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Stop Hating on the Mom With 'Pregnancy Abs'

Once, when our first daughter was a few months old, I strapped her into my carrier and took her on a walk to our local Starbucks. In line, I said hello to Ed, an 80-something regular who I’d seen on a weekly basis over the past year (as a writer, my Starbucks is also my office). Gazing at the snoozing babe drooling onto my chest, his eyebrows hiked up in surprise. “You have a baby?” he asked. “I never even realized you were pregnant.”

No, Ed doesn’t have cataracts. And that wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a statement of incredulity. During Month 6, it was jokey comments like, “You look like me after a big lunch.” Month 7 was, “Are you sure there’s a baby in there?” Month 8 brought, “Maybe you’re not eating enough.”

And it sucked.

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True, I didn’t get stretch marks. And I saved a boatload on maternity clothes. And postpartum bounce-back was a breeze. I’m not gonna sit here and cry, “Poor me, I didn’t gain a lot of weight while I was pregnant.” But the truth is, the amount and manner in which I gained had little to do with what I ate and a lot to do with genetics. I’m 5'11", so our daughter had ample acreage to stretch. She simply stretched up and down instead of out. Also, a nurse in college once told me I have a tipped uterus, which I’m guessing means it hangs out closer to my spine than my belly button. Again, I can take zero credit for either.

The reason it sucked, though, isn’t because I had been crossing my fingers for swollen fingers and stretch marks; it’s because, after two years of struggling with infertility, I was so excited to rock a bump—and, sure, to bathe in the attention typically showered on preggos. I wanted strangers to offer me their seat on the subway. I wanted long-lost acquaintances to greet me with, “I didn’t know you were pregnant! Congratulations!” Instead, with my nine-month belly hidden beneath my down coat in the dead of a brutal Chicago winter, I stood in slushy boots on the subway and was greeted with, “You don’t look pregnant. Is the baby healthy?”

You don’t need to gain a ton of weight to have a healthy baby!

So—and I can’t believe I’m about to write this sentence—I can relate a bit to Sarah Stage, the 30-year-old lingerie model who’s been documenting her pregnancy on Instagram, revealing an eight-month bump that many women snarkily claim resembles themselves after hitting up Chipotle for dinner. No, I’m nothing close to a lingerie model. But when I look at her, I don’t see a mom-to-be who’s starving herself or somehow endangering her unborn child. I just see a genetically fortunate woman (with a bod to kill for, in her case) who isn’t showing a lot.

I’ll also add that—in Stage’s defense—she has what appears to be a serious six-pack and a serious dedication to weight training, which perhaps has reined her bump in a bit more than usual. Maybe those muscles are acting sort of like a corset, cinching in her waist and inspiring a torrent of backlash in the process.

“You don’t need to gain a ton of weight to have a healthy baby!” That’s what my ob-gyn consistently reassured me throughout my pregnancy. True, the scale wasn’t approaching the typical 25-35 sweet spot. But at each of my monthly (and eventually weekly) checkups, as I lay back to have my fundal height measured, my belly in centimeters consistently matched my pregnancy in weeks. Our daughter’s heartbeat was always regular and strong. My diet—I adopted an “Eating for 1.4’” mentality versus “Eating for two”—was on point and I was able to maintain my normal, fairly hardcore exercise routine. Baby grew just as she was supposed to. It’s just that as soon as I stood back up to get dressed, she kind of disappeared back inside me.

So yeah, I didn’t gain a lot of weight with number one. I didn’t “look pregnant” until the very end. Before you bash me, though, take solace in the fact that my legs grew road-mapped with spider veins and bladder issues sent me to a gynecologic physical therapist every week of my third trimester. Baby turned breech at 37 weeks, necessitating a C-section. So it wasn’t a total cakewalk.

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I understand that by broadcasting her sultry pregnancy photos on social media, Stage is opening herself up to public critique. But rather than attack her, accuse her of fat-shaming “normal” pregnant women (which I truly don’t think she’s doing) or, even worse, of endangering her unborn child, let’s just realize she simply hit the genetic lottery and move on. In other words, don’t hate the player; hate her frame.

Image via Instagram

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