Monday, 11 August 2008

Your body must fit within the chalk outline at all times - pregnancy is no excuse!

I'm always a bit nervous writing about this stuff, as I have thin priviledge in spades. However when I heard this interview on Nine to Noon about pregorexia and read homepaddock's post about it, I was hurtled back, mentally, to an odd encounter I had about a year ago.

I was meeting with a woman I frequently deal with in the course of my paid work. As soon as I walked in to her office she looked at me with a big smile on her face and said "you're getting fat!" She was clearly quite gleeful about this, rubbing her hands together with the pleasure that my weight gain brought her. I said "actually I'm pregnant", which was something she already knew and had known for some weeks. She responded "oh yes, I know, but you're fat!" I was so stunned by this conversation, so unable to think of any response but physical violence, that I just sat there for a moment, deflated (although still fat I presume) in the chair, and then I changed the subject and started talking about the work matter. She was considerably chirpier than usual for the rest of the day.

It seemed that to this woman weight loss was a matter of Olympic level competition, and by getting pregnant, and thus putting on weight, I was her inferior in thinness. Assumedly my expanding waistline would throw her silhouette into svelte relief, and make her look skinnier to those who would compare us. I'm pretty sure she was the only person comparing us, but I guess it must have been very important to her, to weigh less than me, for my inflation to have brought her such pleasure.

To be fair this was the only experience like this that I had during my gravid months. But I did notice all the shots of pregnant celebrities who apparently have only two stages of pregnancy; 1) the "We spy a baby bump" pre-announcement period, when magazines compete to be first to spot a bun in the oven, and 2) the glowing ship asail in full length glamour at an awards ceremony, looking radiant and beautiful, and still somehow thin everywhere but at the belly.

Where are the shots between four and seven months when people you see in the street have that awkward moment of trying to decide whether you are pregnant or just bigger? Where are the pictures of famous women with swollen ankles, unable to wear any shoes but their fluffy slippers? What about those days when everything is too big or too small and the only option is your patched dressing gown? It seems we are supposed to morph from thin with a slight bump to thin with a big bump, with no intermediate stage, and then once we have expelled the baby the bump must disappear instantly so that we are simply thin again.

Shortland Street didn't help much. Maia was about two weeks ahead of me with her pregnancy. She went from thin and throwing up a bit, to slightly thick around the waist and glowing, to balloon like (only in the belly) and overdue, all within six months. That's right - they severely truncated Jay's gestation and actually when his aunt delivered him in the back of the car he should have been about three month's premature, not a little bit late. Talk about misrepresenting the realities of pregnancy!* And of course Maia bounced back to her usual slenderness within days, despite a haemorrhage and other dramas. I guess it's not practical to expect those playing pregnant women to fatten up their arms and legs, but it would be more true to life to at least put them in some floaty clothes a bit.

It gets me down. This idea that women should weigh less, be less, take up less space in the world. And it used to be that pregnancy was a time when you could cut loose, not worry about weight gain, and eat like you'd never eaten before, without the usual barrage of unsolicited dietary advice. I was looking forward to that, until I read the What To Expect When You're Expecting diet and discovered I was only allowed to have ice cream once a month. There appears to be a growing list of foods that the pregnant are supposed to avoid; no longer just alcohol, or soft cheeses and shellfish, it now extends to any deli-type foods and even lettuce that has not been washed immediately before consumption.

So I really wasn't that surprised to hear about the rise of pregorexia, and the pressure some women feel to keep their weight down even when they are single-handedly growing another human being. It's unrealistic and dangerous, and when you're pregnant the ability to exert control over your body is even less likely. Then after you've delivered the baby your body is recovering from the trauma (and for around one in three women that trauma is equivalent to a major car accident) and you are probably breast feeding.

I've written about the mother sucking before. What I haven't really mentioned is that for some women, me among them, it is an incredibly physically draining experience which makes it hard to maintain your own bodily integrity. I now weigh a sixth less than I did before I got pregnant. After seven months of breast feeding I am eating more than I ever have before, and yet I am still losing weight. My body is not very happy about this, and I'm doing my best to arrest the slide because I know that this is a dangerous path that leads to other health problems. I don't want to lose weight, I am fully aware that it is bad for both me and Wriggly, and, as I've written before, I could do without the judging thanks very much.

And so I find it all too easy to understand the mindset of those who feel they shouldn't gain weight during pregnancy, that they need to maintain an iron grip of control over their bodies at all times. I'm trying to battle for control myself, albeit to plump my body up rather than slim it down. The process of being pregnant is so all-consumedly about a woman's changing body, about the woman as baby-maker, that it is understandable to attempt to dictate how that change will happen. Largely impossible of course, but understandable none the less. I guess the lack of control during pregnancy is useful preparation for the loss of independence and power once the baby arrives?

Perhaps if we could have some positive and true media images of women during their pregnancies, and stop commenting on other people's weight gain or loss (pregnant or otherwise), and just love our friends and whanau regardless of their size, maybe we would start eroding those messages that tell women and girls that you can never be too thin. Because you can.

