Before I had small children back in college, I remember having coffee with a veteran mother who worked close to my campus. I admired her as a sort of mentor, and as old family acquaintances we would meet once in a while to catch up. While we were talking, a woman she recognized walked into the area where we were sitting. After introductions, we all started chatting and she showed us a few pictures of her adorable kids. After she left, my coffee date casually said, "She must be pregnant again - she usually looks a lot smaller than that."
When people say it takes a village to raise a child, I wonder if that actually means it takes a village to whip a mother into shape. Until becoming one myself, I didn't realize how common it is to let all privacy out the window when it comes to a mother's body, all in the name of "health". I became aware of how often and firmly people talked about "the health of the mother and baby". The female body became this fragile, pure vessel we were warned not to taint. Epidural? Try your absolute hardest to avoid it. Nursing? It will be your most rewarding choice... only give it up for extreme circumstances. Weight gain? You don't want people to think you have no control. Hydrogenated oils? They should really be illegal.
It's not that I don't believe that a healthy lifestyle isn't important, or that women shouldn't want to try to look and feel their best. I myself do things like use coconut oil instead of margarine in baking and I loved my prenatal yoga class. But I'm worried that we don't even think to give mothers privacy because her job to stay fit, youthful, and "clean" during this part of her life is simply too important not to make a comment. It is already astounding what women often go through physically just in pregnancy alone (before you even have that beautiful baby in your arms who doesn't understand the concept of a "nap"): Extreme nausea and exhaustion, rapid weight loss, hormonal "transitioning", anxiety, varicose veins, acid re-flux, crippling back pain, health complications, and even the potential for miscarriage. It's enough that a woman feels her own body turning on her, let alone her neighbors who are deliberating over her weight gain.
The lack of privacy and compassion towards mothers at this vulnerable time leads to so much anxiety and self-doubt. It assumes that a normal woman should be able to balance all of these complicated expectations on top of her already demanding role as a mother. Medical professionals should of course explain what is safe or dangerous to women and their babies. I feel indebted to our family's physician who always looks out for me and my kids to the best of her ability. But because mothers already have so much on their plate, we should think before we make any comment about what's actually on it.
Thoughts? Feelings on the matter? I would love to hear them!