In All Honesty
I’ve been intrigued by pregnancy since adolescence. There were recurrent dreams of being pregnant and giving birth (once in the middle of a huge football stadium filled with spectators). In class, I doodled pregnant bodies, nude or clad in flowing dresses, the better to emphasise the breasts, hips and tummies of my figures.
It seemed so utterly mysterious, the way bodies expanded to make space for something that had just begun to exist. I watched with admiration women who refused to let themselves go during that time, women who insisted on being women first, and not just walking incubators. Ladies who could think and talk about things other than their impending motherhood, who made a point of remaining stylish, of not, you know, losing themselves. It didn’t seem exactly effortless, but it appeared to be an ideal to strive for.
So when my turn came, I welcomed it with a sense of pragmatic curiosity. It felt like experimenting on myself. With some anticipation, I set out to observe how my body and I reacted to these changes.
The first thing that became blindingly obvious is that no two pregnancies are alike. From symptoms and their intensity to how we each react to them, I felt, in my gut, that there really is no point in comparing ourselves to each other. This made my life easy: right then and there, I lost interest in all the (psychotic) forums online. Inappropriate advice, off-colour comments and horror-stories-as-proof-that-I-have-no-idea-what’s-coming have yet to affect me (though I love them for sharing a laugh with Jason).
The second thing I established, instantly and without a doubt, is how profoundly unnatural this pregnancy feels. For better or worse, I am experiencing it like a merciless colonisation of my body, and have from the very start.
It’s not that the symptoms are particularly bothersome. I did get my share of nausea and vomiting in the first trimester (I still do, though much more seldom now), but nothing like my friend, who couldn’t even watch television without puking. I’ve considerably slowed down, yes. I get dizzy, out of breath, I have ligament aches, sciatica, mild contractions, heartburn has started and threatens to worsen. Still, by and large my body has soldiered on in ways I find, erm, shocking.
It’s me, you see. I’m the one who has a problem with it. I don’t like the way my tummy’s growing, which is fast and furious. I thought I’d be able to exercise, but I can’t go more than 15 minutes without putting myself in some form of physical distress. Four months in, I had to climb the steps one by one with breaks in between, lest I faint the minute I walk through the door (which nearly happened twice, forcing Jason to carry me to the sofa).
Then there’s the peripheral stuff: a friend of a friend said her desire for alcohol vanished the moment her pregnancy began. Well, good for her, but I can’t lie: I rolled my eyes and wondered what sugar pill she’s on. I miss wine. I miss cocktails. I miss sushi and medium rare meat and prosciutto and cheese rind and liver-based delicacies.
And the moving? Yes, it’s fun the first few times you feel it. It’s also good later on as evidence the baby’s going strong. But with twins, let me tell you, it is constant. At least one of them is awake at all times. On multiple occasions, I’ve had to get up and walk around to put them to sleep because their agitation was becoming distracting. And… Oh, fuck it, I’ll just say it: it’s also very, very weird. Waking up in the middle of the night to a womb twin party makes you wonder whether that’s what it feels like to have a giant worm taking over your intestines. It is unsettling and a little bit scary, and I’mma be frank, I don’t love it.
Need I add no woman has a real way of medicating any of the unpleasantness? Many obstetricians, for example, prescribe narcotics for all sorts of pains with no actual knowledge of the effects of opioids on foetuses. Even paracetamol (sorry, Yanks, acetaminophen) is an unknown. Ibuprofen? Nope. And if you must endure rhinitis (whether caused by hay fever, as was my case, or pregnancy itself) and neti potting isn’t enough, you’re shit out of luck for at least six months of the nine.
"Oh, c’mon, get over yourself," you’ll say. Fair point. Mild inconvenience. But everywhere you look, they describe pregnancy as this moment of grace in a woman’s life. They tell you about the "glow" (which, let’s be honest here, is a fleeting moment between the fourth and fifth month and only has to do with your fuller shape paired with the relative lack of physical discomfort). They tell you the anticipation of maternity is beautiful and natural and soft and a total high. The fact is, many of us buy that story (it’s also possible many of us forget all the annoyances at birth, I’ll have to get back to you).
They don’t tell you pregnancy is a medical condition (and I can think of a few natural-is-better militants who would lynch me for saying it out loud). It isn’t an illness per se, but something that can swiftly devolve into a host of potentially life-threatening complications, no matter how well you seem to be doing. And is it any wonder, when you know how mind-blogglingly aggressive the human placenta is?
Also, I’m sorry, but how fucked up is it that if you don’t have access to all the nutrients you need, the baby will start helping itself on your existing resources? Take calcium, for example: your bundle of joy will literally eat your bones. Insufficient calcium intake during pregnancy is a major cause of osteoporosis later in life. Human embryos and foetuses are not like parasites. They are parasites.
Even if pregnancy goes well, and no matter what they try to sell you about orgasmic births, labour can turn into a complete shit show. First-time mothers, especially, are susceptible. I won’t even mention the physical sequelae. Postpartum PTSD is very real and, by this reproductive psychologist's admission, woefully understudied. Postpartum anything, really, is understudied, misunderstood, and rampant.
Listen, I’m lucky. Until now, my body’s been ever so cooperative. I also have the obscene luxury of working from home. We live in the 21st century, where the overwhelming majority of us is able (and hopefully willing, don’t laugh, it’s not a given) to rely on the safety of medicine and get through, unharmed, high-risk gestations and births. I know I’ll be in the very best hands NYC can offer when the moment comes.
This is sincere. Every day, I find myself hoping to give birth to healthy children and that we will have a chance to raise them into strong, upstanding adults. I don’t want to imagine the heartache a loss would trigger, because it would be awful and I have no idea how we would recover from something like that.
Yet I wish I’d known. I wish someone had been straight with me about the
sausage baby-making. Lack of control over one’s body is something most of us (men and women who don’t have children) will not experience until either a serious illness or old age takes over. Pregnancy gives you a taste of it (to varying degrees, of course).
So I need to document this so as not to forget. You, my friends, must realise:
- The expectation that pregnant women should be ecstatic and never complain, even when the child is desired, is both aberrant and abhorrent (and I am not alone there, as shown by this video on the myth of the happy gestator, sent to me by my dear Duyen).
- Pregnancy is so glorified and its risks so underestimated that stuff like this still happens. In the United States. In 2014.
- Knowing now, in my flesh, what it takes to make a human (or two), I understand it is nothing short of criminal to deny access to safe abortions and contraception to women everywhere. To all the smug ignoramuses out there: birth control is health care.
Pregnancy does a number on you, on your body. No matter what, it is really quite disgusting. Even in the very best, happiest of cases, and with all the medical support, it brings a woman a step closer to invalidity and death. To pretend this isn’t true, to paint an idyllic picture of gestation and what it entails, is to do us all a disservice.
TL;DR —> pregnancy is really not that great and we need to cut the bullshit.
— From NYC.