JUST ONE THING - Pregnancy
So, you’re pregnant. With child. Bun in the oven. And now you’re supposed to be glowing, nesting and avoiding Brie. You’re ecstatic, walking on air, full of anticipation for what is to come. You and your husband gaze at each other over tiny booties in John Lewis and fall ever deeper in love. Probably, if we’re going to fully immerse ourselves in this cultural fantasy of our time, you’re mostly wearing flowing white, walking through fields of sunflowers, and playing Brahms to your baby each evening.
That’s what you’re meant to be doing/feeling/thinking, right?
So what happens if all you can do at the moment, when you’re not dragging your dog tired bones to work, is lie on the sofa eating ice cream and occasionally puking? And that’s if you’ve got a straightforward pregnancy, what if you’re dealing with hyperemesis, what if you’ve faced a long journey to get here and you spend every day terrified, what if the pregnancy was not expected….?
There’s often a huge discrepancy in pregnancy between what we think we should be feeling, and what we’re actually feeling. You may well be reading this thinking, ‘but I feel great!’ in which case that is completely brilliant, but it’s not unusual to feel at least a little ambivalent about a pregnancy.
This may be due to a number of reasons. The first is that becoming pregnant can feel a little like entering a secret club. Initially, you are actually carrying a secret that you may have shared with very few people. Then later, once you start showing, you might notice that people look at you, well, a little differently. The downside of this is that perfect strangers feel entitled to comment on your appearance. The upside is that perfect strangers may also be incomprehensibly excited for you. Suddenly, it’s as if you’re being welcomed into a slightly different world. Understandably, there may be some fear accompanying that – no-one has yet told you the rules of this secret club. People talk to you about things like bassinets, and you’re thinking ‘WTF is a bassinet? Have we time-travelled to Victorian England?’ Or you feel a little queasy at words like ‘nipple shield’, ‘maternity pads’ and ‘mucous plug’. And you’re studiously avoiding even thinking about….. Birth.
The reason it can feel like a secret club is that for some reason, we keep so many secrets about pregnancy. Last October, I invited women on Instagram to share the things about pregnancy that had shocked and surprised them. I heard stories of unexpected physical symptoms – fatigue, swollen hands, feet and faces, hair in strange places, or hair falling out, tooth trouble with bleeding gums and sensitive teeth. Some also talked about how upsetting it could feel having no ‘symptoms’ of pregnancy, and missing the reassuring nature of physical symptoms.
Many women also experience unexpected problems with their mood during pregnancy. Antenatal anxiety and depression is something we just didn’t talk about twenty years ago, but at last we are starting to realise that pregnancy does not protect us from mental health troubles. In fact, it can exacerbate them. Research published on 4th January from Kings College London found that 1 in 4 women experience mood problems in pregnancy – with 15% of those feeling anxious, and 11% feeling depressed (that’s in a clinical range, of course many more may be experiencing some anxiety and low mood but not meet the criteria for a diagnosis). Some may experience other mental health difficulties, such as eating disorders (2%), obsessive-compulsive disorder (2%), PTSD (under 1%) and less commonly, bipolar disorder and other disorders. It’s not surprising at all that some women do find their mental health suffers when they become pregnant - and we’re finally realising that pregnancy can cause rather than protect from problems with our mental health. But as it’s still rarely spoken about, it can add to the feeling of secrecy. If this applies to you, the best thing to do is to talk about it openly – often sharing your thoughts and fears is the biggest step to feeling better.
To me, the other reason there’s some ambivalence about pregnancy is that there’s a lot of pressure on women generally to…well, to pretend we’re not pregnant. Like there’s not a huge transformation going on in us physically, mentally, socially, sexually. Not only are we invited into a new club, but it can feel sometimes that our bodies themselves are an unknown world – taken over at times by a virtual stranger. When this transformation isn’t honoured, as it isn’t in our society, we can end up with a conflict between what we feel like we should be doing, and what our bodies are telling us to do. And we end up feeling a bit confused (and probably pretty tired).
So there’s just one thing I’d like to say to pregnant women and their partners:
It’s ok not to know
It can feel so much during pregnancy like you’re in the cramming part before a really important exam. But you’re at the very beginning of a lifelong journey, and actually you’ll never really feel like you know it all. So enjoy the journey – and welcome to the club.