I confess i'm a huge Instagram fan. Beautiful pictures inspire me, from the restoration of 1950's farmhouses, to vintage interiors, new raw vegan meals, to world travel with kiddies in tow. I enjoy reading the captions carefully crafted by those that i follow (who doesn't love a little peek into other people lives?). I'll admit it. Scrolling my Instagram feed is my guilty pleasure before going to bed at night.
It may just be because i'm pregnant (baby number 4 due July) that i'm drawn to the seemingly endless beautiful pictures of pregnant women who are constantly popping up on my feed daily at the moment.
Or maybe its because summer has arrived. Warm sunshine sending pregnant women racing for bikinis to pose with colourful foliage, and ocean views as a backdrop.
These women appear positively glowing, confident, exuding health and happiness with tanned shapely bumps, sporting sun dresses with thoughtful expressions and protective hands on their bumps.
Maternity photography is now a huge industry, women, couples and families keen to capture precious memories before their new babies arrive. But what if our pregnant bodies don't look like this, our bodies are not shimmering with hormones, or sporting perfectly formed baby bumps? How do these pictures affect our self image? How do they make us feel about our own pregnant bodies?
As a midwife who has delivered over a 1000 babies around the world i have met amazing women with all body sizes and shapes, from the large Samoan mama's in NZ, to the petite young mothers in Africa and the beach body beautiful in Australia. All unique in how their bodies have changed and grown during pregnancy. All beautiful and incredible because their bodies are doing the miraculous job of growing new little human beings ready to be born into this world.
Some pregnant women love their new looks, their growing bumps, fuller breasts, a new glowing complexion, glossy hair. They feel sexy, attractive, bursting with self confidence. Others however can feel overwhelmed about how their bodies are changing and expanding all completely beyond their control.
Some women sail through pregnancy, maintain normal lives, continue their gym and yoga schedules, their work and social lives remain the same. For others pregnancy is an anxious, uncomfortable, even painful 9 months, waddling between chairs, sofa's and beds, struggling with abundant pregnancy signs and symptoms. For many women the struggle is real but they hesitate to discuss their concerns for fear of not being seen to be grateful for the opportunity to be pregnant. Or they may lack a close circle of girl friends with whom they can confide and compare notes.
Pregnancy isn’t always a walk in the park. Beyond the flowing maternity dress or super trendy maternity dungarees, for some there are compression tights, pelvic and perineal supports, stretch marks, varicose veins, body hair, hemorrhoids, aches and pains and a debilitating nausea. All can contribute to a negative self image, low confidence and a reluctance to remove clothes in front of partners and friends. I have pregnant friends who quiver at the very mention of beaches and swimming pools.
As women writers I feel we are compelled to help others feel more normal so here goes, a few home truths about my pregnancy and body.
A few home truths about my pregnancy
I am 36, and this is my 4 th pregnancy, i have previously enjoyed their experience of pregnancy but now 4th time around, with an array of ‘complaints’, i am struggling. I have abdominal separation, a pelvic floor which was recently given a 2/5 by a friend who is a pelvic health physio. I'm working on it though. I have varicose veins which are weaving their way across my right leg. They have gotten progressively worse during each pregnancy but this time arrived much earlier, (by 10 weeks). Doing battle with my super tight thigh high compression stockings has become my daily getting dressed routine. Hardly a glamorous scene, my husband watching me getting dressed, wearing my big industrial blue gloves (apparently they aid the process), swearing at the bloody things, as i adopt all manner of un-dignifying positions in an attempt to put them on.
Trust me, sharing your feelings with others is one of the very best thing you can do. You will be amazed at how many women you know will have experienced the same and knowing that helps you to feel normal, even better if you have others with whom you can share a laugh. I can now comfortably laugh about my pelvic floor (but not too hard of course). My little group of girl friends have cried with laughter (in love) at each others stories and anecdotes. I do suggest picking your moments, because starting a conversation in your work staff room following a Starbucks coffee run may not be the best time to discuss labial varicose veins. But discussing these issues despite there often being no miracle cures can provide great reassurance that it's not just you and your body.
Knowing that all the above are in fact very common pregnancy related complaints and that most will disappear within 6 weeks of delivery is good to know. And for those complaints that don't resolve it's important we don't accept them as ' normal ' consequences of pregnancy and birth and that you are proactive to seek help from your midwife, physio, family doctor, naturopath and other medical professionals.
So despite my body not being in the best shape this pregnancy, I may just have to don that bikini, peel away those compression tights and supports and have a picture or two taken (just for personal viewing), because this is the very last time I will be pregnant and despite how I feel at the moment, this body of mine is doing an incredible job and I am very very grateful for it working so hard on my behalf. And however my body looks and feels following this last pregnancy, I will do my very best to feel positive.
Pregnancy is a special time. The building of a new life within women's bodies is miraculous. I'm still in complete awe of the process. However, even charmed pregnancies are, at times, hard work, requiring extraordinary levels of physical and emotional strength and resilience. It may not be portrayed on Instagram but take comfort from the fact you are not alone.
Pregnant women have different physical and emotional dimensions and needs.. So give the pregnant women around you the compliments, support and love they deserve as you have no idea just how much they might need it.
And finally if you love instagram like i do check out @4thtribodies and @empoweredbirthproject for very real/uncut pictures of beautiful pregnant women before and after birth.
Would love to hear about your experiences and its affect on your relationship with your body during or after pregnancy!
Thanks for popping in