This fall, I married a man quite a bit older than me (cough, 20 years older than me), and due to the fact that I want my husband around for our future kids, for as long as possible, we’ve decided to start a family right away. So now, whilst trying to conceive, I’m experiencing all of the typical pre-mom worries, like what if my baby isn’t healthy? And how many pre-natal vitamins are too many pre-natal vitamins? And is this shade of pink too bright for a nursery? You know, all of the thoughts that make me a socially-acceptable, maternally-inclined woman.
But then, I’m also experiencing all of the less-than-maternal worries a lady is not supposed to cop to, except perhaps within the sacred confines of a girls' night out: What if being a parent irreparably sidetracks my career? Or my sex life? What if I wake up one morning and realize I was never meant to be a mom at all? What if my dog tries eating my infant?!
They are all pretty scary questions. But pretty common, too, I think — despite society’s efforts to convince women that our value lies in our willingness to breed, no pesky personal-fulfillment questions asked. The good news? I know I’m not alone in my child-rearing reservations. I know that being 100 percent certain about creating a human is probably not a realistic expectation, ever. So, despite these taboo concerns, I’m able to go about the baby-making largely guilt free.
Except for one thing.
What I spend most of my time thinking about is not, actually, how a kid will affect my career prospects or whether I’ll regret becoming a parent — I wish such things were my focus. It’s not even the health of my future child that I dwell on, despite being aware that up to 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Rather, it’s something that's so trivial in comparison, I’m embarrassed to admit it’s the case. The truth — and the subject I’d rather not broach even within the sacred confines of girls' night out — is that I worry a lot about my figure.
I’m not a petite girl. I already don’t meet the idealized standard of beauty. I spent my adolescence coming to terms with that fact. And now, I’m about to make a life choice that will likely take me even further away from this standard.
I understand how superficial this all makes me — to be concerned with the affect bringing life into the world will have on the tightness of my stomach and the width of my hips. And I understand how callous it makes me, too, considering the 6.1 million women struggling with infertility who’d love nothing more than to watch their bellies grow with babies. And I regret the guilt that comes with harping on looks instead of the miracle that is making life. I really do.
And yet, I catch myself worrying over how I’ll monitor calories once I’m pregnant, and fearing judgmental side-eye from frenemies if I don’t lose the weight post labor. I lament the pressure put on new moms to get back in shape (read: the popping up of surgical procedures with names like “mommy-tuck,” and a constant barrage of stories like this). But in the very next moment, I find myself researching jogging strollers instead of car seats. And I have — without even expecting a baby yet, mind you — asked my husband what he’ll think of me if I become unrecognizable post knock-up. For the record, he finds pregnant women sexy, and he cares a lot more about soccer than the circumference of my waist. My neurosis isn’t coming from him.
But it’s there. And it’s a neurosis of epidemic proportions. I’m thinking of celebrities like Jillian Michaels, who adopted two children for fear of ruining her body. And I’m thinking of social surrogacy, a rising trend whereby women pay about $100,000 for a gestational carrier, rather than risk their own figures. It’s a decision that both Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker were suspected of — and widely scrutinized for.
And the most horrific part of it all? I find myself judging, too.
When I read about women hiring someone else to carry their kid for reasons purely cosmetic, I don’t sympathize like I should — as evidenced by this entire post — but I scoff and think: “I could never do that.” Because here’s the [maddening, exhausting] thing: the pressure society puts on women to look a certain way — even after creating new life — is matched only by the pressure society puts on women to prioritize motherhood above all else, including every "selfish" inclination toward looking good.
These two expectations are often, it seems to me, at odds. (Didn’t attend that lose-the-baby-weight barre class? Feel guilty, because you’re not doing enough to get fit. Attended that lose-the-baby-weight barre class? Feel guilty, because it means you took some “me time” and abandoned your children.) I never realized what a battlefield motherhood is, before you even get to questions about paying for college tuition or, you know, raising decent human beings.
So, what to expect when you’re expecting? Yeah... maybe a mess of new body image issues and the trauma of kissing your favorite Michael Kors jeans goodbye, possibly forever. And yet I am — like millions of other women — still trying to have a kid, which means I’ll choose to take comfort in this: there’s likely a lot more to expect when it comes to this motherhood thing than a new dress size. Like all of the love and joy and fulfillment that I, as a non-parent, am not yet even able to conceptualize. And who knows, maybe motherhood will be the thing that finally puts my own body image issues into perspective. It is, after all, probably very hard to care about waist-to-hip ratio when your dog’s eyeing up your baby.