It’s a very strange thing to have people constantly looking at your belly. Even the most confident of us get self-conscious at times, and when you have had body anxiety since early adolescence, it can be a bit overwhelming to suddenly have so much attention directed at it.
Ever since I was a young teenage girl, I’ve been conscious about my body. The vast majority of teenage girls (and boys, for that matter) are, but for me it was centred around my belly.
I have some sort of thing going on where no matter what I eat, my stomach distends dramatically. I know everyone gets ‘bloated’ when they eat a lot of food, but for me it is much more delicate than that. As far as I (and the doctors) can tell, there isn’t a specific food trigger. I just eat, and my stomach distends. I use the word distend to distinguish from bloating, as I can feel the difference when I’ve eaten a huge amount of food and actually get bloated. Rather, the majority of time, my stomach distends out like I’ve eaten loads, even when I’ve had something small like some fruit or a sandwich. I don’t feel physically different at the end of the day, but I look it.
I’ve tried elimination diets, colonoscopies, the whole works, and we can’t find a cause for it. One doctor thought perhaps my bone structure is just too slim for my internal organs, or that I am having some form of reaction to my own digestive enzymes.
Either way, by the end of the day I can look like I’m 6 months pregnant when all I’ve done is eaten a normal amount of normal food.
As such, all through my teenage years and early 20’s I’ve been very conscious of my stomach. I am slim-built, but having this stomach stick out in front is not a nice feeling (or at least it wasn’t before I was actually pregnant).
I would most often shy away from tighter clothing in favour of baggy tops. I would slouch. I would almost always have my arms crossed over my stomach when I was standing, or put a cushion or my bag on my lap to hide my stomach when sitting with people. All in an effort to conceal my protruding stomach, something I have no control over.
As soon as I announced my pregnancy, all eyes turned to that one area of my body I have been trying to draw attention away from for the past decade or so.
It was actually causing me full-blown anxiety, to have so much focus on my stomach.
Every time anyone who knew I was pregnant saw me, their eyes would inevitably drift there. I know it’s a completely normal and even unconscious reaction from them – they are simply looking for evidence of my new little bub. But I wanted them to look anywhere but at my stomach, as I have wanted people to do since I was a teen.
It got worse once we made the news of the pregnancy public and I told staff and students at my school. Suddenly upwards of a hundred people a day were looking at my stomach for signs of the life growing there. I say a hundred people literally – teaching up to four classes of 30 students a day, plus all the staff and other students I would run into throughout the day; it’s a lot of attention.
Everyone was commenting on my stomach. Commenting on the size of it.
For those who know of my preexisting stomach distention condition (gosh I hate calling it that, but I don’t know what else to call it), I tried to explain that it wasn’t the baby they were seeing, just my normal stomach.
Even to people who didn’t know about it, I still tried to explain it away. “The baby isn’t that big yet, it’s just a food baby”. “The baby is just pushing everything out of the way”. I felt like I needed to justify the size of my stomach, because I wasn’t very far along in the pregnancy yet. I still tried to hide it, turn attention away.
Because it was giving me anxiety and making me feel extremely uncomfortable.
I’m not sure if other women have felt this when they were pregnant. I did not like the constant checking-me-out one bit. The constant comments. I know my stomach is growing. I’m the one growing it. I don’t need or want you staring at it every time you see me, commenting on it. But I also know it’s perfectly natural and reasonable for people to do it. Hell, I’ve done it myself to other pregnant women. And to those women, if I ever made you uncomfortable, please accept my apology! I now understand!
It took me until about 19 weeks to start to become comfortable with it. Basically half way through my pregnancy before I was not embarrassed or ashamed of my protruding stomach – an automatic reaction for someone who has been embarrassed and ashamed for so long. That long before I was comfortable with eyes drifting and comments being made, and wearing clothes that clearly show it instead of attempting to minimise it.
I now look at my belly with happiness, knowing the size is actually from the baby now and not just because I decided to eat today. I’ve stopped trying to hide my stomach, for the first time in over a decade. And it’s a very strange feeling.