Pregnancy can be a beautiful and magical time, and it can also be something closer to literal, actual hell. Ever since I was a little kid, I had always really looked forward to the joy of pregnancy, but in my case the reality of being pregnant was anything but a walk in the park. In fact, it was absolutely horrid. These days, my child is 1 year old, and it is extremely tempting to try to just remember the positive parts of bringing him into this world. I mean, why focus on the bad parts? Yet, when I talk about my pregnancy, I refuse to sugarcoat my experience and gloss over the ugly parts.
While everyone knows that pregnancy can be hard, and that the symptoms of pregnancy often involve a fair amount of physical discomfort, our cultural image of what pregnancy looks — and feels — like is pretty darn happy. Just think of every stock image you’ve ever seen of a pregnant woman. She’s glowing, she’s about six months along, and she’s smiling. She’s either looking down, lovingly, at her perfectly round stomach, or she’s gazing off into the middle distance (no doubt daydreaming about how much fun she’s going to have changing all those diapers). If any of the negative aspects of pregnancy enter our public imagination, it’s in such a way that minimizes their awfulness. We laugh off morning sickness because it’s so funny and cute! But the harsh reality is, there is actually nothing cute about puking your guts out every single day.
The truth is, you aren’t a bad person if you don’t enjoy being pregnant. Let me say that once more, for good measure: You are not a bad person if you don’t enjoy pregnancy.
So instead of pretending things were great, I tell the truth. I refuse to pretend that my pregnancy was all rainbows and sunshine, and I refuse to downplay the difficult — and even hellish — parts. Trying to pretend that pregnancy is easier than it is contributes to so many harmful ideas about pregnancy, parenting, and motherhood, and it’s also just massively unfair to those of us who have done the hard work of growing brand-new humans. During the majority of my pregnancy, I was so sick that I could barely get out of bed. I had massive heartburn that kept me up all night, and I had to keep a bowl next to me for surprise vomit at all times. On one particularly memorable evening, I violently puked up my entire dinner, while also peeing myself because the convulsions were so intense, and also sobbing uncontrollably. I felt disgusting, useless, embarrassed, and utterly and completely helpless. For me, it was all worth it in the end because I really wanted to be a mom and I was, despite it all, so excited about meeting my baby. But that doesn’t mean it was a good time.
The truth is, you aren’t a bad person if you don’t enjoy being pregnant. Let me say that once more, for good measure: You are not a bad person if you don’t enjoy pregnancy. I felt so guilty that I wasn’t able to live up to the positive images of pregnancy in my head, and I felt like I was failing when I couldn’t “look past” the bad stuff and just focus on the joy of growing my baby. But there is absolutely nothing freaking wrong with hating the experience of gestating a tiny human. Some of us hate it, and that’s OK. In fact, if you have a pregnancy that looks like mine, a pregnancy that destroys your ability to function in society and leaves you constantly exhausted, in pain, vomiting, or all three, I’d say hatred is a pretty natural and expected response.
Pregnant people deserve to know that. They deserve the awfulness to be recognized and contextualized. If you are pregnant and you’re having a bad time, I’m sorry you are going through that, and I see you, and I’m so proud of you, and yeah, it’s OK to admit that it totally sucks. And while we're on the topic of recognition, another fact that gets glossed over is that making a new person is actually a lot of work. Pregnancy is real, actual work. When pregnancy is sugarcoated, it often gives the impression that gestation is passive and that pregnancy is just something that happens to you. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. A pregnant person’s body is actually doing an extraordinary amount of work, and all of that takes its toll. I want to live in a world where we recognize and honor all of that work, and all that pregnant people go through in order to bring their children into the world.
Even an “easy” pregnancy can turn your life, and your body, completely upside down.
Minimizing the challenges and the work of pregnancy can also contribute to anti-choice rhetoric. Time and time again our culture is treated to the idea that pregnancy is merely an inconvenience that women who seek abortion are trying to avoid. But even the average pregnancy is much, much, more than an inconvenience. Even an “easy” pregnancy can turn your life, and your body, completely upside down. But again, not everyone has an easy pregnancy, and we need to be honest about what all pregnancy entails.
But beyond all of that, beyond all of those real world effects of the conversation about pregnancy in general, and pregnancies like mine specifically, there is another reason that I choose to tell it like it is when it comes to my gestational experience. Plain and simple, I earned it. I worked my ass off to bring my child through the world, I suffered through 40 of the most difficult weeks of my entire life. Was it worth it? Absolutely! But it being worth it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real, that it didn’t happen, and that the memory of it doesn’t still to this day hurt sometimes. I deserve to own my actual experience, not the gussied up sugarcoated version. I deserve to be able to talk about what happened to me, and I shouldn’t have to censor that because it isn’t want people want to hear.