‘Pregorexia’ and Postpartum Priorities

What does it say about a culture if when a baby’s born, the mom’s tummy size gets as much attention as the baby?

The British magazine OK! came under fire earlier this summer for running a feature story on Kate Middleton’s “post-baby weight loss regime.” Even as moms around the world tweeted and blogged their appreciation of Kate’s post-baby appearance, in which she seemed not to make any attempt to disguise her postpartum tummy, OK! magazine, like any good tabloid, tried to appeal to readers’ venality by promising details of her “diet and shape-up plan” and a (supposed) interview with Kate’s trainer, quoted on the cover, saying, “She’s super-fit—her stomach will shrink straight back.”

Another British tabloid, The Daily Star, recently reported the story of a London woman, Holly Griffiths, who gave birth to a healthy baby after a frighteningly thin pregnancy; Griffiths, who was diagnosed with anorexia at age 13, posted pictures of herself online weighing just 114 pounds at 8 months pregnant. Several years ago, an American woman, Maggie Baumann, restricted her weight gain so severely that her baby suffered intrauterine growth restriction and, after birth, seizures and attention deficit problems, which her doctor suggested “may have been linked with poor fetal nutrition.”

[…]

It’s impossible for me to reflect on the cultural phenomenon of ‘skinny pregnant’ without reflecting on the place I currently live: Malawi, Africa. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity clinic not far from my home. As I toured the small but well-equipped facility, I noticed, as I always do, how the women looked. Nearly always, they look too thin, and even the ones who gave birth just that morning have barely a belly to show for it. I stepped in close to peek at one woman’s freshly-born baby; we caught eyes and she grinned. I was stunned at the whiteness of her gums: a sign of severe anemia. Because a woman’s need for iron doubles during pregnancy—and because getting enough iron in the diet is a constant problem for most women in Malawi—she was depleted. Health experts have identified anemia as a major risk factor for maternal mortality, so it’s really no wonder that here it’s a compliment to tell a pregnant woman that she’s looking good and fat.

I’m not sharing this as a guilt trip; the grown-up pregnancy version of “Clean your plate because kids are starving around the world.” (“Gain lots of weight because pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa can’t!”) I tell this because here, the reality that life is short and often difficult is rarely varnished over with distractions.

Several months ago I sat with a group of women on the floor with a mother who had buried her newborn baby that morning; it was a ritual they were all too familiar with. At home, my own children ran around the yard, playing and laughing, and I realized with a start how quickly the time had passed since they were babies. Any time I spent worrying about what having them would do to my body was wasted time, I realized.

Life—the baby’s life, the mother’s life—is too good a gift to be frittered away fretting over the shape of the body that so miraculously brings it forth. Care for the body, but celebrate that life.

{Read the post in full where it first appeared at Christianity Today}

Pregnancy as Hospitality

NYMag’s Vulture blog had this post on how the movie posters from the What to Expect When You’re Expecting movie are “deeply disturbing.” And they are, look–

And that’s one of the less-bad ones.

What’s frightening about these photos is how ridiculously skinny and airbrushed these pregnant women are, like the pregnancy is some kind of abdominal accessory.

Make no mistake, “skinny pregnant” is a thing. I get blog hits every day based on those kinds of search terms. When I was first pregnant, I read, with great interest, this article about pregnant New Yorkers who worked out like crazy and counted every ounce. I learned of this exercise program aimed at preventing and reversing the “mummy tummy.” And I also found the oddly titled Pregnancy Without Pounds.

Because, I’m ashamed to say, I was afraid of getting bigger.

A number of times now, I’ve been asked how I went from disordered in my eating and body image to joyfully (if occasionally) consuming pie for breakfast.

I’m never quite sure how to answer the question. It’s complicated.

But there is one thing that I can point to for sure. Wait, two things, actually:

Oh, I didn’t start out well. I fretted about getting a belly (will it ever go away?) and confessed to my husband that I “just didn’t want to gain weight.” And he said:

“If you don’t gain weight, our baby will die.”

