The author, not getting a subway seat in New York City. (Photo: Amy Klein)
“That’s a fun house mirror,” the woman in the swimming pool dressing room said to me as I was changing into my bathing suit. “It makes everyone look fat.” As I struggled to get my swim shorts over my protruding stomach, I turned to the older woman’s reflection: “That’s okay, I’m pregnant,” I said.
I wasn’t surprised by her comment. Plenty of people looked relieved when I announced I was with child. “Oh, I thought you’d just packed on some pounds,” one friend said after he saw me on stage performing.
My cleaning lady was more blunt. After I’d asked her to move something heavy in my apartment, and told her why I couldn’t, she exclaimed, “Oh I so happy. I think you get fat!” Apparently I did—just not in the right places.
I was six months pregnant, and extremely grateful for it. But I didn’t seem to have that cute little bowling ball of a belly that women around me were sporting, not to mention gracing magazine covers with. (Yes, I’m talking to you Kate Middleton! Everyone was up in arms at how amazing you looked right after having your second child, but I was jealous of how well you looked carrying the little princess!)
Turns out I wasn’t going to get one of those adorable bumps. I couldn’t even snag a seat on the subway. That’s because I am ugly pregnant. You know, the kind of person you look at and think, “Is she expecting or has she just been carb loading?” That’s me.
According to the baby blogs, a first-time mom would start to show between 12 and 16 weeks. I checked obsessively every day, but couldn’t see much on my 5’ 3” medium frame. My skin was definitely glowing and my double Ds were certainly growing, but as the weeks progressed, my middle just seemed to be getting larger overall, not in one particular place.
I would stand sideways in the mirror and puff out my stomach like a little kid. “Hey do you think I look pregnant?” I’d ask my husband each morning. “I can’t tell, I see you every day,” he said, ensuring his sleeping in the bed that night. “Why don’t I have a stomach?” I whined to him. It was kind of starting to upset me.
It wasn’t a health thing. I was going to the doctor every two weeks, so I knew the baby was the proper size, and I was so, so happy for that. But I’d tried so hard for so long to conceive, and I wanted to look preggers. I wanted to be able to rest my hands on my belly, to be smiled at by strangers, to advertise to the world: Here comes a mama-to-be!
Old wives tales say you can predict a baby’s gender by the way the mother is carrying. If she sports a compact globe and doesn’t show from behind, it’s a boy; but if she appears roly-poly, her weight spilling everywhere, it’s a girl. (I don’t know what I’m having, but note to everyone else who seems to: When you tell me I’m having a girl, you’re basically saying I’m ugly pregnant.)
Not that this folklore has any merit. Take my sister, who looked the same as I had during her pregnancy: She recently delivered a boy. “Maybe you’re not showing,” my husband gently said, “because of this.” And then he not-so-gently squeezed my love handles.
“You think that’s why?” Due to years of fertility treatments, I’d started out my pregnancy some 20 pounds more than my normal size 8 to 10. But that couldn’t be it…could it? I examined my midriff, imagining what the hard part of my belly would look like if the frame of extra weight hadn’t been there. I’d be sticking out with a doughnut.
Come to think of it, all the pretty pregnancies I admired – Jessica Biel, Eva Mendez, Natalie Portman – were of really thin women. I didn’t look like these size twos in real life, so why should I expect to look like them now that I’m expecting? I shouldn’t.
Then and there I decided that there’s more than one way to carry a belly. It doesn’t have to be a tiny tummy to make you proud. It can be a long, round thing–a whale of a gut. Because guess what? There is no such thing as ugly pregnant – there can’t be! Not as long as there’s a healthy baby inside.
So the other day I wore a tight, striped (yes, Mom, I’m wearing horizontal stripes!) tank top to class. A woman my parents’ age said to me, “In my day, we wore loose clothes, trying not to look pregnant!”
“But this is the only time in my life where I can be proud of my stomach!” I explained to her.
Besides, that day, I finally got a seat on the subway.