At what point do you become a mum? When you meet your baby for the first time, or 9 months before that when you feel a little stirring in your tummy and think “Could I be pregnant? Or was it just wind….”
Those first few days after conception, as with all aspects of pregnancy, are different for every woman. While some women talk about feeling pregnant immediately – with the cramps and mood swings many women experience in the first few weeks it’s not unusual to be convinced that it’s just PMT. In fact, for those who continue to spot during pregnancy, it may be weeks before pregnancy is even considered.
No matter how longed for this baby might be, the idea that you may be pregnant almost always brings a multitude of decisions you never even considered. Many GP surgeries don’t offer pregnancy tests, so off you trundle to Boots to buy one. There, alongside the ovulation kits and DNA tests, comes the first choice you’ll make as a mother. Do you go for the digital one which knows you’re pregnant straight after conception and plays ‘Rock a Bye Baby’ if it’s positive? Or the good old fashioned one with a blue cross that could be a line, no, is it a cross? And is it bad to buy a cheap one, shouldn’t you be buying the best for your baby? But then you’re just going to pee on it….
And standing there, in the Baby section round the corner from the Pampers, all of a sudden you find yourself in the world of mothers. Not on the next aisle with the carefree girl in her early 20s buying condoms but over here with the responsible women. And while that may feel novel, and exciting, it may also feel like an outfit that doesn’t quite fit and that needs some time to settle into.
Confronted with that little blue cross, you may also confront some very mixed emotions. As one Mum puts it, there was “a weird combination of feeling underwhelmed AND overwhelmed when I saw the positive pregnancy test. I had very much wanted to be pregnant, it was planned, all of that and yet being confronted with the reality of actually being pregnant was rather daunting AND, strangely, a bit of an anti-climax… It was definitely a feeling of ‘what have I done?’ and ‘Do I really want this?!’”
Suddenly this signals there is life growing within your previously independent body, and there may be a certain level of anxiety which comes along with that. You may have decided to do the test alone, or with your partner, or a friend. But having some time to think about the new space which has opened up, the bubble of you and your baby, can help you get used to the idea that you have become a mum.
Bizarrely, considering how many changes you undergo during the first trimester of pregnancy, this may be the time that you also feel the least supported. It may feel quite isolating when even those you have told don’t treat you differently – as of course you don’t really look different yet – and you have to make up stories about why you’ve suddenly gone off brie to those who you haven’t told. While your partner may share your excitement, they may also be facing their own anxieties. Being open about your own mixed feelings may pave the way for you to support each other.
Many choose not to share the news with others until the start of the second trimester. While nowadays this is often marked by the dating scan, at around 10-12 weeks, and the first visual indication that there is actually a baby in there, concealing pregnancy has longer standing traditions. In fact, many cultures believe that revealing a pregnancy could attract the evil eye, or bad spirits, who could bring harm to the unborn child.
So the life changing difference in you can begin to feel like something secret – and sometimes something not quite real. Of course, like a rather cruel joke, this time when you’re trying to keep a secret may also be the time you are feeling absolutely bloody awful. While no two pregnant women are the same, many are surprised at just how difficult pregnancy can feel. Even mild nausea can be hard to bear when no-one knows and you have to pretend you’re feeling fine, let alone vomiting, painful boobs and trapped wind. Rapidly, your body can change in ways you didn’t expect – feeling freezing cold, ravenously hungry, dog tired. This may feel outside of your control, and is one early way of letting you know that there’s someone else in there who wants to be noticed.
These first weeks can also be a time of intense anxiety, particularly when you may have already experienced a miscarriage. Despite the literal connection, it can feel hard to connect with your baby when you are scared of losing it, and when it’s only the size of a lentil! Giving yourself some space to voice those fears enables you to think about your hopes too. While dealing loss is something I will save for another post, pushing away these hopes can make fear more overwhelming, and leave you feeling disconnected from your experience.
All of this can add to up early pregnancy feeling like a bit of a burden, alongside any excitement. Perhaps then, this can offer the first opportunity to begin questioning attitudes towards pregnancy. The hidden nature of these first weeks, coupled with having to do it all without breaking a sweat, can leave you struggling to meet your usual high expectations while feeling further and further away from them. But the anticipation of looking after a baby can also raise the possibility of looking after you too. While you may not want to share your pregnancy with those around you yet, you may find women at the same stage of pregnancy on internet forums (e.g. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/community/birthclubs/) who can help you feel that what you’re going through isn’t unusual. We can take a cue from other cultures, for example in Sikhism where a pregnant woman is treated with care and love and special prayers are said for her, in South India where she is given armfuls of bangles to offer protection and so that the pleasant sounds can reach her womb, in Bangladesh where women are encouraged to rest throughout their pregnancy, or in Sri Lanka where a woman’s husband must do his utmost to satisfy his wife’s cravings! In these initial stages of entering into a slightly different world, perhaps this offers an opportunity to think about what you want to take into that world with you, and the stresses to leave behind.