We exist in a society where women are often presented in extreme contrasts – the Madonna vs whore, high-heeled boardroom dragon vs bedraggled hippy mum, pumped up Jordan vs minimalist Posh. As you begin to get your head around your changing shape, suddenly you are also presented with a new image of yourself. As your waistline disappears, your sexuality may also vanish. Getting busy in the bedroom may be the last thing on your mind anyway when your joints ache and you can’t see your elephant feet. But it can come as a surprise that your partner may also begin to see your body as something to protect rather than covet.
Pregnancy for many couples is the first time that your lives may take different routes. Whether or not you choose to (or are able to) take time away from work after the birth, only you can carry that baby and bring it into the world. While your partner can offer foot rubs and chocolate runs, only you can really know how it feels to nurture a child within your body. In the early days, when there is no physical evidence that you are actually pregnant, it can feel easy for your partner to carry on as normal – or worse, make the most of their time-limited independence. Considering the many ways in which your life has already changed, this can make the contrast between you feel extremely stark.
The attitudes of others can also amplify this difference, asking how your partner is ‘coping’ or whether they’re ‘freaked out’. The implicit assumption that this pregnancy is your choice alone can shift the balance from the equal partners you may have been before and leave you questioning where you’ll end up.
Later on, when your bump may quite literally begin to come between you, you may find it frustrating that you’ve already become Madonna when you may want to be whore. While some find pregnancy both attractive and arousing, for many others pregnancy is a time to be cautious and caring. As you both begin to feel your child squirming around, it is common to feel anxiety about any sexual activity damaging the baby. Not only that, but suddenly you are Mother and all that represents. Don’t be afraid to remind both of you that you still hold on to your many other identities too – partner, friend and (if you like) lover. If the thought of sex brings on a wave of morning sickness, or you’ve been advised to forgo it for now, you may still want to make the most of lazy Saturdays in bed while you still can – to talk about your pregnancy and the growing baby you have created together.
Unfortunately, for others pregnancy is a time not of care but of threat. Whether the pregnancy has been expected or not, some partners find the reality of having a child together too difficult to manage. The responsibility of becoming a parent can make the problems in a relationship become too hard to ignore and separation is all too common. For those whose own childhoods have been fraught, a fear of repeating past experiences can make parenthood terrifying. At the very least, the idea of going from a dyad to a triad can feel scary, especially when your already existing relationship with the little bean can leave the bumpless partner feeling pushed out. The heightened emotions of pregnancy, for some, can result in real damage being done. Devastatingly, 30% of domestic violence cases start in pregnancy, with up to 9 in 100 women being abused either during pregnancy or following the birth. Together with the enormous psychological damage domestic violence can cause to both mother and child, abuse during pregnancy can also lead to damage to the uterus and placenta, preterm labour and stillbirth. As outsiders tend to see pregnancy as a time of joy, discussing difficulties at home can feel almost impossible and, sadly, routine inquiry into domestic problems (although recommended) is often left aside in busy health practices. However, abuse during pregnancy is not only a trauma for you but also becomes an issue of child protection as soon as that little fetus is acknowledged. If you need to discuss any difficulties at home, please speak to your GP or midwife – they have a duty to protect you. You can also speak to Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247, and many areas have a local Domestic Violence Helpline and dedicated support workers.
Ideally, pregnancy should be a time of coming together as a new family but many women can feel isolated from their partners as they march off, quite literally leaving you waddling behind. Rather than become resentful, or feel like you’re going through it on your own, try and make time to talk to your partner about the pregnancy itself. To them, it may be a means to an end but to you, it may be a transitional point that you later grieve for. Now may also be the perfect time to start building up a network of others who know exactly what you mean by ‘fanny daggers’ and can nod in agreement when you describe that bowling ball in your pelvis. You can find birth boards on the internet, for example on babycentre.co.uk and on Facebook, but nothing beats finding a group of local ladies through antenatal classes (or hypnobirthing groups, pregnancy yoga or any of the other groups out there for mums-to-be). Partners too can benefit from meeting others who are expecting at the same time, if only to say ‘wow, me too’. While at first you may feel poles apart from these women who only share a due date with you, there’s nothing like a bit of SPD to bond you and – when no-one else wants to hear about the consistency of your newborn’s poo – you’ll be glad you found them.