health

"I didn't want to leave the house when I was pregnant, because my body had betrayed me."

Image: iStock.

I always thought I’d be the type of woman who would work, go out and exercise during my pregnancy, just like Kim Kardashian. I was pregnant with my daughter, Emmy, at around same time that Kim Kardashian was pregnant with her first child, North West.

North is just a few months older than my daughter. And yet, during my pregnancy, I sat at home with the curtains closed, feeling sick and ashamed. In the end, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter, but my pregnancy definitely wasn’t a dream run.

It turned out that Kim Kardashian and I had a similar experience: she had a dangerous, pregnancy-specific condition called pre-eclampsia, and I had something very similar. This meant that we both looked very bloated, swollen and “overweight” during our pregnancies. The difference is that Kim was fat-shamed on a global stage. I watched on in horror, and hid instead.

In a recent interview with C Magazine, Kim explained that she won’t smile in photos any more because she’s still hurt about the “fat” taunts she received during that pregnancy with North West. As different as Kim’s life is to mine, I found that I could relate so much to what she was saying.

Feeling self-conscious and sick during my pregnancy, in 2013. Even my fingers and wrists were swollen. (Source: Supplied.)

During my pregnancy with Emmy I always had a niggling feeling that something was wrong. Every ultrasound and test said that my baby was healthy and strong but something didn’t feel right. I always felt panicky and on edge.

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Finally at 23 weeks my obstetrician hospitalised me as I had extremely high blood pressure, protein in my urine and swelling. Yep, it looked like I had pre-eclampsia - I had all the classic symptoms

I was surprised to find out that, instead, I had a chronic kidney disease called IGA nephritis, which resulted in symptoms that were near identical to pre-eclampsia.

It was horrible, and I felt the sickest I had ever felt in my life – and this is from a woman who once endured five hours of major surgery. The high blood pressure meant that I always felt stressed and headachey. The worst thing was constantly worrying about whether Emmy was safe inside of me.

But another difficult thing to grapple with was my extremely swollen and bloated appearance. Because of my kidney disease, my body retained fluid like a big-ass sponge.

The fluid retention happened so quickly. One day, I looked like my regular self, and the next day, every part of my body - and even my face - began to puff out, until I was almost unrecognisable. I even have the photos to prove it.

Carla GS was puffy with fluid and icecream during her pregnancy in 2013. (Source: Supplied.)

Pre-eclampsia results in the same extreme swelling, known as oedema. This isn't your run-of-the-mill, "ha ha, I have cankles," pregnancy fluid retention. The type of swelling that I experienced creates constant discomfort and even a lack of mobility. And of course, there's the appearance of sudden and extreme weight gain.

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My face was so swollen that I had to get my glasses adjusted so that they wouldn't squeeze my face painfully. I had to wear pressure stockings, day and night, to reduce the swelling of my ankles and calves. Even so, walking was a struggle. It’s hard to walk when your knees and ankles won’t bend.

I was surprised to find that my changed appearance affected my self-esteem. I realised that I had invested so much of my self-worth in my appearance. It wasn't just about wanting to look attractive, or looking slim. I wasn’t upset about being bigger.

It was more that I looked and felt like a completely different person. I was happy to look pregnant, but with all of the swelling around my facial features and body, it was difficult to even recognise my own face in the mirror.

There were times when I avoided going out, because I didn’t want anyone to see me looking so different. I stopped uploading my photos to Facebook, even though friends were keen to see pictures of my “bump”.

Exhibit A of why Kim Kardashian won't smile in photos any more. (Source: InTouch Magazine.)

At the time, I was a high school art teacher. I had to go on maternity leave early, due to my kidney disease. This meant that I couldn’t help my year 12s finish their major artworks.

I was still invited to their end of year exhibition. I wish to this day that I had gone. But I just couldn’t. Sure, my blood pressure was high and I felt unwell – which was my excuse – but the real reason why I didn’t go was because I was so self-conscious about my appearance. I was afraid of being called “fat”, to my face and behind my back.

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I knew that my beautiful year 12 students would be sympathetic and understanding. But the other students, particularly the older boys who would constantly hang around outside my classroom and call out to me in the playground? I was petrified that they would taunt me about my new pregnant frame and call me “fat”.

I feared being faced with hundreds of students, many who thought it was  funny to talk about a female teacher’s “tits” in front of her (yep, it happened to me).

And for me, feeling physically and socially vulnerable, as well as bloated and uncomfortable... well, I just couldn’t face going to that exhibition and I chickened out. (Post continues after gallery.)

Admittedly, I was also subconsciously influenced by the bullying that I saw Kim Kardashian endure on a worldwide stage.

Headlines like this were common: “Kim Kardashian Weight Gain Panic: She Can’t Stop Eating.” If that’s how the world treated a beautiful, successful, kind-hearted woman, how would they treat a boring, regular woman like me? Surely the insults would be worse for a normal person like me?

I know it's so easy to comment on a pregnant woman's frame. Sometimes, the attention and comments are kindly meant. At other times, it really doesn't help to be the target of declarations like "Woah, you're HUGE," coupled with widened eyes and several steps taken backwards in fear.

What I wanted most of all at that time was compassion and understanding and an open mind. I know that it was easy to assume that I had become overweight because I was giving in to all of my pregnancy cravings. I'll admit, I did eat a lot of icecream back then. But mostly, I was very uncomfortable and sick and I was scared out of my mind that my baby would die. It was hard enough to go out without bursting into tears.

I felt ashamed, for so many different reasons. I wished that my body could be a safer place for my baby. I wished that it was easier for me to walk around and get things done. I wished that even my maternity clothes weren't suddenly too tight.

There’s always more to what meets the eye – even with Kim Kardashian.

Have you - or anyone you know - had pre-eclampsia? Can you relate to this experience?

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