I barely remember a time when I was not self-conscious of my stomach. I remember being in the fifth grade, hanging out at recess (because we were ten and too cool to play or run or do anything besides hang around and maybe play four square) when one of my friends turned to me.”No offense,” she said. “But your stomach sticks out.” This was my first introduction to the fact that nothing good ever happens after “No offense.” I nodded like, “No doy, I’ve lived with this stomach my whole life so I already know,” and pretended I didn’t care while I burned with shame. (I’ve since seen photos and home videos of myself at that age and I’m seriously perplexed because I cannot see a stomach situation no matter how hard I search for one.)
In my 20’s I worked as an occupational therapist at the University of North Carolina Hospital, where every day, I wore the required powder blue, ill-fitting hospital-issued scrubs, which were comfortable and had ample pockets, but did nothing for my figure. I’m five feet tall, my build is athletic, and I’ve always stored my extra weight in my stomach. Some random things I remember about that job: Taking stupidly long lunches, paging my favorite coworker to the proctology department (because butt doctors are funny, obvs), and the time the chief neurology resident interrupted my session with a patient to tell her she had multiple sclerosis and left the room as abruptly as he’d entered it. Also: Every couple of months someone was asking when I was due.
Who were these socially awkward idiots!? you might be asking. They were just… people. Nurses. Family members of my patients. A willowy resident with shiny, long brown hair.
Every time, I was catapulted into an abyss of self-loathing. I’d spend the next 24-48 hours hating myself because a stranger made an assumption about my body. I’d feel ugly, embarrassed, unworthy. I’d wonder how it was possible I worked out pretty much every free second I had and I still didn’t look how I wanted to look. I’d stare at myself in the mirror and tug and pinch at my perceived imperfections and fantasize about how happy I’d be if only I didn’t look so bloated all the time. It didn’t occur to me that there were worse things than looking pregnant when you weren’t.
It would be years until I realized I needed to focus on my ideal mental state and not my ideal weight.
In the meantime, I ordered new scrub pants (low rise, Dickies, size petite small with a much better pocket situation than my free hospital pants) and no one asked me about my stomach for a while.
And then I actually had a couple of babies. Being pregnant was a total joy because I never had to suck my stomach in. For the first and only time in my life, it was tight as a drum. It stuck out and people thought it was adorable. I decided heaven was pregnancy without the sensation of a sandbag pressing down on your pelvic floor, unrelenting fatigue, insomnia, and nausea. During my second pregnancy, people were curious about whether I was having twins or even triplets. It was annoying but not soul-crushing like the pregnancy questions I got when I wasn’t pregnant.
And then the other night, an acquaintance asked if I was pregnant… And I was grateful for the question. I made a video to explain why: