While I was pregnant, I experienced intense compassion and acceptance for my body. It was an absolute freedom. Despite my growing belly and my changing shape, I felt beautiful, and—while not always physically comfortable—I felt spiritually at peace with my body. That was a first for me, ever, in 35 years.
The miracle of body contentment that struck me while pregnant offered me so much peace—for once in my life, I didn't have to waste time cringing over my body or agonizing over a perceived imperfection or changing clothes because they fit wrong. I don't want to exaggerate my own body unhappiness; I suspect that the regular discomfort I experienced with my body before pregnancy is well within the realm of normal. It's pretty impossible to be a woman in modern culture without some sort of body negativity, and although a lot of things have helped me over the years—yoga was the first step toward love for the body I'm in—the thing that fast-tracked it was pregnancy. Pregnant, the contentment in my body was a given. It came naturally.
I was so amazed, so grateful, and so concerned I would lose this newfound sense of body calm, that a few weeks before my daughter was born, I wrote myself a letter. I knew my feelings toward my physical self might change again postpartum, and I wanted to be able to hear my own contentment—and tap into it—later.
This is a letter to say a few things from the perspective of a well-hormonely-regulated pregnant you. I fully get that you may be reading this at a time where these thoughts feel foreign, and it may offer you some solace or the ability to find equanimity to know that you have been here.
As you are right now, in your body as it is: nothing needs to change for you to find contentment and love for yourself. Right now. As is. You are so much more than a little weight, a little belly, or a little wigglyness more or less. These parts of you are normal, natural, and truly yours, so you have no choice but to embrace them. Girl, they're YOU. Once this little baby is born, it’s going to take some time to feel your body, health, and physical abilities come back, and in the meantime, you will be tired and overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself and give yourself space and time to find your movement practice again: you will run again. Your yoga mat will not just collect dust in the corner. Remember, too, you are not the sum of your diet. You make "bad" choices sometimes because come on, honey: ice cream is good stuff. (Do give love to yourself nutritionally, but quit beating yourself up over crummy eating days. It's a short life.) The bottom line is that your worth is more than your weight, and as you write this, you know that to be an absolute, true fact. You are so very beautiful—something you need to relish—and that beauty exists with you exactly as you are. Your friends think so. The man you married thinks so. And even if these people didn't think so, the one person whose opinion on this matters most is yours.
Please see your beauty in a body that will never be perfect.
I am a year and a half postnatal now, and my body looks very much like it did before baby. That is to say, it is wiggly and I have a belly that has not been flat since I wore a prom dress. And while I do have moments that I obsess about my body, my weight, or my eating habits, I also feel the residual effects of having been so very content in my own form. Because I've experienced that, it's easier to find now.
The Sanskrit word Santosha means contentment. In yoga philosophy, Santosha is one of the Niyamas—the principles of personal observance that yoga practitioners try to follow. It's situated around other principles that mean devotion to the yoga practice, cleanliness, self-study, and surrender to the divine. Out of all of these, radical contentment—accepting and loving the life (and body) you have—might be the hardest. Often, being OK with yourself as you are takes tremendous effort of will. It is an act of merciless self-love. But occasionally contentment lands right in your lap, and you just feel at peace with yourself, as I often felt while pregnant.
Yoga is a practice—a physical practice that involves pulling out your mat, moving, and breathing—but also a mental practice, where meditation, self-awareness, and reflection help you guide your thoughts. Pregnant, I experienced body contentment. I found it with ease, I lived it for 41 weeks, and I relished it. Having been in that emotional place before, I'm finding that I can get back there more easily now, a definite gift from pregnancy. And now that my daughter is here, I don't have the luxury of wasting time obsessing about my love handles, anyway. But mostly it just comes to this: I have easily felt beautiful in this body before, and even if I have to work harder to find it now, that radical contentment is here to stay. I refuse anything less than this. I deserve it. So do you.