Recently I found myself pregnant. While not being unemployed, or without a stable relationship (although these are not pre-requisites for a successful parent), I was still shocked at the ‘predicament’ I found myself in.
This is how I have always considered pregnancy: a predicament – a shock to the system – of life-altering proportions that for me have not always had positive connotations attached. As I have neared my 30s I have been lucky enough to consider child-bearing as an option; one I could opt in or out of and my husband, and I were probably about a week away from opting out. Do not get me wrong, I am unwaveringly grateful to be pregnant and I am aware of the hardship, struggle and heartbreak that surrounds many women’s pregnancy journeys. But! I had found my feet in my career, my body was reaching a point where I felt happy and confident, and we were just relishing the freedom of a dual income and the time attached to this.
Then BAM! The digital display read ‘one to two’ weeks pregnant and the hardest part so far has been trying to meet other people’s expectations about my happiness levels in reaction to the news.
According to my beautiful, well-meaning and supportive friends and family, a new child is an amazing gift and I should be immediately and instinctively excited. But I am not. Being a person of honesty and directness I have expressed my genuine feelings when asked, that I am not excited ‘yet’, that I am unsure of how I feel and that I am wanting to be in the moment of just this week without looking too far ahead.
I feel that people are rushing, pressing to know about names, epidurals, cots, and baby-showers before I have even considered that at week six baby is the size of a sweet pea.
The only thing worse than dealing with the changes was the extra layer of guilt when people asked, "But aren’t you just a little bit excited?" or awfully, “Are you sure you are doing the right thing, if you aren’t feeling some excitement?”
Actually, 'friend’, I am entitled to feel shock, awe, trepidation, resentment and dread at the prospect of my whole life shifting. My goal as a woman has not been to reproduce and part of me is envious of women who have had that unwavering knowledge of what their path will entail. Be it reproduction, career goals, or a need to conquer Mount Everest - I am just not one of those women who knows what they want so resolutely.
It should be okay for women to feel however they feel in reaction to such a life-altering event.
We need to challenge the myth that because I am a woman I am naturally maternal and therefore should instantly feel a connection to this growing life.
Which introduces the next point, where I am not really meeting others’ expectations: Having a deep maternal attachment to my growing bump. Again, I have not felt connected to ‘it’ just yet.
Listen: The women who realised they didn't like motherhood - after giving birth. (Post continues...)
Scrolling through my social media feeds I see beautiful tributes from women to their growing bump and baby and the love they have already fostered for it. Again, just not there yet. At the minute I am still adjusting to my body changing. Not because of the weight gain... as a previous carrier of 140 kilograms believe me, stretch marks, weight gain, a big tummy and plus size clothing do not bother me in the slightest; what bothers me is the way others react when I express my honesty.
Perhaps it is in reaction to everyone telling me that, “once the bump comes along, you will fall in love with it”. Again, nope. I am a lifelong procrastinator of feelings that can see me dissolve into a rabbit-warren of over-analysis. I am never sure about anything until I am experiencing it and even then the overwhelming doubts mean that sometimes I watch myself from the outside instead of participating in the moment.
Why is this important? According to Beyond Blue, one in 10 women experience antenatal depression throughout pregnancy and one in seven postnatally. Often these feelings are associated with ones of guilt and inadequacy and I wonder how many of these associations are formed through our family and friends well-meaning reactions to our feelings. Particularly if these do not fit within the gendered, societal norms of an ‘expecting woman’ who should apparently be thrilled by the prospect of being pregnant.
I ask people to consider their responses and make way for people who are taking some time to adjust and perhaps need to learn to love or even like pregnancy and mothering, rather than it being an instinctual and ‘natural’ feeling. Letting them know they will feel differently when they see their babies eyes, or feel it kick, may be well-intentioned but is also fraught with danger because it may not be the case for what is a very personal and different journey for people.
My advice? Let them know it is normal and okay to be feeling however they are, and then keep asking through the journey. Non-judgemental acceptance of someone’s feelings is a form of support that is often better than convincing them they will feel differently soon.
Did you feel the same way while pregnant? Share your experiences with us in the comments below...