Getting pregnant isn’t like getting an A
For a long time. I didn’t want to write on the blog about my pregnancy. There’s a sort of mystique attached to being pregnant, and I didn’t buy into it. It always makes me unreasonably uncomfortable when people congratulate me on being pregnant; like it’s something I worked hard at and achieved, like it’s something worthy of praise, like I’m talented at gestation. I know my reaction is unreasonable; congratulating is how people share joy in my news. But I can’t help talking it down; it’s not a promotion, it’s not something I got an A in.
I see pregnancy as a state of the body, a state that some people are in who don’t want to be, that some people desperately want to be in who can’t be. That some are in by luck, some by chance, and some by fastidious planning. I still believe some people blow pregnancy out of all proportion when often, it is a choice that a consenting adult has made. It’s not mystical, it’s biology, it’s primal, it’s science. Amazing science, but science. Ultimately, it’s a necessary physical state that you have to go through if you want a biological child. There are plenty far better at writing about pregnancy in a compelling way than I, and I thought I’d leave all the posturing to others.
But as the weeks have gone on and I’ve hit the last trimester, I’ve found that I do want to talk about it. A bit more. Not a lot. But enough.
Pregnancy has taught me a lot. A lot. About myself, about others, about perspective. I’m not the same person I was back in April. I don’t make decisions in the same way, or feel things in the same way, or want things in the same way. I do, and say, and act, and think in a manner that continues to surprise me. All because there’s a person growing inside me. I find that extraordinary.
The body wants what the body wants
I’ve lived my life with a healthy body who does what I want it to do. Exercise, pushing myself, and working hard have always been important to me. I’d run 10k races for fun, and sweat for 90 minutes in hot rooms in extreme yoga positions. I saw no reason why I couldn’t continue that throughout pregnancy.
I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been able to do cardiovascular exercise when pregnant. Twice I have pulled on my workout clothes, walked into a gym, and turned around and walked straight back out again. I can barely climb the stairs without stopping and recovering at the top. I look at other pregnant women jogging, or at the gym, and I think why not me? I’ve called myself lazy, I’ve forced myself to go out running, and hiking, and swimming. And each time, my body has declared a resounding no.
It’s taken me six months to stop fighting it, and to accept that my body knows best. If all my body can handle is paltry yoga and pilates DVDs and a weekly walk through the forest, it’s not going to give two hoots that I’d rather it was out there, running over hill and dale, or in hot room with my leg over my head.
With pregnancy, you have to learn to let go, and let your body want and do what it will want and do. No amount of will, or discipline, will change that. For anyone with a control freak gene, that’s hard.
Also, you know when everyone talks about “baby brain” and you bristle, because as if, I’ll take responsibility for my own mistakes thank you, not blame it on hormones? (Just me?) Well, in the past week, I have committed the following errors (in order of seriousness):
1) On Saturday, I went to the dry cleaners to pick up two pairs of work trousers for Mr K. Upon my return, I had only one pair in my possession. Somewhere, somehow, on the ten minute walk between the dry cleaners and home, I lost a pair of freshly-laundered work trousers (black with a grey pinstripe, if anyone spots them in the E4 area). I retraced my steps, no sign.
2) On Sunday, I opened the living room curtains. Both curtains (lined), and enormous, iron, bay window curtain rail ripped off the wall and crashed down, missing my head by centimetres. How is this possible? I assure you I was not swinging from the curtains. I don’t have the strength to dislodge an iron railing.
3) On Wednesday, I misplaced an Ambassador. I’m not allowed to talk about work on the blog, but let’s say it involved a lot of running around and looking frantically in loos. The Ambassador has since been found, and her meeting went ahead as planned.
Now I’m all for taking responsibility for my own mistakes – but seriously. There’s got to be some kind of hormonal mayhem going on there, surely? Losing trousers is just carelessness. But an Ambassador?
