugged all day and night. I went from a gal who usually wore makeup daily for the sheer love of it and actually gave a crap about my appearance to someone who's just lucky to roll out of bed. I don't know how, but I didn't know pregnancy was THIS uncomfortable! I was completely unprepared for all the changes to my body and emotions.

To all those women who say they didn't start showing til 4 or 5 months, I hate you all!! No, I'm only kidding, of course. :) But I had always heard you didn't really start showing for a quite a while, so imagine my surprise when my belly noticeably popped out at about 6 weeks, a mere week-and-a-half after we found out the good news. Looking at the picture compared to now, I’m like, that’s what I considered "popping out"?! But at the time, it seemed so sudden and strange. I thought I'd be able to wear regular clothes for a while, but even that early, jeans or anything other than something elastic-waisted were out of the question. Nothing felt comfortable. I was extremely bloated, which made me feel bigger than I actually was. When I'd say I felt as big as a house, people would look at me like I was crazy, but it was the feeling inside. Add the fact that I was hiding it from my job until I had my first appointment, and I felt even more self-conscious about my growing bod. I just didn't want people to know yet, and I was worried that my sudden wardrobe change and all my weird pregnancy behaviors were going to give me away before I felt ready to divulge. And one more piece to the pie. I've never had an eating disorder and have a pretty good body-image now (that wasn't always the case). However, a few years ago, I was about 30 pounds heavier than allowed me to feel good health-wise, so I'm guessing at my peak, I'll be back up to that same weight in pregnancy or higher. In a way, that was a discomforting thought because I was scared to go back to how I FELT at that weight (regardless of how I look)...and at the same time, it's comforting because I have been that weight before and know what it's like – although being pregnant is still an entirely different feeling. I had finally gotten to a point where I really was happy with all of me, inside and out. And then I got pregnant! haha 

I had to learn early on that people's tact goes out the window when you're pregnant. People feel free to say whatever they want (particularly about your weight, as well as all their advice), and even when they don't mean anything by it, it can be upsetting when you're exhausted and your hormones are in complete control of you because it's harder to let things roll off. At 6 or 7 weeks, I was already being told that I'm showing too early, getting bigger very quickly, my hips were getting wider, I must be further along than I think, maybe I'm having twins, that’s gonna be a big baby, etc. I know the people behind these comments didn't mean anything by it at all; they're as excited as I am about this baby. But I guess the comments just hit me during the wrong week when I was already extremely emotional and vulnerable. I started wondering if they were right...what if I was gaining weight too quickly and setting myself up for an unhealthy pregnancy? I was worried about that much more than how I looked. (Hint for the next time you encounter a pregnant woman: just tell her she looks amazing and leave it at that, or else you may cause her to obsess unnecessarily!)

Then I decided to do a Google search for pictures of women who were the same amount of weeks along as I was that week...wow, was that liberating!! There were women with all shapes and sizes of bellies. Some of them, like me, already had the pooch. Some didn't. I suddenly realized what I already knew in my non-pregnant life: women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. That sounds so cliche, but it's absolutely true, and it applies to pregnancy as well. Just seeing other women who were already showing made me feel tons better about my growing belly, as well as talking to a couple of friends who also showed so-called “early” when they were pregnant. I started seeing my body in a whole different light then. Despite the three pairs of pants I could comfortably wear that I was rapidly getting tired of, I started checking out my side view several times a day in the mirror and smiling every time. I had been taking belly pics already just because I knew I'd want them later, but then I started enjoying taking them! I think I'd like to make a flipbook from start to finish where it looks like my belly is getting bigger really fast. :) And after we "went public," I remember very vividly the first day my husband and I went out when I just let it all hang out, with no more need to hide behind a hoodie. MAN, it felt good!! I will never forget that outfit either. It was nothing special - just a cute, tunic-length tee with birds on it and some drawstring, cargo-length cotton pants - but I sure felt like a hot mama flaunting my baby!

A couple other things that helped me were these two blog posts (written by the same fantastic woman, Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner) about pregnancy, weight, fears, and body image:

I related to her so much. Sometimes, we as women just need to feel validated, knowing that someone, somewhere out there has experienced what we have. And when we don't feel alone in our feelings anymore, suddenly they don't hold as much power over us!

Since that time, I've had my first appointment and was told I've gained the normal amount of weight thus far, I'm eating pretty well in spite of lots of nausea (though, hey, let's face it - sometimes if something sounds good, you just have to go with if you want to eat at all), and I exercise when I can handle it, so I'm not in the least concerned now. But I'm already trying to gear myself up for later on when people feel the need to comment even more as I get bigger and rounder; I know even strangers will want to comment. It also astounds me how people already just walk up and touch my belly without asking! If it's someone I'm close to, it's perfectly fine, but if not, it can feel rather invasive, like someone you don't know suddenly hugging you with no warning, but way more personal.

We won't know for a couple more months if we're having a boy or a girl. But what I do know is that all the work I have done on myself to get me where I am now was never really just for me. There was always the thought of my future child in the back of my mind, spurring me on to become whole within myself so that I could pass this down to my child. Whatever gender my child is, I am vowing to teach her as best I can to love herself just as she is. I know all too well what it's like to struggle with a poor self-image, and while I can't 100% prevent her from ever having any confidence issues, I can do my best to encourage her, never make her feel "less than," accept her as she is - no ifs, ands, or buts - so she can do the same, and inspire her to shine with all she's got. I think that's one of the most important gifts a parent can give to their children. Having a mom who is secure in herself inside and out can go a long way in helping a daughter in particular feel that way about her own self. And if she does have some issues, which she probably will at some point (after all, middle school happens to all of us!), I hope she'll be able to learn from my experiences and be empowered by them. 

Wow, today, I sure do sound like a confident mama...but I have plenty of bouts of sheer terror over trying to raise a little person into a well-rounded individual without screwing them up. :) My own mom passed away a few years ago, which has added plenty of other raw emotions on top of the normal ones. Since her death, I've come to realize just how much she struggled with her own body image and insecurities, yet she always tried so hard to make me feel good about myself. Something she told me has always stuck with me: "If you love your child enough, they'll forgive you just about anything." My mom was scared to death when I was born, and somehow she just learned as she went, and she was right...it's not her mistakes that stick out in my mind...it's her unconditional love and her efforts to help me feel that way about myself too. And that's how I know I'll be fine.