Since entering my third trimester of pregnancy, I always have to have headphones.
I walk about half an hour to and from work every day, so headphones were always a part of the commute. But the first time I forgot them during my seventh month of pregnancy, it wasn’t just an inconvenience.
“Nice belly, baby.”
“Looking good, Mama.”
With headphones on, I was blissfully unaware of men on the street making comments about my pregnant body. Without headphones, my skin prickled with embarrassment and discomfort. The second time I forgot them, I stopped at the first convenient store I came across for a pair of overpriced headphones. The $25 was worth it to drown the comments out.
Strangers are not the only ones who want to talk about my body. “You’re so tiny!” some tell me, mere moments after someone else has said, “You’re getting so big!” How do I respond? “Thank you!” “Sure am!” “Yep!” Is tininess what I should be aspiring to in pregnancy? Or is bigness? The answer is neither; I should be aspiring to healthiness, but no one ever says, “You look so healthy!”
I’m not used to my body being a topic of conversation — it’s always been thin with no attributes to write home about. At age 15, I unexpectedly had to go to the doctor while visiting my aunt and uncle. I stepped on the scale — 114 pounds — and the nurse went to write it down. “Enjoy that,” my aunt said with a trace of smugness. “You’ll never be 114 pounds again.” She was right; I weighed 112 when I got pregnant.
My body has not changed for over a decade. I still wear some of the nicer clothes I bought in high school. I know how my body moves, what it can do, spaces it can fit into, the weight it can lift, the distance it can run. I’ve navigated massive changes in my life from 15 to 26, but my body has always been a constant. I know it intimately, and there’s comfort in that.
Pregnancy, of course, put a stop to that. This is not my body, not as I know it. Forget how it looks (although that’s fairly impossible) — every day is a discovery in things it cannot do anymore. I used to be rather skilled at navigating crowds of tourists clogging the sidewalks on Michigan Avenue, but try weaving through people with a circumference more than twice your usual size.
Every day, I can’t help thinking, “I can’t wait until I have my body back,” as if it’s missing somewhere. Logically, I know that this is my body, and it’s my body doing something more incredible than speed-walking through gaggles of tourists. I’m growing someone — another whole body — inside my own, which is herculean, if I do say so myself.
So then why do I feel so embarrassed of this body and all the pains and ugliness that come with its new mission? Why do I long for my former one, which was nothing special except that it was capable and it was mine?
Maybe that last word is the key: mine. In terms of capability, this body has my old one beat. It’s doing something much more impressive, and even after my child is born in a few weeks, I’ll still be feeding him or her every day. My body has never been more needed, nor more able to meet those needs.
But mine? Right now, my body belongs to the little person inside it, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But it also seems to belong to everyone else everywhere. Pregnancy magically gives other people the right to comment on my body, to ask about my future parenting choices, to demand information from me. It’s not just that I can’t wait to be skinny again; it’s that I can’t wait until people don’t view my body — and by extension, my life — as public property.
But maybe this is good practice. My body is not my own in pregnancy, but my life won’t be my own in parenthood. It’s completely naive for me to think that after I give birth, things will revert to how they once were. My life will be wholly changed. It’s not just about me anymore, and it would be selfish to expect that.
The most gratifying comment I’ve received while pregnant came from a friend: “You carry pregnancy really well.” When it comes to parenthood, all I can hope for is a similar outlook. My body, my sleeping hours, my alone time all will be taken from me. But my hope is that I carry it well.
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