How Pregnancy Healed My Body Image

As I sit down to write to you today, my “baby” is three years old. I remember my therapist once telling me years ago that I would experience difficulties with being pregnant due to my body image struggles at the time. She understandably thought that if I felt as “fat” as I did then, I would only feel “fatter” and less comfortable when pregnant.

Today, I’m happy to report she was mistaken.

Yes, there was a time in my life when I turned away from the idea of motherhood. Those who knew me well insisted I was born to be a mother but the self-doubt remained. I had both a fear of codependency and a strong focus on my education and career.

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My Creative Journey to Recovery

In 2011, while attending my first Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) training intensive, I discovered through Dr. Lucia Capacchione’s methods that I certainly did want to be a mother—I always did.

Desire to heal my own poor body image played a large part in becoming an expressive arts coach.  To my surprise, during training I experienced my “fat” belly transform into a pregnant belly. I was even more surprised to find that, once I discovered my inner mother, the “fat” feeling temporarily went away.

Those of you who have suffered from an eating disorder know what I mean when I talk about that “fat” feeling. The feeling that overcomes us—even when we know we are not fat. 

A “fat attack” can happen at any time and can feel very real.  No matter what other people tell us, it feels almost impossible to will ourselves out of it.  And it can take many forms.  The sudden feeling of your stomach bulging out. A sense of excess, like a pillow stuck beneath your shirt Abruptly jiggly arms or thighs that create creases in jeans, noticeable only to you.  No one can convince us it’s not real. It feels real, it looks real, and it’s a painful distraction from life. 

Creating Your Own Path to Recovery

While I’m not you and don’t experience life through your eyes, I can share what I’ve learned throughout my own recovery process.  It’s possible to “decode” fat feelings and gain a better understanding of what they’re communicating to us.

Everything during my CJEA training intensive illuminated my desire to have a child—and I knew there was no turning back from my heart’s desire.

By the time I became pregnant, I had been in eating disorder recovery for 12 years.  I had made it a practice not to weigh myself but decided to face the scale again as a way of desensitizing its trigger effect. As I watched the scale go up—sometimes in surprising, unexplainable jumps—I had to process and accept this lack of control. And to embrace the beauty of being in this place.

All that remained, as it does for any of us in recovery, was Self-care on every level.

Self-care on every level includes mental, emotional, and physical. It’s fighting the critic at every turn. Not falling for lies or running from feelings.  For me, it also meant remaining active, but not overly active. It meant eating well, but not “too” well. It meant listening to my body—and to my heart. It meant continuing my inner work, journaling and getting emotionally prepared (as much as any of us can) for this new chapter in life.

I was surprised once again in the first trimester, realizing if I ate strictly per my hunger signals, I would not have eaten enough. Having been an intuitive eater for many years, I was accustomed to eating when my body was hungry. But with morning sickness, this became confusing. Nothing sounded particularly appetizing and hunger signals were muted by my constant underlying nausea.

In many ways, this experience now reminds me of what my clients with anorexia experience.

Eating frequently and adequately helped. And, because I was relatively far along in my recovery, I was aware when I needed to eat, even in the absence of traditional hunger signals. As the first trimester ended, the morning sickness ceased and my hunger signals became clear again. I knew what my body wanted and I nourished it proudly. Incidentally, I was never once concerned that I might restrict during pregnancy. It simply wasn’t an option.  

Embracing Growth in All Its Forms

And so my body grew and grew. Old men called me fat and strangers often asked me if I was having twins.  Besides the fat comments, which admittedly were obnoxious, I walked through my pregnancy unaffected. 

Better yet, I absolutely loved—adored, even—my pregnant body. I’d never liked my belly more. I felt so much a woman: a powerful being, a strong, connected human, tremendously loved.

I was healthy and strong, despite gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. A reminder of how dangerous numbers, weight charts, and cut-offs can be—instant fodder for the inner critic. But I knew my body was right, not wrong. Luckily, I had a good Ob/Gyn who agreed.

Giving birth and holding my son for the first time clarified the saying, “you will never know a love like this.”

After birth comes yet another shape, another body. We always hear how “the pounds just melt away” when you nurse a baby. But you don’t stop looking pregnant immediately. Yes, you burn more calories when nursing, and I certainly felt hungrier. However, as my midwife explained, about 25% of women will maintain their weight and hold on to additional adipose tissue to produce milk. Despite this, I chose to nurse for two years because it was tremendously important to me, and such a lovely experience. A choice I made over “losing weight.”

For some women, it does come down to what will allow them to go back to their “pre-pregnancy weight.” I ignored the media spotlighting the latest actress who “lost her baby weight” in some ridiculous amount of time. Knowing the danger of diets during recovery, I refused restriction in any form.

All that remained, as it does for any of us in recovery, was Self-care on every level.

During this time, I often felt angry that women couldn’t just BE—not even right after giving birth. I felt angry that even well-respected universities were doing research on how quickly mothers could lose weight by prescribing extremely low-calorie diets while nursing.

Well, I say it’s time to reject these maddening cultural influences. It’s time to embrace ourselves as women, in our natural state of being. To accept—and love—the fat on our bodies. To have pride in the fact that we can grow humans inside of us. To delight in our strength to nourish and keep our children alive.

It’s time for society to stop brainwashing us with sick ideals. To stop trying to convince us we must fit someone else’s mold of beauty and health when that mold is so outrageously limiting and disempowering.

My body eventually began to take a new form again, not a minute before I stopped nursing. As women, it’s important to respect our hormones. As all you ladies know, they are powerful. They are also, once again, a reminder that we are not in charge.

All that remains, once again, is Self-care on every level.

The result of what our bodies look like, and how much space they occupy, is out of our hands. Acceptance and love, however, is not. I have a newfound respect for my body and a deeper trust than I have ever had. My body is amazing. I look at my son and am constantly reminded of what a miracle life is. I no longer feel fat. I feel full sometimes. Bloated at times.  But not fat. That feeling is gone. And I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t done that deeper work and discovered what that feeling was communicating, it would still be there. 

Exercises to Nurture Your Body Image

If you struggle with your body image and are sometimes overcome by “fat attacks,” the next time you feel “fat,” try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What was I thinking about right before I began to feel “fat”?
  • What was I doing right before I began to feel “fat”?
  • Where do I feel it in my body?

If you have yet to decode the feeling, take it a step further with a CJEA activity. In your journal, using your non-dominant hand, draw a picture of your body, including where in your body you feel the fat sensation.

Next, interview the feeling and answer with your non-dominant hand:

  • What are you?
  • How do you feel?
  • What makes you feel that way?

You may be surprised by the answers you find. For additional resources and help please contact me

 

Marlena TannerComment