By Kimberly Zapata
I stood in front of the mirror — shirt up, stomach out — and took a slow breath. A long breath. A deep belly breath. I watched my shoulders rise and my chest expand. I stood still and watched as my abdomen began to swell. As the space between my ribs and pelvic bone became full, and then I smiled. I placed my hand on my stomach, and I calmly exhaled.
My body, I thought. My belly. Look at my cute and beautiful belly.
Of course, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, before this moment — which was 29 years in the making — I hated my waist, and most of my body. My thighs were too big. My breasts were too small, my ass was too thick, and I was never the size I wanted to be.
I was never the weight I wanted to be.
By time I entered college, I was obsessed with my image. I focused on little things, like calorie counts and calorie expenditures. I worried about my measurements — I fretted about every inch, every half inch, every pound, and every fraction of a pound — and I weighed my self-worth in ounces.
The smaller I was, the better I was.
Or so I wanted to believe.
But the tag on my jeans only told half the story. Before long, my pursuit of skinniness (and sexiness) was a sickness. Before long, my “extreme diet” and “dedication” was a full blown disorder.
An eating disorder.
Thankfully, I was one of the “lucky ones,” which is to say that sometime between 23 and 24 I got a handle on my disorder. I was able to ingest more than 800 calories a day and I was able to go a few days without weighing in. But the psychological damage lingered for years, long after my thighs thickened and my menstrual cycle returned. Because the voices in my head were loud. They were powerful. They were persistent and they were strong, and they told me I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough. They told me I wasn’t thin enough, and they told me I should be ashamed.
They kept me ashamed.
So much so that even years later, even when I was pronounced good and healthy and I seemed well and “recovered” — body image problems still held me back (for instance, I would rarely go out with friends because going out meant going to eat and being around food, and I would rarely become intimate with my husband because I couldn’t stand the sight of myself and I almost didn’t have kids because I was afraid of “being fat,” and staying fat).
Because of all of this I was afraid pregnancy would be a trigger, and afterward I would fall right back into my old ways.
But one day something changed. I changed, and whether wellness intervened, fate intervened, faith intervened, or my biological clock began ticking I do not know, but suddenly I wanted to have a kid. I needed to have a kid.
Suddenly, my desire to be a mom and have a family became greater than my desire to be thin. And for this, I thank God everyday because motherhood has changed the course of my life. This moment changed the course of my life, and pregnancy had a profound impact on my perception: of myself, my spirit, my body, and my mind.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said this change was immediate. In the beginning I was scared. I worried how the pregnancy would affect me, how the weight gain would affect me, and I was ashamed by my puffy-but-not-popped form. But a strange thing happened when my belly (and baby) began to grow. Truly grow. Instead of obsessing over my body, I trusted it. I appreciated it. I embraced it, and I accepted it.
I stopped caring about my stomach and started caring about the life within it — and within me. I learned to love and appreciate my body for what it was: not a bunch of skin deserving to be tucked and trimmed and shoved into shapewear, but a vessel for life, and reflection of a life well-lived.
Make no mistake: There were days I missed my smaller form. I felt off and awkward, and lord knows how I missed my skinny jeans. (Well, any of my jeans.) But I didn’t miss my insecurities. I didn’t miss counting calories and monitoring my meals, and I didn’t miss the feeling of running on empty. Instead I was full — finally full — and I relished it. I celebrated it. I embraced it.
I showed every glorious inch of myself off.
Of course, you are probably wondering, “But what now? The baby’s gone. Long gone. So how do you feel today?” And the truth is I feel good. Really good. Don’t misunderstand, at times, I still struggle and still need to remind myself to eat or even to force myself to eat. But something happened in those nine months which changed me forever. Being pregnant changed me forever, and pregnancy didn’t ruin me or my body — it strengthened it and saved it, in more ways than one.
© 2017 Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Little Things