The little alarm bells started tripping off for me at my first appointment to the doctor during this pregnancy. There was a rather large poster in the elevator and the same one in the waiting room of the women’s floor of the clinic. And yet, again, there was the same poster in the exam room. It was a picture of a pregnant woman dressed in white against a black background and it said “No one likes to be rushed, especially babies.” It had a list next to it of the top ten reasons to carry a baby to full term. Curious about the push to advertise carrying a baby to full term, I asked my pregnancy practitioner. (Can I just say for a moment how pleased I was to find that there was a certified nurse practitioner/ midwife who works at our clinic? No doctor necessary, thanks!) She told me they had decided to run this campaign to push full-term pregnancy because lately many, many women have been asking and expecting to be able to induce labor or have a c-section as soon as they hit 37 weeks, and in some cases, apparently, even sooner. She said she had a patient who “had heard” of a friend whose baby was born at 34 weeks and was just fine, so that’s what she wanted.
I was befuddled. But why? Wouldn’t women want the baby to be born when he or she is ready? “Apparently,” she told me, “women are more and more pulling away from wanting to take that last lap. Maybe it’s too uncomfortable? Who knows? But we realized women weren’t understanding the risks that would bring to the baby, so the posters were made!”
Uncomfortable? Was that really the answer? I mean, women have been uncomfortable in pregnancy since the dawn of man. It must be more than that. Then I remembered another time my little alarm bells started sounding (yes, they go off quite a bit, tricky little devils). Over the Christmas holidays, we were visiting my parents. After coming back from the maternity store rather deflated, I was explaining how nothing looked right and everything was so tight. These clothes were ridiculous; the slightest little lump was accentuated (and I don’t mean the cute bump in the belly!). I did manage to find a few items that made me feel attractive while pregnant, but even those still make me aware of every curve. My mother said something that has been playing over in my mind, “We never had tight clothes when I was pregnant. You could wear loose fitting things and the clothes just flowed. I always felt relaxed.”
I’m 28 weeks along now and I wish I could feel relaxed! (I’m only relaxed in my pjs! I so wish I could wear them all the time, but I digress…) In Italy, they have a phrase: “bella figura.” The culture tends itself to a display of the beautiful as almost an art form. Translated it literally means “beautiful figure” and it’s used to explain many of the customs of women (and men) in Italy. I see that same sentiment bleeding into US culture. It comes with the sexualization of the culture. As a woman, you have to be the “babe” – to be able to look good in skinny jeans and red heels. You have to look the part of the super model in order to be womanly… Well, that’s what they tell us anyway. I bought into it like many girls; eating less and less, trying to get that lean appearance that looked good no matter what I wore. Of course by “good” we must mean “sweet, but mainly sexy.”
Yet, we’ve grown now. The once teenagers with eating disorders and warped sense of self are now adults designing maternity apparel. As women we have demands on us all the time. If we are single, we are constantly being set up on dates or asked if we have a man yet. They want us to be bold and successful in careers yet stay soft and feminine enough to remain attractive. If we stay at home with our kids, we try to not stand out in the crowd of professional moms. We try to look presentable, but usually receive the snub looks and fake smiles anyway. If we are working moms, we know we must be professional and yet you would think you had a second head growing off your shoulder if there happens to be a messy little handprint that got you right as you were leaving the house. (Of course you didn’t even notice it until coworkers started staring at it like they had never seen the effects of a messy child before…)
So I stand in front of the mirror, with my belly protruding (yes, already feeling like a huffalump). I caught myself trying to smooth out my sides. Ack! What am I doing?! Am I so wrapped in this need for bella figura myself that I am trying to look sleek in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy? I’m not saying you can’t look fit, cute and even sexy pregnant, but the prominent word there should be pregnant! “Sure, we (culture) will accept you wanting to be a mother, but don’t you let your figure “go”! You must hold on to that “hottie” within in you … yes, even while pregnant.” I’m not talking about just being healthy – I’m talking about the need to be pregnant, but act like you’re not. This is the pressure that accepts your motherhood but only under the condition that you don’t fully embrace it. No wonder women are hesitant to go the “full 40”! That would definitely push the look of the bella figura.
Well, I’ve had it! I’m tired of not being relaxed and trying to still “suck it in” to look slender with a humongous belly! Will someone, please, Make. It. Stop. I am tired of the pressure even coming from within my own head that I need to fit a certain image. I want to scream out to the world, “guess what? I’m pregnant, and I love it. Get over it!” I raise my glass of water to all pregnant women around the globe. Here’s to wider hips and bursting bellies! Here’s to larger bras and stretch marks! Here’s to all the things that do not fit into the image of bella figura but very much encompass bella mama! Here’s to loose clothes and yummy, healthy foods! Here’s to swollen ankles and cramping calves! Here’s to fiery heartburn and dull back aches! Here’s to nausea and chubby sides! Here’s to baby flutters and kicks to the rib! Here’s to every curve, every bump and lump that makes your pregnant self you. Because YOU are beautiful. Baby bump, stretchy marks, lumpy sides, weepy emotions, and all – you are beautiful just as you are. Don’t you dare let anyone tell you differently. It doesn’t take a bella figura to bring a new human person into this world, it takes a mother. Shake off the world’s pressure with me and let us be truly proud of our motherhood!
For further reading on the greatness of womanhood, please check out my book “Woman, How Great Thou Art.”
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