‘I had no idea having a baby bump could make a woman so visible’

Men are eyeballing my heaving belly warily (don’t worry love, it’s not yours)

Tanya Sweeney: There is so, so much new stuff to know in a relatively short amount of time, even if your only plan is keeping a baby alive. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Tanya Sweeney: There is so, so much new stuff to know in a relatively short amount of time, even if your only plan is keeping a baby alive. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A quick update from my pregnancy app: “At 27 weeks, your baby is continuing to rehearse for life by dreaming, coughing and practising breathing.” Honestly, have you ever read anything as wild in your life? There is someone dreaming inside me. The other developmental milestones are no less surreal: this baby now has eyelashes. I have kneecaps, kidneys and all sorts going on in there. And at the risk of sounding a mite crude, I’m either carrying a tiny penis in my belly, or millions of little eggs inside a baby girl, possibly destined one day to be one half of a grandchild.

Either way, *makes atomic bomb noise *

I knew there would be physical changes, but I had no idea that I’d move so far from the old me, so quickly. Some are good (see: eyelashes). Some are bad (see: boobs that have turned to sad piping bags, hell-bent on icing the floor). Some are totally unexpected.

I had no idea, for starters, that having a baby bump could make a woman so visible. I’d never been one of life’s true head-turners, but at 40, I thought I’d put my more “visible” days as a woman behind me. Nowadays, the eyes of strangers fall downward when I pass. Men eyeball my heaving belly warily (don’t worry love, it’s not yours). Furtive glances are stolen on public transport. Either I’m paranoid or people are weird.

Body hang-ups

The funny thing – and this is no small irony – is that your body hang-ups start to ebb away the bigger and more pregnant-looking you get. I had no idea just how much energy I had spent fretting about what my body looked like before. Now that I’m making actual eyeballs from scratch, I honestly couldn’t care that I’m the biggest I’ve ever been. This is, admittedly, a new thing for me.

Rewind via time’s giant wheel to a year ago. I didn’t quite hate what I saw in the mirror, but would grudgingly acknowledge that there was certainly room for improvement. I had a classic case of Writer’s Body. The dinner-lady arms might benefit from a few (thousand) tricep dips. There was a persistent belt of stomach flab, as faithful a companion as you could hope for, that the right dress from Cos might flatter. The only way my fortysomething bum could be described as peachy was if you were talking about a piece of fruit that had an unfortunate knock to the floor, or had sat at the bottom of a fruit bowl for months. The whole kit and kaboodle, corporeally speaking, had seen better days.

Skinniness

For many women, having body anxiety, or trying to harvest enough time to do something about it, seems like part and parcel of adulting. It’s up there with flossing, doing laundry, paying your TV licence fee. Comparing yourself to the western bodily ideal is just something you do. Worrying about not eating well enough, not being active enough is and not looking like you care enough about this stuff is a genuine concern for many women in a culture where skinniness is still an accomplishment. Research claims that on average, women have 13 negative thoughts about their body daily. Some 97 per cent of respondents in a US study admitted to at least one “I hate my body” moment a day.

If I manage to get a Pilates class or two completed a week, we’re talking gold stars all round. Kicking back!

Well, it all went out the window, and I can’t tell if it’s the happy result of getting older and caring less about this stuff in general, or my “delicate” condition. I don’t think I’ve passed a mirror I haven’t liked in months. At home, I undress and gawp at the bump, admiring its huge, globular weirdness for whole swathes of time. There’s something about the making of the foresaid eyeballs and kneecaps that liberates you from that needling inner critic. In terms of nutrition, I’ve taken an entirely different tack, and it runs counter to the abstemious approach that most women resort to. Instead, the focus is on eating enough of the right stuff nutritionally, and if there’s the odd slice of cake in on top of that, let’s not fret too much.

Daily goal

A doctor had asked me about exercise a few weeks ago, and I told her that I had been attempting a daily goal of 10,000 steps. Honestly, she couldn’t have looked more impressed if I was getting triathlons out of the way before breakfast. Active pregnancies are recommended as a matter of course, but no one’s really pushing an overly strenuous fitness regime on a pregnant woman. Not least in the same way society seems to on non-pregnant women, at least.

And then, owing to a diagnosis of SPD (or pelvic girdle pain), it was suggested that I knock walking on the head for a bit. If I manage to get a Pilates class or two completed a week, we’re talking gold stars all round. Kicking back! On medical advice! You can’t beat it.

Apparently there could well be a moment, perhaps a year from now, where I’ll return my attentions to the squashed peach bum and the soft apron of abdominal flesh. I might not like what I see, and I might want to do something about it. I suspect it will take me some weeks to get around to caring. Besides, I might just be a bit busy by then.

Tanya Sweeney is writing a weekly column about her pregnancy.
Part 1: More chance of Bosco getting pregnant
Part 2: First came the shock, then the advice
Part 3: I’m pregnant and have the odd glass of wine
Part 4: People have never seen me like this before
Part 5: Having a baby bump makes a woman so visible
Part 6: Please, no more well-meaning advice

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