Published on May 19th, 2015 | by Jade Sanchez-Ventura6
PLEASE DON’T TELL ME I’M CARRYING WELL by Jade Sanchez-Ventura
I am eight-months pregnant and haven’t been called skinny this often since I was disguising my anorexia as just another New York City cleanse. My belly popped early, and when it did, I heard it for the first time.
“You’re carrying so well.”
It means one thing only: Don’t worry, you’re not fat.
Because a pregnant woman’s body is a forum for public discussion, I have heard it an infinite number of times since.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve dismissed it, along with all its sneaky variations. I’d like to think I’m too much of a feminist to care about weight (just like I thought I was too much of a feminist to have an eating disorder) but every time I hear, “You don’t even look pregnant,” or, “From behind you can’t even tell,” I’m being dosed with hits of a drug I put down three years ago and it’s the same illicit thrill as those post-quit cig drags I used to beg off of friends.
I was not a teenager when I began starving myself. I was a twenty-eight-year-old woman with interesting work, wonderful friends and a loving and sexy husband. It began with a holistic diet, meant to repair a parasite-ravaged belly. It was only supposed to last 6-8 weeks. But after the first precipitous weight loss, I was hooked. The list of foods I refused to eat grew to include anything that my body could turn into sugar. Nothing that ended in –ose. No carrots or onions or beets. No beans except mung. No seeds except pumpkin.
And I ran. I ran in the snow; I ran on two hours of sleep; I ran injured; I ran when I did not have time to run; I ran to rid myself of dinner from the night before; I ran because if I did not run, or have a plan for running, I could not eat. Call it a pre-purge.
My husband watched helpless while I ran my fingers over my hips.
“Look,” I said, “at the shape my bones make”
What he could say? He murmured, “You’re beautiful. You’ve always been beautiful.” And I was annoyed that he would not admire it with me; the new self I was carving from the soft, undisciplined folds of the old.
“You’re disappearing,” said my mother.
“You look thin,” said my friends.
“You look French,” said my grandmother, who herself had spent years eating one banana for lunch.
I heard only compliments.
Oh lord, it was glorious. I could not make the world publish my book before I turned 30. I could not ease my grandmother’s pain and extend her life. But I could do this. I could say no to fruit, to bread, to wine and every time I said no when others said yes, it was a surge of sinewy power.
I am lucky. I stopped before it got too dangerous. Somehow a morning came, frigid and brilliantly lit, when I could not bring myself to eat. Starving, frightened, I called my mother. She stayed on the phone with me for an hour until by some grace given, I agreed to eat a bowl of oatmeal. Later that same week, I sought help. It took me another two months to eat a carb with every meal. It took six months for my period to come back. It took me two years to throw away the jeans.
I work every day to disconnect the notion of beauty from body size. When I look at other women, this is easy. I see them in a myriad of glorious, stunning shapes but it is much harder when it comes to my own body. And so, I do not weight myself, and have not in three years. The only full-length mirror in my house was taken off our bedroom wall and tucked behind a closet door. I read fashion magazines with caution, and less and less as time passes. I avoid conversations about going paleo, about spinning classes, and the new barre technique. I nod politely and then ease away from juice cleanse debates. I like to say I’ll run the marathon someday, but in all likelihood I can’t risk the training regimen. I know that most women can, just as to every alcoholic there are dozens who can leave a glass of wine unfinished, but when it comes to dieting, I’m the one alone with the bottle at the end of the night.
And now I am pregnant. Gloriously, intensely overwhelmingly pregnant. I’m sad to say that my breasts are still small, but my belly is celestial. My hips have rounded, my face is softer, my skin brighter, my hair thicker. There is simply more of me, more to me; I move slowly. I am substantial. I feel regal. I have become the exact opposite of the anorexic, but it’s not because of the weight gain. To be anorexic, to restrict and measure and obsess, is to seek control. I wanted to be the sculptor; powerful enough to make my body anything I wanted it to be. I fled the huge and uncertain world for the pale, small space of my own shrinking body. But in order to be pregnant, in order to be willing to become pregnant, I have had to relinquish all my illusions of control. I have literally turned over my body to another force; one much greater and more powerful than myself. I am being worked on. I am being shaped once again, but this time I have no say in it. In every way, my world has never been more uncertain and yet I have never been more at peace in it. Most days, my body is a revelation.
It is also true that when my husband told me my body was luxurious there was an old part of my brain that heard “fat.” That I’m battling future stretch marks with tubs of shea butter. That I fear post-nursing breasts as flat and useless as popped water balloons. That I’m scared that after the babe is born I’m going to stand in front of that one full-length mirror clutching at my extra belly and feeling ugly.
It is not a compliment when they tell me I’m carrying well. It is a warning; Careful now. Always be careful. Don’t let there be too much of you. It is a reminder; You’re going to have to lose it too. As soon as this babe is born, the timer will be set, and they’ll be watching to see when I shed my softness, rid myself of the curves they permit me now.
It will always beckon. And I could make it sound reasonable. I could make it sound good. A postpartum cleanse. A new yoga leaf. The baby sleeps while I run. It’s how I relax. It helps my digestion. I sleep better. I know how to mask it; I’ve done it before and I could do it again.
This is what I hold on to: the look on my husband’s face the other night when he came into the room while I was taking off my robe. It was evening. The lamps were doing their golden glow. And before I could re-clothe, he came over and ran his hands over my belly, this expansion of us, and he was grinning, and there was no resisting his delight and happiness.
And when the comments come, close behind those measuring glances, I will be polite. I will smile. But I will not say “thank you.”
Photos courtesy and (c) of Lizzy Snaps Sullivan (instagram: @lizzysnapssullivan)
Follow MUTHA to read more from Jade Sanchez-Ventura in an ongoing column, Sling City, where she will write about her experiences in the first year and beyond as a working writer with a new baby in New York City.