Stephanie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Pregnancy
Have you ever noticed that a lot of pregnancy situations can be directly associated with some sort of children's book? For example, in this current moment, I'm personally relating to Robert Munsch's "I Have to Go Pee!" and "Junk Food"... also one I recently authored, entitled "Please Kid, Leave Me Alone".
So here I am. 16 weeks pregnant and it sucks. No - like, I mean it really sucks. Not the emotional part - that has actually been pretty fantastic so far; Mike and I have been having some fun tossing terrible names out to one another, and Emily has gone from dreading the idea of a baby, to asking some amazingly interesting questions about giving birth ("Mommy, does the baby come out with a tag on it's leg that says 'boy' or 'girl' so we know what it is?"). When I say I'm miserable (and yes, I very much am), I'm strictly speaking about the wretchedness that has made up the physical part of this pregnancy.
Let's take stock, shall we? In the last 3 months there were 4 nights spent sleeping upright on the couch due to severe acid reflux, 20 days spent lying in bed or on the bathroom floor from excessive vomiting, 2 hospital visits as a result of dehydration and a drop in blood pressure, migraines that have lasted up to four days at a time, and a mandatory ingestion of 14 prescription pills daily. Trust me, it blows. This kid better come out smiling for the first year of it's life.
Let's Talk: The Shitty Pregnancy That No One Talks About
I'm supposed to be glowing. I'm not glowing. I'm the opposite of glowing. I'm the girl in the "after" picture that is used to deter kids from abusing heroine.
I read the books. All of them. But there was not one that said "You will probably hate your life for an entire 40 weeks". There were sentences that included "mild nausea" or "stretch marks", chapters that explained which fruit would represent the size of my child at each stage, and excerpts that advised how much weight should be gained each month - which, by the way, I continue to interpret as a mere suggestion in light of my recent Cheetos obsession. There is no book entitled, "This is Going to Suck Ass". I've looked. And the funny thing is, as I once again speak openly and honestly about my experiences, I have mom friends coming out and admitting to all of their shitty symptoms too.
After thinking long and hard about this topic (because there's not much else to do when you're lying in a dark room with a migraine), I've realized that there are two major issues that come with the territory of a crappy pregnancy - one on the emotional front, while the other is physical... both of which are topics that never seem to be discussed in public. Indulge me, if you will:
The Emotional - Parts A and B
A) Feeling Alone:
Find me someone who is overjoyed by the excitement of growing a life inside of her WHILE she lies on the bathroom floor vomiting. Ask a woman who has been awake for days on end because acid reflex keeps choking her out of sleep, if she is happy about joining the New Mommy Club. Go find the lady coping with daily sciatic nerve or round ligament pain and comment on how wonderful her life is about to become. I had one mom recently tell me that throughout her pregnancy, her gums would bleed to such an extreme, that blood would be dripping down her teeth during the day. Go ask her about how happy she is to be pregnant. I dare you.
The reality is, when we suffer excessively from headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, pains and aches - to the point of debilitation - it is really very difficult to get excited about a baby. Lack of excitement can lead to "WHAT WAS I THINKING??" And since no one talks about this, you feel like you must be the only heartless woman in the world dreading her baby's impending birth. As it turns out, you are not! But who actually admits to this? No one. So we sit and cry alone, wondering what it is that we're doing wrong, and why we're the only ones who seem to be this sick.
B) Mom-to-Mom Shame:
There are a lot of women out there who have wonderful pregnancies. I'm talking zero nausea, no insomnia, no headaches... literally NO SYMPTOMS for an entire nine months. I think that is sincerely amazing (foreign, but amazing), and I feel nothing but envy when they describe how much they loved having a baby inside them. Some of them actually MISS IT.
Here's where this becomes an issue: There are women in this world who have the ability to feel empathy and compassion for those who have had differing experiences from them. To those moms, I say god bless you. You are lovely. But there are a surprising number of moms who just cannot possibly understand how someone can have such a bad pregnancy when they had such a wonderful one. These are the moms who ask "What do migraines have to do with having a baby?", "I don't understand... you haven't been out of bed in three days?" and my personal favourite, "It's called morning sickness... are you sure you were actually throwing up all night?" While not necessarily ill intentioned, these comments are received as judgmental and mean. It's difficult enough for those of us to be experiencing the plethora of nasty symptoms, but add to this the fact that people in your life don't believe you? It's devastating. And so we again keep our mouths shut.
This idea of lack of sympathy for those whose experiences differ from yours does not strictly apply to pregnancy, of course. Mental health is a fantastic example of this. To say, however, "I have had a headache before and it has never rendered me bed-ridden... ", demonstrates a lack of benevolence. Which is probably why those of us suffering don't talk about this stuff. We have all gone through varying situations in our lives - mental, physical, childhood, marriages - but we can't simply assume how one's experiences should be, based on how our own have occurred. It's hurtful. One woman's labour can take 45 minutes, while another's might take 4 days. Why is it so easy to believe that our bodies can react different physically to in this particular example, but not in other scenarios?
It's time for us to start being generous with our compassion... we don't necessarily have to understand, but we do have to accept.
The final issue I see with having a shitty pregnancy is the fact we are still expected to function completely normally throughout our days, regardless of the physical symptoms we are afflicted with. Careers, children, housework - there are no days off that are considered socially acceptable.
A scenario, if you will: An individual working in an office environment calls in sick for three days because they've come down with a case of the stomach flu. No one expects that individual to be in the office giving their all, while their head hangs over a toilet bowl. Now instead of stomach flu, let's call it pregnancy. And instead of three days, let's say it's been a consistent thirty. After about a week of calling in sick, that woman's boss and co-workers are no longer going to be sympathetic. That woman's children are still going to expect to be fed and clothed. And if that woman is physically unable to accomplish her normal daily tasks, the general reaction from most folks is impatience, judgement and ultimately an overall lack of compassion. The widespread consensus is "I've never known anyone else to be this sick... women have been getting pregnant for centuries and they have continued to function just fine".
Now assume that this mom treks through her various ailments over the course of her nine month pregnancy... what does this look like? Amalgamated, it could be months of insomnia, days of malnutrition or dehydration, aches, pains, and low morale. Fast-forward to the day she gives birth, and instead of being physically and mentally strong for this new stage in her life, she is going in as a train wreck. And we wonder why some women are more prone to postpartum depression than others...
So what's the point, Steph?
To those women who have had or are having beautiful pregnancies: Continue to share your stories. Some of us live vicariously through them, and it gives those looking to become pregnant in the future a magical vision of what might be in store for them. But remember... not all of us have been as lucky as you. Your experience is not ours - you don't have to understand or relate... just accept that there are other realities out there outside of your own.
To those women who have had or are having shitty pregnancies: Talk about it. Do not feel ashamed, like you're failing, or like there is something wrong with you. Despite what some might have you believe, there is no pregnancy "normal". There is only your normal. Sharing your taboo or "irregular" experiences is the only way we will garner an understanding from those who have "never heard of such a thing". Let them hear it. Loudly. People will soon learn to discern that a shitty pregnancy is not such an anomaly.
I look forward to hearing about YOUR normal!
So until the next time I poke the bear... lots of love.