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.