Do you remember that playground chant, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” While it might be a fun thing to say, those words couldn’t be further from the truth. When I was eight years old, your body comments hurt me, and your words hurt me now.
Recently, I was having a casual conversation with someone I had just met, and they mentioned that something might be useful to me because I hadn’t had my baby yet. UM. EXCUSE ME?! I resisted the urge to snap back with a rude comment. Instead, I said, “Oh, no, I have a baby.” There was an awkward silence, and a comment about not having had their coffee yet, but no apology.
This comment by itself isn’t much, but for me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like many women, I’ve been asked about my (non-)pregnancy before. A few years back, two co-workers asked me (in two days, no less) if I was expecting. After the first, I was shocked, and after the second, I was downright embarrassed and more than a little angry. So when the second co-worker came to me a few weeks later, telling me the same thing had happened to her, I really wanted to just tell her that karma was a you-know-what. But I didn’t. Instead, I told her that I was sorry, that the body comments shouldn’t have happened, and that I totally understood why it would be embarrassing for someone to publicly address something she was self-conscious about. You know why?
Because I believe strongly that as women and mothers, we should be lifting each other up, not pushing each other down.
We all come in different shapes and sizes; it’s a fact. Plus, it’s well-known that body comments are taboo in our society, so why on earth does it keep happening?
When I was pregnant, I knew there would be comments about my body like, “Oh, my gracious, you are looking tremendously big!” when I had only gained 12 pounds. Or, “Oh, I would have thought you would be bigger by now,” to which I said, “I’m sorry to disappoint you!” And, “You’re having a hard time walking!” after I had gained 15 pounds of water weight due to preeclampsia.
I expected that people would try to touch my belly, and would offer unsolicited advice. I didn’t expect that people would tell their birth horror stories at my work baby shower or ask me intimate questions about my birth plan. And I didn’t know that the intrusive questions and comments wouldn’t be over when I had the baby.
I might have kept quiet before, but this time, I just thought to myself, enough is enough. I am done with the judgmental stares and the assumptions about my lifestyle or my personal choices. I’m speaking up this time.
When you say things to someone about their body, think about this: you are not them. You have not lived their life. You don’t know their memories or their story. You don’t know their personal struggles. You don’t know their fears or their pain.
You don’t know how deep your words cut.
I am the one who has to be with my body every minute of every day. I am the one who threw up (up to 6 times a day) every single day from 6 weeks pregnant until our son was born. I am the one who saw and felt my body change into something unrecognizable over the course of 2 weeks when I had preeclampsia. I am the one who had our son at 3 am, 43 hours after my first dose of labor-inducing drugs. I am the one who was bleeding on the table and felt those stitches every time I moved, for eight weeks. And now, I am the one who has to face myself in the mirror and come to terms with what I see. Not you.
When you look at me, you can’t see these things
You also can’t see that I was up at 3 am pumping because I’m struggling with my milk supply, that my back hurts from sleeping in the recliner holding my son for hours, or that sometimes I’m so stressed about work that I feel like quitting.
Even if we were close friends, you might not know all of these things. And here’s the thing: I’m not the only mom who is struggling, who is tired, who wishes they had the time and the energy to exercise. Motherhood is hard enough already; why do you feel the need to make my day harder?