The experience of finding out you are pregnant is an overwhelming one. Whether or not it’s something you planned for. Whether or not you had an inkling that you might be carrying a baby. The overall journey is different for everyone, and that exact moment of discovery can fall anywhere between exciting and terrifying. I think I can speak broadly and say that it is never a calm moment. I can’t actually imagine feeling blasé about it at any time within my life. An enormous life change is imminent, after all. Some of the emotions and feelings I personally associate with it are shock, disbelief, exhilaration, anticipation, fear, and most notably, vulnerability.
There are plenty of weird and wonderful tales out there concerning pregnancy, including the things that expectant mothers crave, but the first and most powerful craving of all is for support. For you, it might be your partner, your parents, your grandparents, your friend or your neighbour, but I personally believe that we all immediately yearn for care from someone when we learn that we are having a baby.
So why is it that we are met with negativity so often?
I was lucky enough to be surrounded with love and support from the very moment I found out that I was going to be a mum, but I can’t pretend that I wasn’t immediately showered with negative views and comments too. In fact, I was flooded with them. This post is not a “poor me” approach but is intended to assure other mums that they are unfortunately not alone in hearing negative remarks regarding pregnancy, birth and motherhood. More importantly, it aims to counteract these with my own entirely honest and completely real responses to the things that I was told. This is my very own positive affirmation since having my little boy, Jasper Dee. I hope it helps other mums to drown out the pessimism (to some degree, at least!).
Announcing your pregnancy is so exciting and makes the experience a whole lot more real. Your news is no longer a secret. It is ‘out there’. You do get flooded with congratulatory messages and positive wishes instantly, but the reality is that you are bombarded with unsolicited opinions and comments too, most of which are negative. The first couple of examples are things that were actually said to me fairly early in my pregnancy. Firstly, “well, you can wave goodbye to your figure” and secondly, “you better get used to not sleeping, then”. Neither comment is one that anyone would wish to hear or even needs to. The ironic thing on reflection is that both are futile. Firstly, your body changes at its own individual pace and nobody really knows how your personal journey will go. If there are permanent changes for you, they might be completely positive. I can’t believe I’m saying this and meaning it, but I actually truly love my body following my first pregnancy. I can definitely say that it looked unrecognisable the day before I gave birth to Jasper. I stood in front of my full length mirror and I looked at it properly. In place of my toned tummy was an enormous bump and there were (proper!) boobs where my flat chest used to be. I weighed myself for the first and only time during my pregnancy and found that I had gained five stone. I wasn’t that shocked as everything looked and felt bigger – from my face down to my feet. I embraced it all and tried to look on the bright side of everything. Right at the end when my knees were really swollen, my husband Darren and I had a real laugh at the sight of them!
The very next day, I received the best gift of my life as I gave birth to our son. My body immediately started its lengthy but natural journey back to normal. 4 months later, I am just over a stone away from my pre-pregnancy weight. The people that told me I’d be covered in stretch marks were wrong. The ones that told me I’d never shift my weight were wrong. I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my own body for the majority of my adult life, as those closest to me are fully aware. But when I look at it now, I see the home that kept my baby safe for 9 whole months, the place that held him close and helped him to grow, eventually carefully delivering him physically into our arms and emotionally into our hearts. Yes, I’m still carrying extra weight but not as much as people made me believe I would be. Yes, some things have permanently changed but not as negatively as people told me they would. How sad is it that I was mentally prepared to hate my body when I actually love it for the first time in my life?
Secondly, with regards to sleep, I was constantly reminded that I would be eternally tired when my baby arrived. I was told that I would be sporting dark circles under my eyes for the foreseeable future and that another full night’s sleep would be years away. For 4 weeks, Jasper did wake through the night and the exhaustion was real. I often found myself falling asleep on the sofa and grabbing short power naps wherever possible, especially of an evening as my husband Darren prepared our tea. Yet when Jasper hit the milestone of 1 month old, he started sleeping through the night. I know we are lucky to have a good sleeper at such a young age, but even that first month was not quite as bad as people made out. Yes, it was challenging, but we managed. At times I was too tired to shower, but it was all temporary. People made out like it would last for years, without even giving our boy chance to develop his own sleeping habits! Even now, after 3 full months of him sleeping through the night, people warn us “it won’t last – do not to get used to it!”. Well, what exactly is the point in waiting for it to end? It’s like saying you mustn’t let yourself enjoy anything momentarily! But let’s be honest – most good things in life are temporary! Think of a holiday, for example. You wouldn’t spend your entire break thinking “this will end soon” (even though it will), so why on earth would you carry that outlook with regards to positive aspects of your pregnancy and motherhood?
How much brighter would expectant mums feel if they were told “get ready to be amazed by your body” and how much less would they dread the sleepless nights if they were simply advised to “be open to new sleeping patterns”? There are far more positive outlooks that can be far less damaging to a mum-to-be!
Another dread that was instilled into me was the general care of my baby. I was told that dirty nappies would become the bane of my life and that I would be constantly splattered with poo. Well, here’s the honest truth: I’ve never, ever felt sick changing a nappy, and I am the girl that once cried at a Race for Life Pretty Muddy event because it was too dirty! I’ve changed my little boy’s nappy in all sorts of challenging places, including the back seat of our car! The fact is that I enjoy getting him cleaned up! I never dread it. To be honest, I’m actually relieved that his little digestive system is working, and I’ve only had direct contact with poop around 3 times! It’s hardly worth a 9-month dread now, is it?
Of course, the biggest conversation topic of all is the birthing process. As your pregnancy leads up to it, everyone talks about it, and unfortunately, the positive accounts are far outweighed by the horror stories. I learned during a hypnobirthing course that being nervous and anxious about birth has been scientifically proven to make the experience more painful for the mum. Tension and fear literally cause more pain. That’s why the horror stories make me so sad. People are literally ruining other people’s birth experiences by scaring them. It’s not fair! The worst remark I had was “you’re tiny, you’ll be ripped in half!”. As an anxious person anyway, it made me feel sick with nerves. I kept visualising birth as a terrifying experience, physically straining my body beyond repair. And yet again, the actual experience was nothing like it at all. But that’s for another post.
What I want to say to the expectant mums out there is: you’ve got this. Try your best to ignore the negative comments. Roll your eyes and laugh at the pessimism. Invest your time and energy into focusing on the few and far between positive accounts instead. They are there, you just have to work on highlighting them. Don’t allocate your attention to the crap you hear as it will just ruin your experience, which is exactly that… YOURS. Nobody else’s. Try to remember, as well, that the majority of people with negative accounts of childbirth opted to go through it again. Actions speak louder than words!
To the ‘been there, done that’ mums: remember how vulnerable you felt when it was your turn. Think twice about spouting negativity and before you do, ask yourself ‘would I have appreciated hearing this myself before I had my baby? Will this person appreciate it now?’. If the short answer is no, try your best to leave it out. Be mindful. Positive support is far more valuable than negative quips with absolutely any event, but especially for a first time experience of pregnancy, birth and motherhood.