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The Privilege of Pregnancy

I’m pregnant for the third time in my life.

The first time I had a flawless pregnancy–my son was born perfectly healthy, and I had very few complaints. The second time I experienced a missed miscarriage–my child died without my knowing it, sometime around the seven-eight-week mark. And now here I sit, about six months along, with my daughter budding beautifully inside.

But, as with any story, it’s more complicated than that. While my first experience may have been as good as a pregnancy can be physically, emotionally and mentally I was terrified. I didn’t want this little person to upstage a life I’d spent 35 years building. As I neared 40 weeks, I was bent on staying in control, even as I feared how out-of-control life on the other side would become. Part of the problem–which I realized later–was because I got bogged down in comments from others.

Some of the ridiculous talk focused on my physical state. At times, strangers dished up undesirable remarks, as when a woman in my apartment building asked me if I was having twins. “Do I really look that big?” I asked, to which she stammered, “Well, I don’t know …”  My family and friends could be equally insensitive. One suggested that in becoming a mother, I’d be joining the ranks of overweight women who throw away their careers. Another said she never thought I’d get fat–in other words, all pregnant women are fat. Still another asked how much weight I’d gained, and suggested that childbirth would mess so much with my body, I’d never be the same.

People also offered unasked-for advice about the future–often folks who had children themselves. They’d utter sweeping generalizations in downcast tones, noting that life would “never be the same,” that I would “never sleep again,” or that I’d be the one making “all the sacrifices,” because men just don’t know how to handle babies.

I strived to take it all in stride, never really confronting how others’ words had affected me. A bad idea, as psychologist Diane Sanford says in an article on BabyCenter.com:

Because pregnancy is an emotionally sensitive time, it’s actually more important than ever to take care of yourself. And your heightened emotional state lasts for a total of 18 to 24 months, she says, so ignoring things that upset you and trying to “let things go” for up to two years just won’t work.

At the time I didn’t know that many pregnant woman endure such blather, as the BabyCenter.com piece indicates. But I also failed to focus on two important truths: pregnancy is a temporary state, and it’s a privilege. Not every woman has the ability or chance to carry a child and bring it into the world. Still, as feedback from others rolled in, I grew increasingly frightened about what my body and my life would be like postpartum. I now believe that I approached motherhood with a great deal of negativity, and it likely played some role in my very traumatic delivery and aftermath.

Inane comments shouldn’t distract moms and moms-to-be from the wonderful creation that’s coming to life within us. An expanding belly is a healthy sign that the baby’s growing–and we should feel no shame about it. In “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom,” Dr. Christiane Northrup, an OB-GYN, writes,

[P]regnancy needs to be treated as a special (and crucial) time that requires a woman to proactively make some arrangements for increased rest and care, or at the very least change any negative thoughts or feelings she has about her pregnancy.

And while it’s true that life changes forever once a first child arrives, it’s also true that no one–except God–knows the realities we’ll face as new moms. We don’t have children so that our lives will stay the same, after all; nor do we have them to usher in a new era of happy days. A story by MarketWatch.com notes that, in fact, happiness tends to decline for young parents–but not forever:

[A] new study suggests that while young parents might be stressed and depressed compared to their peers without children, older parents are happier than their childless counterparts. [The study] found that for moms and dads under 30, happiness decreases the more children one has. But once parents reach age 40, the effect is reversed, as long as the parent has less than four kids. And after age 50, it doesn’t matter how many kids they have — parents are happier than their childless peers. This effect was seen regardless of whether the parents were rich or poor, married or unmarried, male or female, or healthy or sick.

Robin Simon, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University who studies parenthood and well-being, said in the Marketwatch story:

[R]esearch like this is an important catalyst to start to change the way we conceptualize parenthood, so that stressed-out moms and dads don’t feel like failures. As a mother, she felt comforted after her own research showed how common emotional distress is among parents. “Kids are messy. They have health problems, behavior issues, homework problems. But our culture tells us, ‘This should make me happy.’ And yet, we’re not happy,” Simon said. “For me, it was liberating to do this research because I’m like, gee, this is stressful for everybody. I’m not alone.”

So silly, inappropriate comments from others, whether meant to agitate or simply oversights, should be addressed, as Sanford suggests, and dismissed. As to what causes some to overstep boundaries with pregnant women that they wouldn’t dare approach with anyone else–that remains a mystery, one for which I’m hoping to uncover some explanations in future posts. In the meantime, I’m enjoying this pregnancy much more than my first, and directly addressing any negativity–whether in my own thoughts or from others.

Pregnancy is a privilege–not always full of joy, physical comfort and pure happiness, but a gift nonetheless. Parenthood is another gift–an extremely powerful one that can transform us. As Jill Savage, author, speaker, and chief executive of Hearts at Home, recently shared with me during an interview:

I always thought motherhood was about helping my kids grow up. But I have realized that God is using motherhood to help me grow.

13 Comments
  1. The nasty comments got me down too.

  2. WOW, beautifully said! I especially like your description of time periods in parents’ lives and your comparison of them between the have-and-have-not’s. It’s very true that my life is not as full as those of my married friends and cousins who are parents. I’m not unhappy with my life, but I realize it’s “different” from those of parents. I will keep the article handy for passing onto my many cousins’ kids who are having kids.

    • Thanks, Connie. At some point I should perhaps explore the perspective of those without children. Understanding both avenues is important–God calls us all to different paths, and there’s much good to be found along the way.

  3. I read this statement on a friend’s Facebook status once: “What I need is a speed bump between my brain and my mouth.” I think this need is especially true of everyone who is speaking to a pregnant woman. 😉
    Unsolicited advice and comments have been a bane for me, too. Though, some of it makes for good speaking and writing material. LOL!

    Thanks for these words, Kristina. Especially the part about being happier after 40. Since that’s less than five months away for me, I’m encouraged. *wink*

    • Great idea, Karen! I really want to understand better what it is about pregnancy–and parenthood–that has folks offering comments they typically wouldn’t. More research required of me!

  4. Great job! We all need to just to be a little more SELF-LESS! I would love to have a house full of kids! The short time we have to enjoy all the fun,yes they are messy but i have seen older people just as messy if not messier!! It’s a mean world and this is a wonderful blessing we seem to forget! Children used to be considered a blessing and still should be regarded as such.

    • Great points, Lisa! Thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree that we get too caught up in the rush-and-tumble of modern life to stop and realize that children are a very unique blessing.

  5. Great article. Yes, we don’t have kids to make us happy, but I can say as my two kids are getting bigger life is happier (and a wee bit easier). I am happy to hear that as we hit the 40 mark we’ll be even happier! 😉 Keep up the great work!

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