By Molly Forbes
Something funny happens to me when I am pregnant. It happened with my daughter and it's happening again now: I am completely obsessed with other pregnant bellies.
The compulsion to Google "XX weeks pregnant" and scroll through the images is akin to my former frantic Ryan Gosling searches. I just can't help myself. Like I said, I'm obsessed.
I have devoured bump galleries, celebrity bump pics, bump selfies on Instagram, Facebook bump photos and, of course, any bump shot on Twitter. There are so many options for places to satiate my appetite for bumps that it's become a rather time-consuming business.
The thing is, I don't think all these bump images are necessarily a healthy thing. Actually, I'll rephrase that, I don't think all these "perfect bump images" are necessarily a healthy thing.
During my arduous hours of bump research I've discovered that the "non-perfect" (or "real") bump pictures are few and far between. Much of my Internet timeline is filled with images of perfectly polished and glowing mums-to-be, all looking like they have swallowed a football.
There's not a love handle or chunky thigh in sight. They are svelte, toned and perfectly proportioned, with a cute, neat little bump protruding from their middle.
And this is where it gets silly. A couple of weeks ago I was feeling rubbish about my changing body shape. Rather than embrace the new curves, I was feeling lumpish and huge. As someone who's never bothered too much about their shape this was all a bit new to me. I felt self-conscious, worried people would think I'd just eaten too many pies rather than being pregnant. Of course I was thrilled to be pregnant and my main priority was (and is) the health of the baby growing inside me, but I still felt a bit... rubbish.
Looking back, I put it all down to a week of bump selfie scrolling. Most of the bumps that week were celebrity ones; a desperately cool and pregnant Oliva Wilde and a hugely pregnant, skinny legged Gwen Stefani. These celebrities looked beautiful and blooming. And the more beautiful and blooming they looked the worse I felt. Why didn't I look beautiful and blooming? What was wrong with me?
And then I was chatting with another mum who told me she had no extra weight at all when she was pregnant, just sporting a huge perfectly round bump. "I just looked like I'd swallowed a beach ball!" She beamed. Great.
That's when the existence of Competitive Bump Syndrome dawned on me. This mum may have been lying, or she may have been telling the truth. It didn't matter really. Either way she wanted to underline the perfection of not putting weight on anywhere else, as if that was one of the biggest achievements of her pregnancy. She won at being pregnant.
The picture at the top of this post is me, at 16 weeks pregnant. At the time I was feeling bloated and desperately aware of the extra bit of weight on my hips and thighs. My bump wasn't all round and hard. It was soft and a bit wobbly in some places. And you know what? That's OK.
Because, after all this extensive research and comparing of bumps, I have come to understand that this mythical idea of the "perfect bump" is exactly that - a myth. All bumps are different. One bump is no "better" or more "perfect" than the next. It's just different.
If you carried your baby "all out front" and remained tiny elsewhere on your body then good for you, well done. But if you didn't, then well done too. We're all doing something pretty cool (and exhausting, bloating, nausea-inducing) in growing a human, and THAT'S the thing that should be celebrated - not whether you managed to get through pregnancy without developing a couple of love handles.
So I'm calling time on the "perfect bump". ALL bumps are perfect as far as I'm concerned. And I have my very own collection of bump selfies to prove it.