Being Real About The Magic of Pregnancy
A friend of mine told me her 5 year old son once asked her 'is magic real?'. One of those pivotal moments where you hold a child's innocence in your hands. 'Yes' she replied. Wide-eyed and expectantly, he asked her for an example. 'When you were growing in my belly, that was the most magical thing'. (To which he replied, rather unimpressed, 'but is real magic real?'…)
Growing a child inside your body is truly a magical experience. It is humbling and beautiful and people will love you for it. They will tell you that you're glowing and think you're cute and they will be unable to hide their excitement for you.
But pregnancy doesn't always feel sparkly and magical.
Some women have relatively easy pregnancies and for others it's really tough. I expect that nearly all women who are pregnant can admit to the conceptual magic of growing a life. But not all women are happy about the physical, every-day reality of actually being pregnant. This for many is no magic at all.
Personally, my pregnancy journey has been filled with lots of ups and downs. Having experienced miscarriages before this pregnancy, the first 14 or so weeks were defined by dreams of bleeding and loss, awful 'morning' sickness that lasted all day, and a generalised anxiety that something was going to go wrong. Once I had the first scan and a teeny tiny heart beat was found, slowly I started to gain confidence in my body to do this, and the feeling that it was going to be okay started to grow stronger. When my sickness was mostly gone, by around week 16, I started to actually be able to tune into feelings of excitement. Before this time, I felt like a bit of a zombie. Not able to access my excitement but being told that I must be 'so excited!' as others heard my news. From about week 16 up until week 28 I felt pretty well. I often had bad heartburn but no morning sickness and a high level of confidence about the pregnancy, plus I was able to work and teach yoga full time without much difficulty. This was the golden era of my pregnancy.
From about week 28 to 33 things grew increasingly more difficult for a variety of reasons. My job was more of a challenge and I struggled increasingly with my energy levels. I am currently 38 weeks pregnant. I'm not sleeping well because I'm up about once per hour to have a pee, plus to move and get settled. Shifting from side to side in bed and getting comfortable is getting harder and harder - not only because of my rotund physicality but also because my core strength is shot to pieces. I have pelvic pain and today is the second time that I seem to have pulled a muscle in my upper arm from sleeping in a bad position. I feel a level of exhaustion hitherto unknown and my pregnancy sickness has been creeping back in. I have heartburn daily - another cause of poor sleep and exhaustion. My nose has felt constantly blocked for a while now and I get out of breath easily. All of this in addition to riding emotional waves of feeling teary and emotional and flat and frustrated and happy. A just so, so tired. But I've said that already. My brain is filled with a new kind of fog that rarely passes. I feel big and heavy and awkward a lot. I wet myself a bit every time I sneeze and I seem to sneeze more than ever. I feel that my body isn't my own any more. Right now I'm feeling sick of it.
As I write this, I feel compelled to explain myself; to make it clear that despite these feelings, I love my baby and I am happy about being a mother. There's a creeping feeling as if in some way I am being a bad mother for listing all of the things about pregnancy that I am not enjoying. This gets to me. I know this is crap but I still fear a certain judgement about it - which is precisely the reason (in addition to some much needed catharsis) that I am writing this piece.
Being happy about pregnancy and being happy about having a child are not the same thing. Neither are loving pregnancy and loving your growing baby. The latter does not rest on the former. They can co-exist but they don't have to. There are no 'shoulds' when it comes to how you feel about being pregnant. There are no 'oughts' about your experience of growing a child inside of you. There is just you, your growing baby, your changing body and the very raw and real and vulnerable experience of making and sustaining life; two lives at the same time.
I think that as pregnant women there is this idea that we must feel ecstatic because we are doing something so absolutely magical. This only creates an environment where many women who don't experience the magic of pregnancy not only feel guilty and ashamed about how they really feel, but also feel isolated for fear of judgement and unable to talk to anyone about it.
'You must be so excited' is something I've been told over and over again*. Although posed as a statement of fact and never a question, the answer is that whilst I am looking forward to being a mother, to meeting my little one, sometimes I do feel excited and sometimes I don't. On days where I haven't slept much and am feeling flat and emotional and sick and my food is attempting to come back out of my mouth as it burns my chest on the way up, accessing my excitement viscerally isn't just a click of the fingers. I can nod and say the words and in my head I can agree but in my body I am struggling to take hold of these feelings. I'll admit that this has made me feel pretty bad quite a lot. Like there is something wrong with how I'm feeling as if my day-to-day excitement directly correlates with my excitement at being a mother to my child.
I met a woman the other day who told me 'I hate being pregnant, I can't wait not to be'. Had she said this to me before my own experience of pregnancy, in my ignorance I have been taken aback by such honesty and such an opposite feeling to the archetypal glowing over-the-moon oh-you-must-be-so-happy pregnant woman. But I just thought 'respect'.
The truth is, just like life, pregnancy is a rocky road. And just like life, it is filled with the truth of simultaneously existing opposites. In my life I am filled with doubt but also I am confident. I am a delicate flower but a tough little cookie. My experience of pregnancy is no different; I am powerful but I am also weary. I am excited but detached. I am a goddess but a fallen angel. Happy but sad. I am so many things. There really isn't one way to be and there should be no expectations.
It's never easy when we have bad days. We feel like the rug has been swept from under our feet and struggle to make sense of how different we can feel one day to the next. Yesterday we were on top of the world and today we're fat, our hair looks like crap and every item in our wardrobe looks terrible on us. Tomorrow we will probably forget all about it. I am used to these fluctuations - they suck but I'm used to them. It is widely accepted, indeed expected in life that shit will hit the fan and shit won't. But in pregnancy, the expectations seem so very high; full to brimming with the societal consensus that pregnant woman must be floating on a fluffy white cloud. Hardships are often considered cute quirks - the waddle, back pain, cravings, teariness etc. So when we don't feel good it can hit us even harder against the subconscious back drop of these entrenched expectations; perhaps we feel less worthy or less 'womanly' or like a failure in some way. Couple that with the fact that emotions are at an all time flux in pregnancy, and it can be pretty hard to deal with.
Simply talking about this can hep a lot. As can remembering a few simple truths:
Remember that there is no right way to feel in pregnancy**, or at any other time.
Remember that you are doing you're best.
Remember that there will be ups and downs.
Remember that neither define you.
Remember that you're doing something pretty f*cking amazing but that doesnt mean you always have to feel amazing because of it.
Remember that often you won't.
We need to give ourselves permission to feel however we feel without making a value judgement about ourselves or our ability to be a good mother and love our baby.
*Maybe rather than always saying 'you must be so excited', we could simply ask 'how are you feeling today?'. And acknowledge that whilst many pregnant women may be on top of the world, they may also be carrying it's weight on their shoulders with a face that feels like it has to keep smiling.
**Some women develop severe mental health problems in pregnancy, especially if they have a past history of mental health issues. If you think that you might be suffering from a mental health condition it is important to talk to your midwife or GP and discuss the ways that you can get extra support and treatment during your pregnancy.