* I'm really hoping they don't do the same with Alice. And it all reminds me of how in Gone With the Wind Scarlett is pregnant with her first baby for something like 11 months, so that she can give birth to the dramatic background of the fall of Atlanta (iirc).


The ex-expat said...

There's an interesting article from Salon about the Expecting diet.

I think there are actually two factors at play. The first you describe is the pressure to stay thin. But when you add in all these *extra* foods that are banned for pregnant women you've got a very dangerous mix.

"You know that ice-cream will just make you fat, and it isn't very good for the baby either."

A double slap.

Anna McM said...

I was racked with guilt during my first pregnancy - I felt so sick and exhausted that I really only ate junk food. I delivered a giant baby at the end of it - albeit a very healthy and beautiful and lovely giant baby. I really felt between a rock and a hard place. My diet was crap, but it was all I could do just to eat anything I could, get up after a crap night's sleep, go to work and collapse again at the end of the day. Now I read that maternal diet can affect kids' health later in their lives, and I feel even guiltier...

stargazer said...

i was luck to have summer pregnancies, so used both as an excuse to splurge on exotic fruits. i'd eat heaps of mangoes, cherries, rock melon. and i had this thing for baked potatoes (of course with lots of chees and butter, but lots of salad as well). i also had very bad heartburn, which meant big bowls of ice cream every night. i got totally fat with both my babies, and ended up having to try to lose 10kg about a year after each pregnancy. this was a result of the breastfeeding stopping but the apetite continuing.

but back to topic - pregnancy is a time to nurture both yourself and the growing baby. which means eating well and not having to worry about things like body image.

Azlemed said...

it suxes that while pregnant we are still expected to conform to images of what pregnant women should look like, I was a size 22-24 when pregnant with my first, my issues were that I just look fat and that I couldnt buy nice clothes to fit, I have slimmed down a bit since then, and with my last two prenancies I have lost weight while pregnant, this wasnt a huge issue though as I had plenty to lose, and I am still losing it while breastfeeding mr 8 months.

the list of what you shouldnt do/eat seems to get bigger each time I have had a baby and its actually getting really scary how controlled the what you eat thing is.

My mum was lucky in some ways, she ate what she wanted didnt care how she looked and generally got to embrace being pregnant, oh I wish we were able to enjoy some of that freedom, not that I am advocating being irresponsible.


Azlemed said...

I watched how to look good naked during my last pregnancy, that inspired me to get some photos taken of me and my bump.

I have found that there is even less support for breastfeeding than being pregnant, even down to what sort of underwear you can buy....

If you have bigger boobs you have to buy nana bras, yay thats a good way to encourage women to embrace breastfeeding, Hot milk has helped but their bras arent cheap to buy.

why do we as women get suxed into the whole I am skinnier than you thing, and the obsession with loosing all pregnancy weight as soon as possible.

Hey Julie, maybe its cos wriggly is a boy, my wee fella drinks heaps more than his sisters did.... just eat more ice cream.... you are allowed to lol... :)

Violet said...

There's a lotta calcium in ice cream, y'know.
When I was pregnant and still working, I ended up eating lots of meat pies and fish'n'chips, because cold meat sandwiches were off limits and my food allergies prevented me from eating eggs.
My kid's turned out beautiful and healthy so far though.

Azlemed said...

so why arent we allowed ice cream when pregnant? I was told to not have snow freeze but didnt see ice cream on the list,

it was one of the few things that didnt give me heartburn,

its really sad that we still think the getting bigger while pregnant is wrong yet gaining 8-10kg is considered healthy...

And only sometimes are you lucky enough to lose that weight afterwards....

seems you cant win either way really cos as a society you have to be thin to be sexy, and that includes pregnancy

Julie said...

I think the issue with ice cream is that it's not Super Healthy, rather than any link to listeria or other nasties (which is why so many foods are now on the dangerous list during pregnancy, including Snow Freeze). My sister told me she had a Magnum a day during her second pregnancy, and that made me feel much better and relax a lot more. I'm eating lots of ice cream again now in my bid to get back up to a healthy weight for me.

I had horrendous heartburn too, and was told by my midwife not to take gaviscon. I was really angry when I was looking through a Little Treasures mag after the heartburn had passed and saw an ad for Gaviscon, complete with pregnant mother-to-be. I lost so much sleep and had so much pain, completely unnecessarily. Argh!

Azlemed said...

I got my dr to prescribe titralac for heartburn which helped a lot, gaviscon is ok, I was told to not take quickeze....

glad to hear you are eating ice cream lol.... my biggest craving during month 4 was coke and raspberry.... hows that for not healthy, then I went on to crave raspberyy liquorice, by month 8 it was spearmint milkshakes,

my father in law (who is a dr) reckons the body craves what it needs so its ok to give in to it in small amounts, so i just used that theory,

People aslo judge on if you are taking medications while pregnant, I have taken anti depressants through each pregnancy and breastfeeding, the problem is there is not a lot of research done on effects cos of the ethics so you just have to decide on a course which suits you, but a lot of people think they can judge your choices while pregnant,