Once a certain a mount of time has elapsed after having a child, a woman may forget the trepidation and nuisance of pregnancy and begin to look upon the prospect of a second child in a glorious nostalgic light. Similarly, those women who have not yet had a child may look upon the prospect with naive gushing, relishing the idea of watching her belly grow and indulging in copious cake-eating before her delightful cooing baby is born whom she can dress and cuddle.
I consider myself one of these goldfish-brained individuals. I did not enjoy pregnancy the first time around and the first six months or so after my daughter was born were extremely challenging. But then, the passage of time is a tricky thing and I suddenly started to look upon other people’s newborns with a strangely familiar longing. How nice to hold a tiny baby again, I would think to myself. I even started to look fondly upon the whole notion of breast-feeding, which is totally bizarre given it certainly wasn’t my favourite feature within the neophyte mother’s statute of responsibilities.
After having an early miscarriage late last year, the slow realisation began to take hold that conception itself, not to mention safely maintaining that embryo throughout it’s thirty-eight week gestation, was not always so easily achieved. I had possibly been a bit smug about my child-bearing capabilities (given I had only had one, as opposed to say six, I’m not sure where this confidence came from) and how easily the second would come to me. I consequently became a little less insouciant about the whole process and was gripped by an even more voracious, though mostly private, longing. Rather than looking upon others’ newborns with joyful hopefulness, I began to shrink in quiet loathing and jealousy; as if a stout black toad squatted upon the roof of my heart, his malicious croak reverberating throughout my body whenever faced with someone’s little baby.
And now here I am again – knocked up. The toad, having hopped it, has been replaced by a wondrous jubilance, which in turn has been replaced by loathing yet again. Not for other babies this time, but for the physical and mental limitations that accompany pregnancy.
But therein lies the rub. Pregnancy and the concept of a burgeoning life inside a woman is something family, society and often instinct tells us we must celebrate – with good reason of course. The flipside of this is that if we don’t enjoy it, if we don’t value every single aspect of it, every single moment of it, we are somehow ungrateful or not good people. My own current state for instance is rather contradictory. I am tremendously excited about the arrival of another child and, it must be said, immensely grateful. But at the same time, I am revisiting all of those less desirable, less discussed components of pregnancy that one seldom hears about until actually in the throws, where desperation forces you to seek out some obscure internet source that sheds light on your unseemly predicament.
Morning sickness doesn’t count; everyone knows about it. Though frankly, the experience is worse than how it’s depicted on TV. It’s far more insidious and lingering than a simple unpleasant trip to the toilet each morning. No, I’m talking about the sorts of things that mummies deny to each other and perhaps to themselves (I’ve discovered there is a terrific penchant for lying amongst mummies) because they apparently “loved being pregnant,” and the sorts of things no one talks about because they seem to be almost unwittingly taboo. Who knows, perhaps women don’t want to scare other women off having babies, or indeed, perhaps society doesn’t want to scare women off having babies. Suffice to say, it ain’t all buggy shopping, baby showers, fluffy bunnies and ducklings.
During my first confinement, my tedious trawling of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, led me to understand that there is increased blood flow to ‘that area’ – fine. Good news if you’re up for sex, it gleefully reports. (Oh what a boon! Unfortunately, no I am not up for sex. In fact, in my current state, there is nothing I would like to do less, I say to myself as a damning aside). Further trawling led me to the understanding that some women may experience varicose veins as a result of this increased blood flow, but these are likely to dissipate post-birth. As this medical phenomenon never materialised in my case, I catalogued the information into the deep recesses of my brain, where it subsequently lay dormant.