{Ouch.}

And so I did the best I could. I ate. (And managed not to puke it all up.) I got bigger. And I had a really, really beautiful baby. I nursed him. And as I nursed him, I felt a powerfully strong sense of our connection. To feed him, I had to feed myself. I wanted him to get bigger and stronger. I had a context for seeing feeding and weight gain as unquestioned positives, and to make that happen, I had to feed myself so I could feed him.

Having my baby showed me my unmistakeable connectedness.

To me, that’s the thing that’s scary about the obsession with pregnancy skinniness, which I see reinforced everywhere–on Facebook, in conversations, and (certainly) among the tabloids, which seem always to be screaming about how skinny this or that celebrity just X number of weeks after having a baby, and now, these stupid movie posters.

The obsession with pregnancy skinniness spectacularly misses the point, which is that women’s bodies are capable of

making room.

hosting new life.

welcoming babies, those nearest of strangers.

On Being (or wanting to be) ‘Skinny Pregnant’

Twice in the last week I’ve been asked how I went from disordered in my eating and body image to joyfully (if occasionally) consuming pie for breakfast. And while I’m never quite sure how to answer the question–because no one, simple answer could really suffice and because I’m afraid of boring everyone by going into too much detail, for example:

(“and then there was the time I thought my shorts felt tight so I cut them into shreds with fabric scissors, and I realized ‘I may have a problem,’ which reminds me of the time I tried to live entirely off of Sugar-Free Jell-O, which made me think, ‘THIS can’t be good!’ which reminds me of how I was too chicken to use REAL laxatives so I just ate a LOT of prunes…”)

See? No one wants to go there. Not even me!

But there is one thing that I can point to for sure. Wait, two things, actually:Yeah, I know. Cliche, right?

In Waiting for Birdy, Catherine Newman talks about how pregnancy and parenthood brought forth all kinds of true and applicable cliches from her, such that she considered making pitches to Hallmark. I think that is kind of true for me, too. Eating disorders can be very, very isolating. If I was going to refuse to feed myself adequately, the person I would hurt worst was myself.

When I became pregnant, that was no longer true. I’m ashamed to say that at first, with my first pregnancy, I really didn’t want to gain weight. I didn’t even realize that “skinny pregnant” was a thing.

(I do remember reading this article about pregnant New Yorkers who worked out like crazy and counted every ounce and learning of this exercise program aimed at preventing and reversing the “mummy tummy.” And I learned of the oddly titled Pregnancy Without Poundsall of which taught me that “skinny pregnant” WAS a thing.)

Anyway, I was one of those pregnant women who get nauseous from breathing air and as it turned out, it was hard for me to put on weight at all. Apparently, I take after both grandmas, whose pregnant bodies were of the basketball-under-the-shirt variety, like so:

{Hey! That basketball is my mom!}

Even though I’m pretty sure this grandma, at least, stayed skinny partly because she was doing plenty of this throughout her pregnancies:{I know smoking is bad for you and all, but she sure made it look glam, no?}

Nonetheless, I fretted about getting a belly (will it ever go away?) and confessed to my husband that I “just didn’t want to gain weight.”

“If you don’t gain weight, Aidan will die.”

Well. That was painful.

And so I did the best I could. I ate. (And managed not to puke it all up.) I got bigger. And I had a really, really beautiful baby, whom I nursed. And as I nursed him, I felt a powerfully strong sense of our connection. To feed him, I had to feed myself. I wanted him to get bigger and stronger. I had a context for seeing feeding and weight gain as unquestioned positives. From there, I felt like exploring how my eating connected me to other people–to my son and my husband, to my neighbors and to the people who grew my food.

Having my baby showed me my unmistakeable connectedness.

I think that’s the thing that’s scary about the obsession with pregnancy skinniness, which I see reinforced everywhere–on Facebook, in conversations, and (certainly) among the tabloids, which seem always to be screaming about how skinny this or that celebrity just X number of weeks after having a baby. The obsession misses the point, which is that women’s bodies are capable of making room for, carrying, and bringing forth a new life.

{Grandma was so ridiculously beautiful.}

That is–or can be–a powerful, miraculous, transforming thing. It was for me. And it had nothing to do with being (or not being) “skinny pregnant.”

For once, it had very little to do with me at all. (And that was a good thing.)

And now for some more pie.