I’ve never been normal. Until now. Being six feet tall and a throwback to long-forgotten era of beauty that is no longer prized along with a massive set of feet made for a painful growing up experience that usually involved fervent wishing for a different reflection in the mirror as well as the usual scarring angst of not really fitting in. (Trust me, when your shoe size is nine and you are nine years old and then teenage boys ask you to buy them cigarettes at the local store when you are a tender 11 year old because you are already 5’11″…you start to resign yourself to the fact that you will forever be misunderstood and misjudged based on appearances).
So when it came to being pregnant, I assumed not much would change. But for the first time in my life, every appointment, every test result, every measurable symptom and growth target, kept coming back framed with one lovely and rare word, “Normal.”
And for that, I am deeply grateful and under no illusions as countless strong and brave women have been through a much harder journey of health as they bring a new baby into the world.
But that old bugaboo of looking different followed me into pregnancy despite my newfound normalcy – I have never appeared to the average bystander as classically pregnant or even remotely expectant. The sideways looks and surprised comments piled up, despite the repeated assurances of my midwives that everything was perfect and the baby was just fine. I caught people I hadn’t seen in a while attempt the surreptitious “belly glance” and then look confused and bewildered. The comments ranged from the benign: “I never would have guessed…” to the slightly alarming: “Are you really sure you’re six months pregnant?” or “Is the baby okay?” I turned these questions aside with the measured humour I’ve honed over the years to justify my unusual appearance, and responded with “Oh, no. Maybe they made a mistake and I’m not really pregnant after all!” or “Oh no…maybe something is horribly wrong! Thanks for telling me! The healthcare professionals and I never would have guessed if you hadn’t casually brought it up!”
But I didn’t manage to brush it all away sarcastically – the seeds of difference were planted and I caught myself apologizing in advance to cut off the comments before they happened – saying things like, “I know, I’m tall so the baby has lots of room to grow up, not out,” and “Well, I’m measuring just fine but I know I’m not really showing.” Or, “It’s my Viking heritage and large frame…” and other ridiculous excuses. I began to bow to the pressure of what a pregnant woman “should” look like, wearing clothes to emphasize what I did have to show. I envied the women in my prenatal fitness class with glorious, magazine-quality round bellies. I stopped telling others specifically how far along I was. I considered getting a custom t-shirt: “Normal pregnancy here, people!”
And then the absurdity of it all finally hit me: why was I constantly apologizing for a baby that hasn’t even been seen yet? Why, after suffering through my own battle of self-confidence and fight to fit in, would I begin the narrative of their life on the defensive before this little one has even taken their first breath?
Given that they will, I am quite certain, have huge feet and be abnormally tall, (when your genetic material pool includes a combined parental height of 6’1″ and 6’6 with an average family shoe size of 12, you can’t really expect miniscule offspring) what could I possibly do to mitigate their inevitable wrestling with a world that will make them feel like they don’t fit in?
I needed to let go of my own desire to apologize for how I look, both in ordinary seasons and in pregnancy. Forgiving the past pressures of wanting desperately to fit in, and enjoying the present of just being myself.
A recent research study suggested that it didn’t matter how many thousands of times their mothers told their daughters they were beautiful and normal, as those little girls learned how to talk about their bodies by listening to their mothers talk about themselves. Likewise, sons learned their confidence from their father’s self-commentary, not their encouragements and praises towards their kids. In other words, in order to give my baby the best possible start on self-esteem, I have to change my own habits of apologizing for myself, or making excuses for why I don’t fit in, have the “right” size of belly, smaller feet, etc or any of the other societal boxes that constantly threaten to squeeze me out of confidence and self-acceptance. And that starts now – in the last days of my pregnancy – setting the stage for a new life story to begin without apologies.
And before this little one can even begin to understand big words like self-esteem and societal pressures, I am going to read to them the story of Leo the Lop, a book my mom gave me on my second birthday:
“In a warm, gentle corner of a soft, green forest, a whole bunch of bunnies were born. There were so many baby rabbits, you almost wouldn’t believe it. There were white ones, brown ones, even some with spots, and every one of them had a little pink nose, fluffy white tail, and two pointed ears that stood straight up in the air.
All of them, that is, except for Leo the Lop.
Now it wasn’t that Leo didn’t have a little nose or a fluffy tail, for he did. What he didn’t have was ears that stood straight up in the air. Instead of standing up, they hung down. That didn’t really matter to Leo because he thought he was just as normal as could be. Besides, he couldn’t see his ears anyway.”
The story goes on through teasing by the other rabbits, various methods of trying to get their ears to droop or Leo’s to stand up, and ends with a simple revelation:
“If Leo is normal and we are normal…than normal is whatever you are.”
No apologies necessary.