“It looks like you have twins in there.”
“Is your doctor sure about your due date?”
“You’re so much bigger than me and I’m further along than you!”
The first time I was pregnant, I was so excited, I was willing to talk to anyone who asked about my apparently enormous belly. But every time, I’d leave those interactions feeling deflated, teary and convinced that something was wrong with me. Was I really that big?
Then, just over a week after my due date, my beautiful, huge baby died inside my womb. While the autopsy didn’t find any correlation between my son’s size and the cause of death, every professional I consulted flagged his weight—a whopping 10.5 pounds—as an anomaly. I couldn’t help but feel that somehow my size had contributed to his death.
During my second pregnancy, I steeled myself for more comments. My coping mechanism: fudging my due date by a month or so. But while lying about how far along I was helped me manage outsiders’ expectations, it did nothing to help my own. I’d examine my expanding belly in the mirror and say to my husband for the thousandth time, “Why am I so large?”
Still heavily grieving my first baby, I was wholly unable to accept society’s assumption that a pregnancy meant the inevitable birth of a live baby.
“You must be so excited,” people would say.
But there was no room for excitement; I was terrified that something was fundamentally wrong with me. Though I was clearly able to make and grow babies, I was convinced my body would fail us at the last minute and we’d have to leave another baby behind at the hospital, so we induced my second son at 37.5 weeks, mostly to manage my anxiety. At seven pounds eight ounces, he probably would have come close to matching his brother’s size if I had delivered to term.
Currently muddling my way through a third pregnancy, I find myself avoiding eye contact. I don’t want to have conversations about my pregnancy with passersby. With a toddler that’s keeping me very busy and a pregnancy that’s taking its toll on my body, I’m just too tired to fib. But social interactions are difficult to avoid: There are daycare drop-offs and pickups, trips to the playground, swimming lessons. I’m right in the centre of a community full of kindly people who can’t help but sweetly ask “Is your due date soon?” (It’s not!)
The comments aren’t unfounded: I do carry large. I am just under five foot five, have a slight build and weigh less than 120 pounds pre-pregnancy. The space between my hips and ribs is really small and, though I’ve never heard this as a scientific reason for a large baby bump, it’s a fact my brain reassures me with when I learn that I’m measuring 31 weeks at 24 weeks. Where else can my baby go except straight out? I close my eyes and try to picture my grandmother: a wee Irish woman who wasn’t a hair over five feet and far tinier than I am. She birthed two very large babies—14 pounds and 12 pounds (my father)—on her kitchen table in Athlone, Ireland. Oh, how I would have loved to ask her about her pregnancies.
Maybe this is a trait I’ve inherited from my paternal foremothers—perhaps it’s something I should talk about with pride. But when someone brings up my size, I can’t help but feel defensive—in part for the baby that’s growing inside me and also for myself and what I’ve been through. The death of my first child makes me who I am and, as such, I can never be separate from it (not that I’d ever want to be), especially during pregnancy.
I find myself obsessively going over the facts: My due date has been determined by ultrasound and matches up almost exactly with my own recorded dates; this is my third pregnancy and I have grown and stretched and will certainly look bigger with each one; and I make big babies. And yet, I can’t let it go. I try on 100 shirts before deciding on one that makes me look marginally smaller. My anxiety over being asked about my pregnancy increases, along with my size. Three pregnancies later, I still wonder why I can’t look like every other pregnant woman.
Then there’s the hip pain, irritatingly itchy PUPPP rash (which seems to develop earlier with each pregnancy), uncomfortable varicose veins, outrageously painful nightly leg cramps and, oh my goodness, stretch marks.
The truth is, pregnancy has never felt great in my body. I’ve never felt carefree or had that elusive glow. And after losing my first son, the thoughts and feelings that come with a difficult pregnancy are accompanied by crippling guilt. What if I make it through a full pregnancy without really enjoying it, only to lose this baby, too? It’s a battle I have with myself every day, and there’s likely no real resolution until my sweet baby joins me— alive—out here in the open.
These hard-to-love stretch marks that have come from such extreme growing (and will be with me for the rest of my life) tell the story of all my babies, whom I love so much more than I ever thought imaginable. I think of those plentiful silver lines as an intricate road map of my painful, beautiful and unconventional journey to motherhood. As my belly swells to a miraculous size with yet another squirming baby boy, I trace these paths with my fingertips and give thanks to my body that, though I haven’t completely forgiven or fully trust yet, I know has done its best to carry me through some horribly difficult and utterly magnificent times.
Just please don’t ask me when I’m due.