Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A love letter to my pregnant friends, or: why getting fat is always hard

I've never been pregnant. I've never really wanted to be pregnant; wanted to have kids someday, yeah, but the few pregnancy tests I've taken in my life have all been accompanied by nervous stomachs, crossed fingers, and a three-days-late start to my otherwise clockwork-like period. But each time I've peed on those innocuous-looking sticks, I've gotten them back negative, and been much relieved.

However, much like pregnant women, I do have vast and varied experience with gaining weight. So I can talk about that.

In 2009, I was the fittest I'd ever been in my adult life. I was commuting twenty kilometers a day by bike, I was running three times a week, and lifting weights twice a week. In August, two friends and I biked to Guelph, a day-long trip that was challenging and exhilarating. I was also sticking my fingers down my throat to throw up meals I had just eaten, and I was taking laxatives to shit out what I couldn't purge, something I had been doing off and on for the past twelve years. I weighed 108 pounds. I hated my body, but I looked amazing.

In the fall of 2009, I threw a house party where I drank a bottle of wine for dinner and blacked out well before ten PM. I woke up the next day and I had no food in my house. My parents were coming over to take me out for dinner, and I spent the entire day shaking on my bathroom floor, trying to throw up and having nothing. When they arrived, I tried to stand up and nearly fainted. My disapproving mother found a bag of pasta somewhere deep in my pantry and made me cheesy macaroni. I was so embarrassed.

I got help. I never know what to call it: "rehab" sounds so dire, and "treatment" is what my sister calls the six-month period when she was receiving chemo. For eight months, I went twice a week to CAMH's Eating Disorders and Addictions program: once to a group therapy session, and once to meet one-on-one with a counselor. The program was successful enough, I guess; I stopped binging and purging, but I never figured out why I struggled with those problems in the first place.

I also started gaining weight. A little, at first: chalk it up to quitting my job and losing my commute. Then more: blame that on actually keeping my food down. Then more and more, until three years later, I was 158 pounds.

I was humiliated. My BMI was at 29.9; for all intents and purposes, I was obese. I was horrified. I was wearing sizes I had never worn before. I was bloated. My skin was gray. I cried every time I got on the scale, every time I tried on old clothes, every time I went to the gym. Nothing seemed to work. I wasn't bulimic anymore, but I didn't want to love this big body of mine. I felt like I couldn't.

Everywhere we go, we get messages about how we're supposed to look. We get them from the media, sure — pregnant and ballooning celebrities are a specialty of judgey tabloids — but we also get them from our friends, families, and partners. We hear from a friend about how cutting out Coke and fast food made them lose fifteen pounds, how going paleo made their skin clear up, about how they stopped losing weight once they figured out they were lactose intolerant. We hear from from our parents, who compliment us on weight loss ("I had the flu, mom."), or who offer diet advice followed directly by cookies. We hear it from our partners, who love our bodies, but who sometimes say boneheaded things about other women's bodies, either in admiration or in disgust, that we internalize.

Everyone knows it's hard to lose weight, but it's a little-discussed secret that gaining weight is also tough. It comes up in small ways (sleep positions change dramatically when you're carrying an extra forty pounds, for instance), and in large ones: emotional health, self-perception, self-love. I have nothing but sympathy for pregnant women, especially those balancing between the first trimester and the day when your bellybutton pops — the women who aren't always obviously pregnant; who might have just, you know, stopped running, or decided that cupcakes are an all-the-time food. Trying to remember that you're growing a whole other person inside your body is hard when you can't get your pants done up and you want to throw yourself down on the bed and cry. And, because the universe is a bully sometimes, it's the thinnest women — the ones who work hardest at keeping tiny and toned — who invariably end up showing first.

My weight gain was the result of some pretty bad depression, a total rewiring of the way I looked at food (friend! Not enemy!), and maybe some genetics. Your weight gain is the result of some cray-cray hormones, and the desire to make a family. I'm well aware that pregnancy comes with a host of other bummers, like nausea, exhaustion, constipation, and yeast infections, on top of gaining weight. There's also a certain pressure to pretend like every step of pregnancy is a moment of growth and gentle, maternal love, when I'm sure all some of you want to do is weep angrily while burning down your local fat-unfriendly LuluLemon store.

I don't know what to say except: I feel you, girl. I know that weight changes aren't easy, either going up or going down. I know what it's like to look down at a stomach that wasn't there a few months ago and despair, and to dislike the change even when it's a result of something positive. Hang in there: in a few months, you'll get to meet the reason for your new waistline, and something tells me it might be worth it.