Before I became pregnant, I heard so many horror stories about pregnancy that I mentally braced myself for what I thought would be the most miserable nine months of my life. I quickly realized that the well-intentioned mamas who tried to prepare me weren’t exaggerating about the physical and mental challenges of this extraordinary journey. (But, I’ve realized, they were leaving out a lot of the fun, surprising-in-a-good-way, amazing parts of pregnancy.)

The challenges are there—believe me. Nausea (and not just in the morning). Extreme fatigue. Body parts that ache 24/7. Food aversions. Labored breathing. Running to the restroom before I leave the house only to realize five minutes into a car ride that, yep, I needed to pee again.

Unsolicited comments on everything from the appearance of my bump to whether or not my husband and I were “trying” to why we weren’t finding out the gender of our unborn child. The roller coaster of emotions—laughing one second then crying the next. A little voice of self-doubt whispering whether I truly have what it takes to be a good mother.

But the most shocking development of all is that I have never felt more empowered, powerful and confident in my own skin. And—dare I say it—I have never felt sexier than I do now at 20 weeks pregnant. ?

My growing bump is a source of pride. My husband makes it a point every single day to crouch down to kiss my belly and to marvel at the life we’ve created. I feel blessed to be able to bring a child into this world, and all of the other sacrifices pale in comparison.

Tracking my baby’s progress each week has given me a newfound appreciation for the strength of the female body—beautiful in all its stages. There is something so liberating about focusing on the incredible feats it can accomplish instead of merely what it looks like on the outside.

It wasn’t always this way, though. In the beginning, after confirming the life-changing news, I was euphoric but overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. The reflection in the mirror felt as uncomfortably foreign and intimate to me as staring into a stranger’s eyes.

With how-big-can-they-possibly-get breasts (little did I know…), painful acne, widening hips, and a bloated belly reminiscent of the freshman fifteen (it took a longer time than I imagined to develop that cute bump), I was taken aback by this traumatizing second puberty.

It was a far cry from my bikini-clad figure just a few months prior during our summer vacation in Europe. I was in that awkward in-between stage where old clothes no longer fit yet I was swimming in maternity items.

Two months after finding out I was pregnant, we celebrated my husband’s best friend’s wedding. I recall contorting and panting to get a floor-length black gown over my newly-earned curves, nervous my body would betray the secret that I held close to my heart.

Rather than playing it safe sitting in the corner, I abandoned all of my insecurities to dance the night away with my oldest and dearest friends, and indulge a little too much in the dessert hour (pregnancy does have its perks!). My happiness must have been palpable because a few people stopped in their tracks to tell me I had never looked better.

It wasn’t until I surrendered control, and started owning the miracle within me that my mindset drastically shifted.

We don’t lose our beauty overnight when we become mothers. If anything, it magnifies tenfold because of the life we are carrying.

We don’t have to choose between being motherly OR sexy, fierce, career-driven, funny—we can still be *all* of those things. ? Even if our entire wardrobe now consists of leggings (FTW!) and underwire bras are a distant memory.

So mamas, the next time you get down on your appearance during pregnancy:

Remember that your body knows exactly what it’s doing to nourish and develop this remarkable little person that you have dreamed about for so long. (Ditch the scale—you don’t need a number to tell you what you’re worth.)

Remember that when your partner tells you that you look beautiful, you should believe them. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and energy during this time.

Remember that you deserve to splurge on some maternity items that are super comfortable, fit well, and make you feel more like your fabulous self.

Remember that watching our bodies transform is so many things—confusing, awkward, wild, amazing, and empowering. It’s totally okay to loathe the process but love the hard-earned outcome.

Although you might not believe it now, one day you might look down at your tummy and miss those precious kicks and movements. ? It’s going to be over before you know it.

And, mama, mostly what I want you to remember is that motherhood looks amazing on you.

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