Now into the second pregnancy. After a day of walking oddly from what I thought was a ballet exercise induced muscle strain, I undressed to have a bath and was engulfed by the horror of what was actually causing my discomfort. Not a strain, sadly, but a hideous varicosed protrusion, squiggling it’s blue way up my inner thigh to, my , well…let’s just say it rhymes with flabia. I screamed at the Doc and blamed him for my repugnant physical state. I had heard of, though thankfully swerved the advent of hemorrhoids in pregnancy. But vaginal varicose veins? No, that was a surprise, and not a welcome one. My hope is that it will dissipate, although this one looks worryingly tenacious and will in all likelihood require surgical intervention. Every time I think about it (which is almost every minute, given there is tugging physical reminder of it every time I step), a searing image flashes across my inner-vision of vein-stricken old ladies’ calves, where inch-thick skin-coloured tights can barely contain their terrorised bulbous artieries, as if old age where gradually forcing their insides onto their outside. My bottom twinges just thinking about it. But to my even greater indignance, the Doc keeps asking me about it (as if it would magically evaporate over night) and then dramatically shudders at the thought of it. Up yours Doc, I think; next time you have the baby and we’ll see how you like it.
This is but one unfortunate element amongst the many of pregnancy’s organic processes, but one that is particularly pertinent for me at this point. Chronic headaches are another, the inability to concentrate properly, the need to sleep (usually around 3pm, which is utterly inconvenient if you’re working), dry skin, pimples, premature greying, dental problems, bad breath, acute back pain, being so fat you are unable to tie your own shoes, not to mention the sensation that someone is perpetually pinching your urethra closed while you painfully attempt to expel the two litres of water you just drank. Then there’s the looming need to prepare the body for birth in ways that just aren’t pleasant, like kegel exercises (not so bad) and perineal massage (like a self-administered pelvic exam… more bad).
But most crucially, is depression. Post-partum or post-natal depression is certainly discussed, but not nearly as much as it ought to be in my opinion. But ante-natal depression is barely even uttered. And this is toxic. No doubt much of it is gargantuan hormone fluctuations which can sometimes be dismissed in the same way that many can easily attribute their moodiness to their impending menstrual cycle. But for others it is far more debilitating, alarming and isolating. The world is telling you should be happy while an unexpected melancholy crushes down on you, inhibiting breathing, sleeping and many other primary functions. Partners, try though they might to be understanding, may simply be baffled by what seems an inappropriate response to an absolute blessing. If one has a history of depression, the effects can be far worse. Women, in my experience, don’t really discuss this much. New mums tend to be an extremely self-conscious bunch, even if they were once confident, self-assured women. No one wants to say things that may put them in the position of being judged. Like going to a mother’s group and ordering coffee when what you really want is a glass of wine. No one wants to say “yesterday I felt so fucking overwhelmed, I actually considered leaving the house, walking onto the high street and throwing myself in front of a bus” while all the other mothers look aghast.
During those darker moments, when crying uncontrollably for seemingly no reason when the world is telling me I should be overjoyed, it would be of considerable comfort to know that other women suffer the same melancholic confusion, the same alienation from their own body. As opposed to being forced to confide in a state-assigned healthworker, who then trundles you off to the at-risk women’s club, along with all the battered wives.
This sounds like one long, self-indulgent, anti-pregnancy tirade. It is. I am, as it were, expelling my toxic inner thoughts, like poison is sucked from a wound. It shouldn’t suggest that there are not some rather enjoyable elements of pregnancy, but they are generally nauseating for others to hear and unnecessary to subject people to. Sadly, there is so much of the latter in public circulation, and so little of the former. Sometimes when I get out of the shower, I catch a glimpse of my genitalia in the mirror and I despair. What was once a flower has since been replaced with what can only be described as a poorly shucked mussel. I don’t mourn this for reasons of sexual attractiveness – god no! It’s more to do with the realisation that my body has been transformed for the sake of others and that actually, my body will never be wholly mine again. It’s different from ageing, although that is part of it; it’s more about the shift in autonomy. Perhaps this is superficial of me, but sometimes it’s hard to rise above the realities of ones body in order to be the bigger person, particularly as they are often symptomatic of deeper psychological and emotional lamentations.