I have had several painful conversations with friends and acquaintances recently about the effects of pregnancy on our bodies. I am so saddened to watch women near tears over their weight gain and changing shape. Yes, hormones don’t make it any easier, but neither does a culture that glorifies the female body as an object, rather than celebrating the beauty of being a woman, especially when with child.
I was so angry when celebrity fitness trainer Jillian Michael told Women’s Heath Magazine about pregnancy in 2010, “I’m going to adopt. I can’t handle doing that to my body.” What a profound disservice to women. Rather than celebrating what makes a women unique and elevates her, the ability to bear children is feared and denigrated, something to be sidestepped at all costs.
I remember my insecure days of disordered eating and excessive concern about my body. Thanks be to God, grace, marriage and motherhood have made that a thing of the past. Counterintuitively, watching the miraculous way that my body can enlarge to cradle and care for new life has helped me escape from the culture that is excessively concerned with the superficial rather than the transcendental. As the quotation From Cardinal Mindszenty on our sidebar says, “A mother is the most important person on earth. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral — a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.” What could be more beautiful than this life generating change in our bodies?
Yet I am sometimes at a loss on how to convey this beautiful truth to other women, especially the two non Christians with whom these issues have come up (I’m not speaking of the inevitable discomforts of pregnancy, but the physical changes). They are embarrassed and insecure about their changing bodies. I try to talk about the beauty of being a woman and the great, God-given gift it is to bear children. This is what makes women unique. It is a gift, another life. I know women who are unable to have children who ache and yearn to be in their shoes.
On another level, I also reassure them that they will want to exercise again after the baby is born. As an athlete, the freedom of movement that returns after childbirth is so liberating that I usually want to run a marathon within days of birth (even with the extra pounds). I am so sad that many feel that the miraculous changes wrought are something to be ashamed of. How do you present the dignity of the vocation of motherhood to others who do not share your worldview?