The other day I spent time with a pregnant friend of mine. When I asked her how she was feeling, she stared at her feet and mumbled, "Fine." She didn't look fine, though, so I told her that I hated pregnancy, especially in the summer. She signed with relief and said, "I feel like people expect me to be happy all of the time, but pregnancy is so hard." I could absolutely relate to how she was feeling in that moment, and shared how I could've made pregnancy so much easier in the hopes that she, too, could cut herself some much-deserved slack.
Every pregnancy and every person who experiences it is different. In other words, what works for one person might not work for another, and visa versa. But I know that if I had just been able to admit that I hated pregnancy, the entire process would have been substantially easier for me to navigate. No, I didn't hate every single moment of pregnancy. And, yes, I wanted to be pregnant. But I also felt like I had to just grin and bear the bad parts of pregnancy in order to be truly "thankful" for my ability to grow a human being inside of my body. I was stuck trying to live up to this completely unrealistic image of a beautiful, glowing, serene pregnant person... and as a result all I felt was exhausted and lonely.
Is pregnancy incredible? Yes, but that doesn't mean it's always enjoyable. I had hyperemesis gravidarum, so I was throwing up several times a day for months on end. I was constantly nauseous, constantly dehydrated, and constantly worried about my health and the health of my future child. But in between trips to the hospital for I.V. fluids and medication, I felt like I had to put on a smile and hide how defeated I was feeling. Inside I was miserable, but no one around me had a clue.
Due to my health and my intense feelings of isolation, I became depressed. But, again, I didn’t want to tell anyone about it, including my OB-GYN. I was “supposed to" be happy about my pregnancy, right? I was "supposed" to be thankful that I had the ability to carry a pregnancy in the first place, right? What kind of mom would I be if I didn't like being pregnant? I truly thought my OB-GYN would judge me, or tell me that there was nothing she could do to help me through my depression because I was pregnant. I felt alone, so I didn't reach out and ask for help when I should have.
I owed it to myself to be true to my experience, instead of pandering to the judgment and shame of others.
When I tested the waters and cautiously told my friends or family how I was feeling, they said things like, "At least you can get pregnant," or, worse, "You should have thought about that before you got knocked up." I quickly realized that when they asked me how I was doing, they didn't want to know how I was really doing. So every inquiry into how I was doing or feeling received a casual “great" or "fine" response.
In my experience, our culture tells women there's a "right" way to be pregnant. We're supposed to gain weight, or else people will question the state of our health, but we can't gain too much weight otherwise we're "letting ourselves go." We're supposed to limit our activity for the sake of our future child, but not too much otherwise it looks like we're taking advantage of our "condition." And we're suppose to be happy, all the time, because other woman can't get pregnant and pregnancy is a "gift" and we're ungrateful if we aren't constantly basking in the glow of procreation.
But I know my pregnancy would have been so much easier if I would've ignored the "right" way to be pregnant and, instead, let myself admit that it wasn’t wonderful all the time. It would have been much easier to navigate if I didn't tether myself to the unrealistic expectations placed on all pregnant women. If I had admitted my true feelings, and reached out for help sooner rather than later, I don't believe I would have felt so alone; so trapped in a painful existence; so depressed.
You don't have to love pregnancy to be a good mother.
I also wish I would've been honest with myself, instead of continuously trying to convince myself that I had to love this entire process. I wish I would have been kind enough to myself to realize that my feelings —regardless of what they were or how negative they may have seemed to others — were valid and worth sharing. I owed it to myself to be true to my experience, instead of pandering to the judgment and shame of others.
I wish I would have given myself permission to be unapologetically me, cranky and all, instead of pretending to be the picture-perfect pregnant woman that is often marketed to women like me. Women who need help, not condemnation. Women who need support, not an unrealistic standard in which to measure themselves against.
Instead, I, like many other pregnant people I know, minimized, diminished, and refused to admit that I was miserable. While there are plenty of individuals who truly enjoy pregnancy, I think we need to start normalizing how crappy pregnancy can be, too.
So if you're feeling less-than-stellar during your pregnancy, please know that you're not alone. If you're feeling miserable or depressed or simply fed up with pregnancy, reach out to the people around you and get the help and support you need and deserve. Most of all, be kind to yourself. Your feelings are valid, your experience is valid, and your thoughts on pregnancy are just as valid as anyone else's. You don't have to love pregnancy to be a good mother.