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.”
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
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.