Pregnancy is no miracle — so keep your grubby hands off my body.
In a personality colour test I once did in a leadership conference, I was told I was the colour Blue or Purple, a person who is more likely to see the bigger picture, the holistic view. However, during the last 7 months or so — ever since I found out I am pregnant — I can’t say that is true.
For someone like me — who has lived life on my own terms, in my own way since I was 19 — being pregnant has been difficult. It’s the absolute loss of control over my own body that has been the hardest to deal with. All of a sudden, the foods I love I don’t love anymore. I have no energy to do anything — no interest, excitement, or passion. This feeling of always being tired isn’t something that I have enjoyed for the better part of a year. And, nothing, I stress, NOTHING, can prepare a woman for the changes that happen to her body. It’s an experience akin to having an alien life-form take over and make your body its home for the next 9 and some months.
We’ve all heard or read about the nausea, the crazy hunger pangs, the out of the blue cravings, the swollen feet, the mood swings. Barely anyone talks about how everyone’s experience can be different. No one gives you a heads up about how, as early as 4 weeks into the pregnancy, your breasts will get so sore that you will feel like someone is blowing them up in order to pop them like balloons; or that even turning sides in bed will send a jolt of pain through your body — which, by the way, may start to happen even before you know you are pregnant.
To be honest, I didn’t get a lot of nausea, morning sickness, mood swings, or swollen feet; I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I’ve had a pretty smooth pregnancy so far, even though — during my first OB/GYN appointment, no less — I was labeled a “high risk mother” because I am “over the hill” (the age of 35). I’ve cried 3 times in the last 7 months, which for me is a pretty high count, but they hardly count as mood swings.
During this time, I haven’t thrown up that much — perhaps about 10 times in all, particularly after an oily or heavy meal. But no one prepared me for the fact that I could be eating something as harmless as apples and cheese and then hurl everything out into the same bowl of food.
No one informed me that I would develop fibroids (which keep growing because of the hormones) and hernias that would make my growing belly constantly cramp up. No one pointed out that I would have so much trouble eating that weight gain (or the lack thereof) would become a stress-inducing issue, so much so that I would be freaking out about making sure I ate all day every day. I didn’t know that I would wake up in the middle of the night from the excruciating pain of a Charley horse in both legs which would leave me limping all day the next day. I know what stops them, drinking more water; but considering that I already have to pre-empt my bladder by peeing every 20 mins or so — for fear of springing a leak while teaching, laughing, or sneezing — more water to reign in Charley horses is a veritable non-starter. This pee thing gets worse later on in the pregnancy by the way. Baby can’t tell the difference between the bladder and a punching bag. I think I have a boxer or a karate kid in there, I swear.
I wasn’t aware that there was such a dearth of pregnancy-safe drugs that all I am allowed to take, even for severe pain, are two regular strength Tylenols. I didn’t know that the extra blood flow can cause migraines and inflamed sinuses — both of which may go away on their own, or if you’re unlucky when the pregnancy is over. I, one of the lucky ones, suffered from constant sinus pain for only about a month, which apparently affects a third of pregnant women. No one warns you that you could get sciatica, or that if you already had sciatic nerve pain controlled, the pain may reappear. No one indicates that if you contract a cold virus in the middle of the pregnancy, you can do absolutely nothing to control the symptoms; or that if you have seasonal allergies, you can’t take your anti-allergy drug of choice, since there appears to be only one that is pregnancy “approved” (meaning: no proven harm; no proven safety either) which leaves you groggy for the better part of the day.
All of a sudden this week I feel this odd pressure on, or rather inside my chest. Turns out baby is pushing up against my internal organs and taking the largest fibroid (which started out as the size of a golf ball but has now grown to the size of a large apple) with her. I feel like my diaphragm is pushing up against my throat, and taking large breaths hurts. I’m suffering from so much sleep deprivation that it has really gotten hard to think.
Most of all, I wasn’t aware that suddenly my body becomes public property; that random strangers feel it’s okay to come up to me while I wait at a subway stop, put their hand on my belly and ask how far along I am; that a woman I have never seen in my entire life would feel it’s okay to advise me on my sugar intake after she sees me putting a teaspoonful of sugar in a cup of tea at a friend’s wedding. It’s amazing how the concept of “It’s her body, she knows best” eludes almost everyone.
The stress is not just physical. So many concerns accompany a baby; you and your partner will find yourselves spending hours researching everything — the safest and most cost efficient stroller system, car seat, swaddler, baby bottles, breast pumps, baby monitor, sound machines, diapers, health insurance, crib, bassinet, and the list goes on. You’ll worry about money, time, help, sleep, and then — if you’re anything like me — about shielding your daughter from all the ill-conceived gender stereotypes society will try to force on your baby girl. It starts this early, right from the moment you start populating your Amazon baby registry.
I’m sure (maybe) what they say is true — that the moment that you give birth and you see the face of your daughter all will be forgotten. However, I’m a realist; while I know that I will love my daughter and that I have a great supportive husband, beyond this physical pain and annoyances during the pregnancy come other pains and annoyances post pregnancy. The sleepless nights won’t just end miraculously once I cease being pregnant. I know that because this is my first child I have a difficult path ahead of me, perhaps and almost surely even more difficult than these 9 months.
Which brings me to my final point: only half of the world’s population has the ability to give birth, only half — and sadly, it’s the half that has had little to no agency in shaping public policy. People tend to view childbirth through rose-tinted glasses, considering it a miracle and whatnot — a myth perpetuated by members of both sexes. It’s no miracle. Miracles supposedly just happen out of thin air; pregnancy and childbirth don’t just happen. Pregnancy and childbirth — as well as postpartal child rearing — are all extraordinarily difficult, time-consuming, and biological complicated processes, requiring tremendous understanding, sacrifices and empathy from family, community, and society.
Therefore, it’s high time to have a serious, open and honest conversation about what public institutions can do to make the process of childbirth easier on the mother, and on her partner. Forcing the decision of parenthood on young people everywhere in this country and the rest of the world by withholding abortion services is anathema; instead, we should make it easier for those who want to have children by implementing support systems for expecting mothers and new parents with proper parental leave policy mechanisms. “Traditional Family Values” should mean making it easier for those who want children — same-sex parents, those looking into adoption, those having difficulty conceiving, and those who have babies but are struggling because of the terrible social policies in the US, which don’t make having a family easier. It’s time to get the voices of the real stakeholders here, pregnant women and new parents, heard in the policy process. I can tell you from experience, if I had to go through all of this because someone forced me to — and not because I wanted to — there is no way this baby would be loved and cared for the way she should be.
No one — no politician, religious leader, or family member— should force this hard process on a woman’s body, not even other women in the name of traditional family values. No one should force this immense responsibility onto a young family until they are ready. So yeah, keep your grubby hands off my family, my body, my uterus, and my baby making capabilities.