It’s your pregnancy, not anyone else’s
By this I don’t mean “ignore all the well-meaning advice people give you“. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that no-one has looked daggers at me for drinking a coffee, or declared the gender of my baby based on the fatness of my face. I mean that the vast differences between your pregnancy and that of any given woman in the world is astonishing. You look desperately to other women’s experiences for a template. “When will I stop feeling this dire?” “What the hell is happening to my..er…bits?” ”When will I start to feel like a sodding goddess LIKE ALL THE BOOKS INFORM ME WILL HAPPEN?”
There is no template. I like instruction booklets, and recipes, and read them for fun.
There is no manual for this.
I do not have a body, that on paper, is suited to pregnancy. I have blood prone to clotting, I have limited hip width, I’m relatively short, there’s diabetes in my family, I have a history of spine problems. And you know what? Exhaustion aside, I’ve had the easiest pregnancy I could ever have imagined. No nausea, no sickness, no aches and pains (yet), no cravings, limited hormonal outbursts, sleeping 9 hours a night, every night, dead to the world. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I’m lucky, but it’s taught me to ignore the text books. And especially, especially, to ignore the forums, and the horror stories they bring. You can find what you need on NHS Choices. Anything else will send you into a tailspin of self-doubt and paranoia.
You’d better get used to making decisions for someone who doesn’t exist yet
I’ve turned down two job offers because of my impending maternity leave. I won’t mince words – I hated every moment of it. I really did. I’ve never, ever, made decisions on my career based on anything other than me, and what I am capable of, and what I deserve. My career has always been the thing I’m most proud of in my life. Having to put ambition on hold, even for a short while, is not an easy lesson. I’m still learning it. It comes inevitably with the decision to have children, I know it does. But there’s a big difference between saying that and actually doing it.
When I go back to work next summer, I want to still be hungry. I want to still care. The thought that my career may not matter as much as it did before, that scares me. I know I can’t plan for how I will feel, but I certainly can hope. I’m not sure I’ll like a me that doesn’t wake up in the morning and want to go to work more than anything else.
Or maybe there isn’t a finite amount of caring that someone can do. Maybe you can care fiercely about everything that’s important to you. Maybe it’s not about caring at all, but about the amount of time and energy I have to devote to my career. How if that lessens, it doesn’t mean I’ll care any less, I’ll just have to fit in the caring around all my other responsibilities. This is one for a separate post, and it’s one I will write, when the time comes to go back to work.
For now, I’m trying to see maternity leave as something that will benefit my career in the long run, as something that will give me a perspective I’d never have had otherwise.
The pregnant body is really, really beautiful
I don’t talk easily about body image. I am the last person you’ll find extolling the wonders of her naked form. And I’ll confess, I spent months two to four feeling like an overstuffed sausage with two cocktail sticks poking out the bottom. I was really bloody miserable. No clothes fit, I was knackered ALL THE TIME, and every time anyone mentioned pregnancy “glow” I wanted to poke them in the eyes with a burning coathanger.
And then something shifted, for me.
I won’t lie, at first it was the discovery of maternity jeans (I had to be cajoled out of them the first time I wore them. I don’t understand why these aren’t mandatory uniform for every woman – the joy they and their generous level of “give” have brought to my life is extraordinary). And then it was the realisation of how liberating it is to be excluded from playing that stupid game of “better faster thinner” that we’re all sucked into playing. In pregnancy you get an enormous stomach, you put weight on, and it goes against everything that the media and glossy magazines tell you is acceptable, and you do it anyway. Because you don’t have a choice. Because it’s not, in this case, about mind over matter, or about self-discipline. It’s like every single cell in your body has turned towards the nearest copy of Cosmopolitan and it giving it a resounding middle finger.
It feels amazing.
And honestly, it looks amazing, too. You end up all glossy and the opposite of angular and your centre of gravity shifts and you get a brilliant waddle. Who doesn’t want a waddle?
So that’s what I’ve learned, that’s what I think, that’s what I feel. It’s simultaneously an extraordinary time and the most ordinary of times. Women who are able have been doing this for a very, very long time. It’s exciting, but it’s just science.
Having said that? I was at a classical music concert last week and they opened with Zadok The Priest and I started a wailing, internal monologue, about how lucky this baby is going to be, born into a world where people make that kind of sound just for the sheer pleasure and beauty of it.
Forget all I said above, that’s pretty magical.