A woman’s body is one of her most cherished blessings and what she does with her body is her decision. However, no matter how hard we try, there is no real getting away from the fact that our body is never going to be fully ours till we, the women, carry the responsibility of bearing children. We share our body for nine months with the child and what happens to our body in that time is mostly out of our hands.

I may sound anti-motherhood when I say we lose control of our bodies. Don’t get me wrong. I love being pregnant and I love being a mother (on most days). I also know that we have some degree of vanity and hate what it does to our bodies. From the run-of-the-mill stretch marks to the mortifying loss of bladder control, mothers have to go through it all. We have to ultimately make our peace with the new ‘heavily’ altered body, but it takes us time, and, might I add, agony to reach that stage of self-acceptance.

One of my patients, Anaya, was a moderately built 30-year-old who planned her first child when she was well settled in her career. She had a healthy and uneventful pregnancy apart from the fact that she got very large rather quickly during her pregnancy. She was never really big bottomed and could wear jeans and tights without ever being very conscious. But during her pregnancy, her bottom just packed in pounds and it began to get embarrassing. Her colleagues often joked that her butt was pregnant, and she would try to just laugh it off but pregnancy hormones had made her extra sensitive to such jokes.

“When she would take a break to stroll out and stretch her legs, she would often find herself engaged against her will in discussions focused entirely on her butt lasting over 5 minutes.”

By the time the third trimester rolled in, her bottom had grown huge, and she would find herself crying in the ladies’ toilet every other day after having received a volley of jokes from her colleagues for her roundness. It was taking a toll on her health and sleep. Despite being in great health, she ended up applying for her maternity leave two months before her due date just to escape the living horror that her workplace had turned into. 

While Anaya battled her issues with excess weight, Meenal had developed the issue of varicose veins on her legs which appeared one fine day in her second trimester. In her words, ‘When I developed varicose veins during my pregnancy, I was distraught. And my veins were popping and were obvious on my pale skin. I had tiny pink veins flaring out on my ankles. I had those blue-green veins snaking over my legs. I had these bluish eruptions on my shin. The back of my thigh had a grey coloured mosaic-like pattern. It was as if all my veins suddenly decided to put on a show. I stopped wearing shorts for my daily run after a few aunties remarked at how weird my legs looked. I wanted to deal with it like a medical problem that would go away. But people did not let me. My husband often would crack jokes about my legs. I delivered my son four months ago and I still need to mentally get over my fixation with the varicose veins (which haven’t gone yet). Because every other night, I still Google images of varicose veins to get some solace in knowing that other people share my condition and insecurity in some part of the world.

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Swati, on the other hand, was fixated with another part of her body – her belly. Her stretch marks were not the silvery kind but instead were of a dark brown colour. She did not realize she was not any different from others (she had assumed that’s what tiger stripes meant) till her sister cried out loud on seeing her belly when she once lifted her top to breastfeed the baby. Her sister’s shock was shortly relayed to her mother and aunt and all of them fussed about her not being able to wear a saree ever because of these hideous stretch marks. Over time her stretch marks faded away but her low self-esteem stayed on.

Our bodies and minds are willing to adapt to bear our precious children but society’s rigid mindset of what we should look like forces us to take two steps behind and enter into self-doubt. It is not just the weight gain but also hair loss and skin changes that get rudely picked on and commented upon by people. It is a checkmate of sorts. Right after marriage, the woman is badgered every month with questions about pregnancy but once she has the baby, the same people want the woman to look like a new bride instead of a new mother.

A new mother has enough to deal with. Be Kind. 

Dr. Farah Adam Mukadam

Dr Farah is a family physician based in Bangalore. She is the author of the bestseller Newborns and New Moms, an urban woman’s guide to life after childbirth.

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