All it took was one snippy comment from a hairstylist to send me reeling.
"So, you're due, huh?" she said, gesturing to my newly protruding belly.
I gaped at her, not even trying to hide my disbelief at her question.
"Are you serious?" I asked. "I'm not even close."
She grimaced. "Oh," she said, pausing, not looking even the least bit apologetic. "Well, you're getting really big."
I went home that night and related the news to my husband, cheeks still burning, and even sent out the word on my social media, where my real-life friends were quick to assure me that I did not, in fact, look like I was due.
I was only 15 weeks' pregnant at the time.
The harsh truth is, no two pregnancies, or pregnant bodies, are alike -- even in the same woman. And it's all too easy to start comparing baby bumps, either with the photos dominating the celebrity gossip sites and magazines or the other expectant moms in your very own neighborhood. And that's why you've probably found yourself thinking, "Hmmm, let's see, she's four months along and a lot smaller than I am. But it's also her first baby, so I guess that explains why I showed first..." Or, "(gasp) No WAY is she eight months along! I looked like that after I took the pregnancy test! She must not be eating..."
It's not an easy thing to cope with at all. Now that I'm pregnant with my fourth child, it's been harder than ever for me, as I've required maternity clothes a lot sooner than I did with my other pregnancies. I was busting out of my regular jeans by 17 weeks! So I'm now comparing my body not only with those of other pregnant women, but with my own previous pregnancies.
How you feel about your body now that you're pregnant is heavily influenced by how you felt about it before you conceived. "Some women are more comfortable with their body before they get pregnant and can really embrace the changes and do well," says Nina N. Hinting, M.D., a physician in the obstetrics and gynecology division at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. "If they don't have a great body image beforehand, it's important for their care provider to work with them a little more closely." Your doctor wants to make sure you can embrace your bump -- no matter what size it is.
And the truth is, there are a lot of legitimate, physical reasons for women to show differently during their pregnancies, even beyond factors such as body size and shape, genetics, and environment.
For example, some women have a "retroverted" uterus -- if you do, your uterus may point completely backward, toward the spine; in most women, it points toward the front of their pelvis.
"The women who are tilted to the back may show not as quickly," Dr. Hinting explains, because the bump is essentially pointing toward the spine. But this usually occurs only in women in their first trimester. "Usually by 12 weeks the top of the uterus reaches the pelvic rim and they catch up," Dr. Hinting says.
The other major factor in how early you'll show is how many children you've already had. "After multiple babies, the abdominal muscles just aren't as strong as they used to be," Dr. Hinting says. "A lot of people can experience diastasis of pregnancy," she says, a condition in which the abdominal muscles literally separate and move to the side. "It's like the two curtains have been separated -- there's no longer the muscle there to hold all your contents in. Your stomach and intestines are showing and that can contribute to the bump."
And when it comes down to it, your weight or the size of your bump isn't an indicator of how healthy your baby is. Although we may be concerned about how we look next to our fellow moms-to-be, our baby's health is really the number-one priority of our pregnancies. So whether you have a teeny-tiny bump at seven months or you're already in maternity wear before the first trimester ends, as long as you and your baby are healthy, you should embrace your bump.
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