The peaks and pits of body image and pregnancy

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Pregnancy is an experience that changes women’s lives, and their bodies.

What is often the happiest time of one’s life also entails body image struggles. While also dealing with new hormonal changes throughout their nine month term, pregnancy can be overwhelming.

Research shows that women’s insecurities increase not only throughout pregnancy, but up to nine months postpartum. This caused women to gain more weight, have worsened mental health and lack in their relationships with friends and family.

Madison Gabriel knows how familiar these feelings are, as she is the mother of two children. Since she was a young mom, many of the changes she was experiencing during pregnancy made her feel alone.

“During pregnancy, you expect yourself to get bigger. Some women barely gain any weight and some women gain half their body weight. The hardest thing is wondering what you’re going to look like after you give birth,” Gabriel said.

“Are the stretch marks going to fade, are the love handles going to go away, are you going to lose that extra fat on your thighs? I lost all of my baby weight plus some, but my body doesn’t look the same and I know it never will and that’s something I struggle with daily because at 21, most girls don’t have kids and their bodies are in their prime.”

In a study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Journal, researchers found that women’s risk of depression increases substantially during the second and third trimesters.

Gabriel said that oftentimes people don’t realize the internal struggles women are dealing with during pregnancy. Since it’s a time that women are expected to have that ‘pregnancy glow,’ there can be guilt that comes with feeling unhappy.

“I think that people who have never been pregnant don’t know the emotional roller coaster that women face. This world has become such a judgmental place that being a mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world because everyone scrutinizes moms,” Gabriel said.

“You have nine months to think of what life is going to be like now that you’re responsible for another human being. That thought in itself is terrifying. So with me being a young first time mom, I struggled because everyone expected me to be a bad mom because I was so young.”

One reason Gabriel believes women face postpartum depression is due to the stigma of new moms leaving their baby’s side. Gabriel said at times she felt afraid to have a social life and noticed the effects it was having on her mental health.

“When a mom wants to go out and take a break for a few hours, people lose their minds. But it is necessary to get a few hours to yourself – it’s healthy,” Gabriel said. “I didn’t realize by not taking time for myself it caused a lot of emotional and mental damage. Sometimes even going to the store by yourself is the kind of break you need.”

Now that she’s gone through two pregnancies, Gabriel knows the reality of pregnancy, and it’s much more than people think.

“Pregnancy is more than cravings and that cute baby bump. It’s morning sickness for the first 12 weeks, being so ridiculously tired you wake up thinking about going to bed, stressing about whether you’re giving your baby proper nutrients, stressing about stressing too much and harming the baby, and struggling to sleep at night because you can’t get comfortable,” Gabriel said.

“Pregnancy in general is such a weight on your shoulders, but not in a bad way. It’s a challenge but you get through it and get something absolutely amazing out of it, so it’s all worth it in the end.”

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