One glance at the current #fitmom trend on social media is enough to show that pregnancy is all about how big — or rather how not big — your bump is.
Women have long worn their pregnant bellies as a badge of honor, as well they should! Growing another human is no small feat, and we women should be proud of all the cool things our bodies can do. So it’s no surprise that “bump watching” has become one of our favorite pastimes. It’s fun watching all the different ways that pregnancy changes all of us.
But you know what’s not fun? Judging all the different ways that pregnancy changes us.
My first baby was born way back in 2001 before social media was really a Thing people did. Because we’d had a lot of problems having a child — I can get pregnant at the drop of a hat; unfortunately, I can’t stay pregnant — by the time I was big enough to be showing, I relished every second of it. And that included food. I gained a ton of weight. I was conscious of it. I wasn’t sad about it. Not even a little bit.
I remember that at the same time my good friend was also pregnant. But where I looked nine months pregnant by six months along, she barely showed — so much so that when she told us all she was pregnant at seven months along, we accused her of lying. She had the tiniest of bumps, and a loose T-shirt erased all signs of her pregnancy. Even though we had due dates within a few weeks of each other, we couldn’t have looked more different. One of our friends joked that it looked like I’d eaten my friend’s baby.
Frankly, it was a lot like this recent viral photo of fitness model Chontel Duncan posing with her friend:
People went crazy over this snap, accusing Duncan of shaming her friend (she wasn’t) or accusing her friend of being unhealthy (she wasn’t) because they were simply unable to accept a basic fact of life: Women gestate differently. Some of us carry big, some carry small, and as long as Mom and Baby are healthy, the size of the bump should be irrelevant.
Fast-forward many years to when my fifth (and last) baby was born. By then I’d discovered fitness and had a much different experience than I had the first time around. I exercised throughout, watched what I ate and gained a very minimal amount of weight. This time, I was the girl who could hide her pregnancy almost to the end. But the things is, all of my kids were born happy, robust and healthy, regardless of my weight gain.
I still vividly remember two women having this conversation about my eight-months-pregnant tummy in front of me:
- Woman 1: She’s too tiny! She’s obviously hurting her baby. She needs to gain more weight.
- Woman 2: No, she’s huge! She’s probably overdue with twins.
- Woman 1: Well, I was way bigger when I was pregnant. I think she looks sick.
- Woman 2: Well, I was much tinier with my babies. I think she looks sick.
And there you have it. I couldn’t win! Same girl, same baby (only one, thank you very much) and same belly bump but interpreted in two very different, and hurtful, ways. I realized then that other women’s pregnant tummies are just one more way we project our own body insecurities on to others. Judging pregnant women is both a way to feel superior and to self-flagellate, and when we do either, no one wins.
Whether we’re criticizing or admiring the latest slew of #fitmoms, the truth is, we know very little about their actual health. It’s for their doctor to decide. You absolutely can overexercise and under eat during pregnancy and hurt yourself and your baby. And it’s true you can gain too much weight, also putting you and your baby at risk. But you can’t tell simply by looking at the size of a woman’s bump whether or not she’s healthy. And when it comes to pregnancy, that’s really the only thing that matters.
It’s time to stop the bump wars. We all have different shoes sizes and bra sizes, so why wouldn’t it be the same for bump sizes?