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Getting Pregnant Was My Glow-Up: How Pregnancy With Chronic Illness Helped Me Love My Body

I was anxious about being pregnant with asthma. But I didn’t expect to have confidence in my body for the first time ever.
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Yolande Clark-Jackson with her husband and daughter
Image: Courtesy Yolande Clark-Jackson

When I first saw the two pink vertical lines on my first pregnancy test, I was shocked. I took a second test to confirm, and then I was filled with a sense of joy. For the first time, my body surprised me—in a good way. No one had ever told me I had infertility, but because of my chronic illness I believed I did. And since at times I felt like I could barely keep myself alive, I believed I was too fragile for motherhood. What I didn’t yet know is that pregnancy would help me believe in my body again—and love myself like I never had before.

Before my first day of kindergarten, I was diagnosed with asthma, severe eczema and food and environmental allergies. It seemed my mother was always trying to keep me safe, and my body was always presenting her with a new challenge. She put gloves on my hands before bed to keep me from scratching through my skin, I had a machine to help me breathe, and a bottle of Benadryl at home, at school and in my mother’s purse. One sliver of peach or a dab of peanut butter could land me in the emergency room. Sometimes it wasn’t even clear what my body had encountered that caused me to be short of breath or covered in a rash. I didn’t feel safe in my own body.

So when I found out I was pregnant, instead of being afraid of facing the implicit bias or risk factors associated with being Black and pregnant, I was happy my body had finally delivered some good news.

When I told my mother, she wasn’t as happy as I had hoped she would be. Before I started to show, I went home for a visit to tell her in person. I was excited to share my big news. “You have to be careful,” she said gravely. “A pregnancy puts a lot of stress on your body.” She was scared. She couldn’t celebrate with me, not yet. And her fear was understandable. Asthma can present a number of issues in pregnancy that lead to maternal morbidity and mortality. According to the American Lung Association, up to 45 percent of pregnant women with asthma experience an asthma attack during their pregnancy. African Americans are three times as likely to die from asthma-related causes than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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I assured my mother, “I’ll be fine, Mom. Don’t worry.” And for the first time, I actually believed that I would be.

Of course, I had to catch up with this new belief. When I was younger, I had gotten a handle on my allergies and flare-ups by changing my diet and making the necessary lifestyle changes. But I still struggled with accepting the scars from my eczema. I had a long way to go when it came to truly accepting myself and my body.

During pregnancy, I finally began to believe that my body is beautiful. In my second trimester, when my boobs got bigger, my hips got a bit wider and my skin started to glow, I felt like another person. Suddenly, I didn’t have dry skin anymore, my hair grew, my nails got longer and I felt more feminine than I had ever felt. And while I know these might sound like superficial concerns to some, they meant a lot to me because they had always felt beyond my grasp. When my body changed shape and size, so did my confidence.

I began to do things I had never done: I wore dresses that were low-cut and showed my legs, and I put my hair up and away from my face more often. For the first time, I wanted all of me to be seen. I also acted differently. Once a mostly shy and private person, I began telling everyone with pride that I was pregnant. I wanted to celebrate my pregnancy in all the ways I could. I even allowed my then-fiancé and now-husband to take (mostly) nude photos of me. I felt like a butterfly.

I remember the day I wholeheartedly accepted my first compliment about my appearance. It was my third trimester, and my husband and I were standing in the doorway to our baby’s future nursery. It was safari-themed, decorated in brown and beige tones. My husband looked down at me with a smile and said, “You look so beautiful.” I didn’t look away or doubt his sincerity. I didn’t negate it with the type of sly response I usually made that prevented me from fully accepting a compliment. Instead I said, “Thank you.”

Chronic illness takes so much from you. You spend so much time focusing on what’s wrong with your body that you forget what your body can still do. Investing so much time in managing your own insecurities, pain and discomfort not only only limits your confidence but also your perspective. Getting pregnant allowed me to expand my focus beyond myself to include a little human growing inside me and a family I wanted to grow. It allowed me to see myself beyond my allergies and my scars, as a beautiful and happy mother-to-be who was flawed but capable.

The good news is that I didn’t have any asthma attacks or eczema flare-ups during my pregnancy. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. I threw up every morning for the first four months and endured some sleepless nights and lower-back pain. But overall, my first experience was a great one. What helped: I drank a lot of water, ate well, took my prenatal vitamins, rested and enjoyed the journey with hopeful expectation.

I never worried about whether my body would “snap back” after pregnancy or how I would contend with stretch marks. I had never been so proud of my body, and my biggest wish was that the gratitude I gained for my body during my pregnancy would last beyond it. And it did.

Getting pregnant for me was a glow-up in many ways. I learned to accept myself exactly the way I was and embrace my individual beauty. I became more confident facing the world with an expanded perspective, and I didn’t allow fear to impact my hope for the future. My body showed me that it could change, it could be strong and it could overcome its past.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

StatPearls, Asthma in Pregnancy, June 2023

American Lung Association, Asthma and Pregnancy, November 2022

US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Asthma and African Americans, November 2022

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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