A friend’s five-year-old son once asked her, “Is magic real?”
It was one of those pivotal moments where you hold a child’s innocence in your hands. “Yes,” she replied. Wide-eyed and expectantly, he asked her for an example. “When you were growing in my belly, that was the most magical thing.”
To which he replied, rather unimpressed, “But is real magic real?”
Growing a child inside your body is truly a magical experience. It is humbling and beautiful and people will love you for it. They will tell you that you’re glowing, that they think you’re cute, and they will be unable to hide their excitement for you.
But pregnancy doesn’t always feel sparkly and magical.
Some women have relatively easy pregnancies and for others, it’s really tough. I expect that nearly all women who are pregnant can admit to the conceptual magic of growing a life. But not all women are happy about the physical, everyday reality of being pregnant.
This, for many, is no magic at all.
Personally, my pregnancy journey has been filled with lots of ups and downs.
Having experienced miscarriages before this pregnancy, the first 14 weeks were defined by dreams of bleeding and loss, awful “morning” sickness that lasted all day, and anxiety that something was going to go wrong. Once I had the first scan and a teeny, tiny heartbeat was found, I started to gain confidence in my body’s ability to do this, that it was going to be okay.
When my sickness was mostly gone, by around week 16, I started to tune into feelings of excitement. Before this time, I felt a bit like a zombie. I wasn’t able to access my excitement, but was being told that I must be “so excited!” as others heard my news. From about week 16 up until week 28, I felt pretty well. I often had bad heartburn, but no morning sickness, and a high level of confidence about the pregnancy, plus I was able to work and teach yoga full-time without much difficulty. This was the golden era of my pregnancy.
From about week 28 to 33, things grew increasingly more difficult for a variety of reasons. My job was more of a challenge and I struggled increasingly with my energy levels.
I am currently 38 weeks pregnant. I’m not sleeping well because I’m up about once per hour to pee, plus the added time to move and get settled. Shifting from side to side in bed and getting comfortable is getting harder—not only because of my rotund physicality, but also because my core strength is shot to pieces. I have pelvic pain, and today is the second time that I seem to have pulled a muscle in my upper arm from sleeping in a bad position.
I feel a level of exhaustion hitherto unknown, and my pregnancy sickness has been creeping back in. I have heartburn daily—another cause of poor sleep and exhaustion. My nose has felt constantly blocked for a while now, and I get out of breath easily. All of this is in addition to riding emotional waves—feeling tearful and flat and frustrated and happy. And just so, so tired.
But I’ve said that already. My brain is filled with a new kind of fog that rarely passes. I feel big and heavy and awkward. I wet myself a bit every time I sneeze, and I seem to sneeze more than ever. I feel that my body isn’t my own anymore. Right now I’m feeling sick of it.
As I write this, I feel compelled to explain myself, to make it clear that despite these feelings, I love my baby, and I am happy about being a mother. There’s a creeping feeling that, in some way, I am being a bad mother for listing all of the things about pregnancy that I am not enjoying. This gets to me. I know this is crap, but I still fear a certain judgement about it—which is precisely the reason (in addition to some much needed catharsis) that I am writing this piece.
Being happy about pregnancy and being happy about having a child are not the same thing. Neither are loving pregnancy and loving your growing baby. The latter does not rest on the former. They can coexist but they don’t have to.
There are no “shoulds” when it comes to how you feel about being pregnant. There are no “oughts” about your experience of growing a child inside of you. There is just you, your growing baby, your changing body, and the very raw and real and vulnerable experience of making and sustaining life—in fact, two lives at the same time.
For pregnant women, there is this expectation that we must feel ecstatic because we are doing something so absolutely magical. This only creates an environment where many women who don’t experience the magic of pregnancy not only feel guilty and ashamed about how they really feel, but also isolated for fear of judgement and unable to talk to anyone about it.
“You must be so excited” is something I’ve been told over and over again.
Although posed as a statement of fact and never a question, the answer is that while I am looking forward to being a mother, to meeting my little one, sometimes I do feel excited and sometimes I don’t.
On days where I haven’t slept much and am feeling flat and emotional and sick—and my food is attempting to come back out of my mouth as it burns my chest on the way up—accessing my excitement isn’t just a click of the fingers. I can nod and say the words and in my head I can agree, but in my body, I am struggling to take hold of these feelings. I’ll admit that this has made me feel pretty bad. Like there is something wrong with how I’m feeling, as if my day-to-day excitement directly correlates with my excitement at being a mother to my child.
Maybe we could simply ask, “How are you feeling today?” and acknowledge that while many pregnant women may be on top of the world, they may also be carrying its weight on their shoulders.
I met a woman the other day who told me, “I hate being pregnant—I can’t wait not to be.” Had she said this to me before my own experience of pregnancy, in my ignorance, I’d have been taken aback by such honesty. It’d feel so opposite to the archetypal glowing, over-the-moon, oh-you-must-be-so-happy pregnant woman. But because of my own experiences, I just thought, “Respect.”
Just like life, pregnancy is a rocky road. And just like life, it is filled with the truth of simultaneously existing opposites. In my life, I am filled with doubt, but I am confident. I am a delicate flower and a tough little cookie. My experience of pregnancy is no different; I am powerful but I am also weary. I am excited, but detached. I am a goddess, and also a fallen angel. Happy and sad. I am so many things. There really isn’t one way to be, and there should be no expectations.
It’s never easy when we have bad days. We feel like the rug has been swept from under our feet and we struggle to make sense of how different we can feel one day to the next. Yesterday, we were on top of the world, and today we’re fat, our hair looks like crap, and every item in our wardrobe looks terrible on us. Tomorrow, we will probably forget all about it.
I am used to these fluctuations—they suck, but I’m used to them. It is widely accepted and indeed expected in life that sometimes sh*t will hit the fan, and sometimes it won’t.
But in pregnancy, the expectations seem so very high; full to brimming with the societal consensus that a pregnant woman must be floating on a fluffy, white cloud. Hardships are often considered cute quirks—the waddle, back pain, cravings, tearfulness. So when we don’t feel good, it can hit us even harder against the subconscious backdrop of these entrenched expectations; perhaps we feel less worthy or less “womanly” or like a failure in some way. Couple that with the fact that emotions are at a constant flux in pregnancy, and it can be pretty hard to deal with.
Simply talking about this can hep a lot. As can remembering a few simple truths:
>> Remember that there is no right way* to feel in pregnancy, or at any other time.
>> Remember that you are doing your best.
>> Remember that there will be ups and downs.
>> Remember that neither define you.
>> Remember that you’re doing something pretty f*cking amazing, but that doesn’t mean you always have to feel amazing because of it.
>> Remember that often, you won’t.
We need to give ourselves permission to feel however we feel without making a value judgement about ourselves or our ability to be a good mother and love our baby.
*Author’s note: Some women develop severe mental health problems in pregnancy, especially if they have a past history of mental health issues. If you think that you might be suffering from a mental health condition, it is important to talk to your midwife or GP and discuss the ways that you can get extra support and treatment during your pregnancy.
Author: Claire Diane
Image: King Smith Arts/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Travis May