I wrote this column at the start of my pregnancy when I felt freaked out, like I was playing host to Sigourney’s ALIEN, and guilty about not having any maternal feelings. If this is you, THIS IS NORMAL. Maternal feelings DO come in their own time (sometimes six months after the birth), and I’m happy to report that I’m now quite bonded with my little alien. Which is fortunate, as his foot is lodged somewhere round my liver, and is due to come out literally any minute. I’ll be taking a little break from the blog while I figure out food/cuddles/poo/keeping-cats-off-baby’s-airway, but I look forward to coming back when normal brain function returns.
Before getting pregnant, I viewed pregnancy the same way I viewed the gluten-free: something other people did and were smug-annoying about.
Things I wish I’d known:
- The first trimester is one long identity crisis
Pregnancy triggers a rapid and disorienting identity shift. One minute you’re a woman of the world who can pee uninterrupted, the next you’ve got but nine precious months before a tiny tyrant arrives to make you their bitch.
You can try and fight it. Assert that you’re still ‘wild and free!’ by staying out all night / sleeping with a bartender. You can pretend your life is still controllable if you just research the right vegan diet and wrap your life in germ-free eco-wrap.
Rest assured; while neither response actually works, both are perfectly normal reactions to the realisation that a giant wrecking ball labelled ‘harden the f*** up’ is coming for your life.
- Others will validate you in a way no one has before
Let’s face it – having working ovaries doesn’t require a shred of skill or even innate moral goodness. Women whose idea of good mothering is naming their twins Benson and Hedges get two in one go, while more ‘deserving’ women struggle to conceive. Who knows what celestial forces determines who gets a biological child?
You may have spent the bulk of your twenties under the misguided belief that putting your education to use and making some sort of contribution to society was a valuable use of your time. Push, push, push to get yourself heard, crack that glass ceiling and work twice as hard for a fraction of your male co-workers pay.
Why bother? It’s truly shocking how the minute you start showing, despite whatever else you’ve managed to achieve, nothing – but nothing – will cause others to behave as proud and supportive of you as proving you have working ovaries. I’m as validation-hungry as the next person, but this felt a little off to me.
(The downside of this all this is that you’re only allowed to exhibit the following behaviours in public; 1. Power walking with other mums and 2. Tut-tutting your man over the laundry. And as a mum, you are no longer allowed overt displays of sexuality (Sad and Inappropriate mum behaviour), and you’re only allowed to work if you can balance a baby on one hip and a laptop on the other while looking harried.)
Years ago, over a few drinks my former boss lamented her inability to conceive. ‘Let’s face it,’ she said. ‘If you a woman without children you may as well jump off a bridge.’
It was shocking. She’d done the most incredible things personally and professionally, and yet the false and destructive idea that motherhood makes your life legitimate persists.
My best friend in high school got pregnant in Year 12. When her daughter reached school age she said she didn’t know what else to do with herself, so she got pregnant again. As each successive child started school, she had another. Being a mother gave her a sense of being valued in her community that she didn’t know how to achieve in other ways.
It can be so easy to let your own identity be consumed by your ‘mother’ identity, but the consequences are dire. You could wake one day and realise you’re the star of Dance Moms, and just snuck a box of laxatives into a rival kid’s Diet Coke.
- You don’t have to offer up your choices for others to pick over
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but that village needs something to discuss around the well.
Whether you go for the heroic no-pain-relief birth or a ‘too posh to push’ caesarean, everyone will have an opinion on your birth plan and won’t let something like ‘not having a medical degree’ stand in the way of giving it to you.
My advice? Make up the story you want to told about your labour and repeat it. I’m going with ‘I chose no drugs, because I really wanted to feel my baby’s head tear through the skin of my perineum. It totally strengthened our bond!’
Boundaries … it’s ok to get some.
- You will have no f***s to give
Pregnancy brings everything and everyone into your life into stark contrast: With me or against me? A baby bump is not a sign that a woman has suddenly turned soft and nurturing. It’s a massive warning sign to others to work their issues out elsewhere.
A friend told me that having a child make her ‘a lake of human empathy. Now, when I see people acting out,’ she said ‘I know there’s real pain behind it.’
In my experience pregnancy does the exact opposite. Where you once dutifully offered an ear for all those who were ‘going through a hard time right now, I’m just not particularly interested in doing anything to proactive fix it’, you suddenly find the tank has run dry when it comes to family drama / energy vampires.
A huge plus side of this is that the part of your brain once occupied by worrying whether people liked you is now devoted to your ‘pre-birth bucket list’. This ‘zero f*cks to give’ mentality is– word to the wise – one you should’ve started on 10 years earlier.
- It’s ok not to read the baby books
There’s a tipping point when more information just fuels anxiety. (‘Week 20 – the foetus can hear now, but I’m still swearing so I must be a bad mother!’) When I stopped listening to all the well-meaning advice, I suddenly felt more connected to the creature in my belly and less anxious about all the ways I could possibly screw it up.
All you need to know is this:
- Everything you consume, your baby consumes (including vodka and the delicious bacteria in sandwich meat)
- If something (certain yoga poses etc.) feels weird in your tummy DON’T DO IT.
- Natural birth, drugs or caesar? Whatever your birth plan, fate is having a laugh in advance.
- Stay away from people who shit you.
6. It’s nice to be smiled at by strangers
When it feels like there’s a ten kilo dumbbell hanging from your belly button and another from your lower back, random smiles are a welcome relief.
- Pregnancy is a great opportunity for ‘healing’
All your issues will come to the surface. Deal with them now, or pass them on to the next generation.
You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to get yourself to a place where you can love your child unconditionally, even if they grow up voting for the wrong way or saying things like ‘I know, right?’ and ‘Let’s have at it!’
Accepting the crappiest parts of your own flawed self certainly helps.