Can We Get Some #RealTalk on Pregnancy?

6 Feb

We don’t just consume media every minute of every day, we are force-fed media. Media is unavoidable. It’s on the computer, where many of us do a lot of work. It’s on the TV, where we sometimes go to relax. Here in NYC, it’s on every single street. You can’t leave your apartment without being assaulted by socializing images and ideas. So until I was 23 and my best friend had a baby, almost everything I knew about pregnancy came from media – television shows, movies, and magazines. I could hardly remember my mother’s two pregnancies after my birth, so I didn’t have much, as it were, up-close-and-personal experience.

But even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered, because here’s the thing about pregnancy: everyone lies about it.

Lies! So many lies. And so much lying by omission; so much just not-telling about the truth of pregnancy. Media has a nicely packaged version of pregnancy that is meant to make it look difficult, but funny, and ultimately completely worthwhile. This is understandable, since most media is run by people who can never, ever actually get pregnant. I have a theory about the lying and lying-by-omission done by people who have understand pregnancy on more intimate terms, too. I think that people who know the truth about pregnancy lie about it because if we knew the truth about pregnancy, almost no one would ever consent to being pregnant.

I always thought there was a secret mommy-club I wasn’t part of, where women (in the time and place where I grew up, pregnancy, parenting, and everything else were highly gendered) sat around in little sewing-type circles, drinking tea and lightly sharing what I viewed as some of the most mysterious secrets of the universe. And I was right. There is a secret mommy club. When my first close friend got pregnant, I was inducted as an honorary member and given a special pass, which I still keep on a lanyard for when I need it. The mommy club pulled back the curtain for me, and what I saw behind it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

I have been exposed to more images of fake baby-bumps that I have been exposed to actual people’s real, pregnant bodies. As a result, I thought pregnant bodies had sort of big, round, firm bellies, like a safe case for the baby – like a guitar in a guitar case. THIS IS NOT TRUE. A pregnant belly is a lot more like a sac that an alien is growing in, and it’s freaky. Babies move in-utero and sit on your spine, on your vital organs – one friend, while in-utero, sent her mother to bed for several months because she just loved to lie on a major artery and she CUT OFF HER MOTHER’S BLOOD SUPPLY. Once, my friend’s baby reached it’s little hand out, from the womb, to high-five me. I could see a hand trying to reach through my friend’s stomach, from the inside. Guys, pregnancy is horror-movie-level WEIRD, and that is no joke.

Morning sickness? That ain’t some cute shit you see in the movies where you throw up once or twice and then the truth slowly dawns all over your face and then you run to the drug store, pick up a test, and flash-cut to you sitting on a toilet holding a stick with a plus sign and then it fades away so you can hurry up to the setting-up-the-crib montage. Morning sickness often doesn’t fade away. Morning sickness is crippling. For some pregnant people, morning sickness is code for “7 months of constantly having the flu, running a slight fever, vomiting several times a day.” You should read the whole post I just linked to. It’s by a young woman who’s pregnant and it mostly details sitting on or near the toilet literally all day, every day.

My friend is breastfeeding. Her hair is falling out. Her dentist told her she’s losing so much calcium to the adorable, beloved parasite (this is the cutest parasite in history, you have no idea) that she may need dental surgery.

Mood swings? Hollywood loves to make mood swings the funny center of a relationship up-and-down that starts with yelling and ends with The Woman sitting on the couch, crying, admitting that she feels fat and powerless, and The Man sitting down, the weight of everything she’s doing for him suddenly settling upon him, vowing to do better, Exeunt Stage Right, Consumed By Bliss. Except that mood swings for several of my friends more closely resembled crippling depression. They were unable to get out of bed. They felt powerless because pregnancy had actually rendered them powerless; they couldn’t go to work, or go to the grocery store, or do really fucking basic things for themselves, and it felt awful. And their partners felt despair, because they too were powerless, because they could go to the grocery store and pick up flowers and say nice things but they couldn’t make it better.

There came a time in my life where people started being honest about pregnancy and I started listening, but many people I know got pregnant before anyone had explained to them seriously what being pregnant might mean. When I describe immobility, helplessness, depression, severe physical discomfort, daily vomiting, and hair loss, I am not describing pregnancy worst-case-scenarios: I am describing common side effects of pregnancy.

And that’s just pregnancy. That’s not even getting in to childbirth itself. Do you know what a vaginal tear is? If you think you may ever give birth, it’s a fairly common phenomenon you may want to familiarize yourself with.

I may get pregnant someday; I may decide to have kids someday. But in the meantime, I interrogate pregnant friends and family members, in their most vulnerable, defenseless, pregnant state, like it’s my job. If I am ever going to do this thing, I want to know, as much as I possibly ever can, exactly what I have gone and gotten myself into. And I want my partner to know as well. I want both of us to be aware of what carrying a child will mean for my body, and what those changes, and frankly, that damage, will mean for our life together. I want a shared honesty about what could essentially be termed a temporary insanity brought on pregnancy and what that would mean for our home.

I see The Truth About Pregnancy being shared more and more, but still mostly in female-dominated spaces, like “mommy blogs” and Pinterest. I’d love to see young people move towards a complete honesty of what this experience means to them, or meant for them, and what elements of that experience seem unique or commonly shared.

In other words, “Sit down, honey. We need to talk about vaginal tears.”

6 Responses to “Can We Get Some #RealTalk on Pregnancy?”

  1. shadowspring February 6, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Hmmm. How the times cycle. I was raised to think pregnancy and childbirth were a horror, very much like your worst-case scenarios above. So, like the rebel that I am, I became a hippy earth mamma. My babies were both breech, so I did not ever find out if I was badass enough for a vaginal delivery. But I did discover I am badass enough to get through two C-sections and get back on my feet again relatively quickly.

    Nursing? My mom told me it hurt. That’s all. I educated myself on breastfeeding, and nursed both my kids for a year with no problems. No bleeding nipples. No mastitis. And I didn’t resent being attached to my babies for all that time, I saw it as a privilege. I was the modern manifestation of the goddess within, creating and nurturing life from my own body! Bwahahaha!

    Ironically, my daughter plans to never ever get pregnant. She is far from enthralled by the miracle of life, but could have written the post above. Life is so full of irony, isn’t it? =D

  2. Courtney February 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I’ve been lucky enough to find info online and speak to people in my life who were honest about the number that pregnancy does on your body. It’s one of the reasons I do not want to become pregnant.
    I have a lot of chronic pain and sometimes my body does really weird things and I’m not sure how pregnancy would affect my body. I’m not willing to put my body at risk for pregnancy-I’m just not.

    Today I was waiting at the bus terminal for my bus home and I heard someone yell out to this young woman, “[her name] is pregnant as f***!” and I felt so bad for this young lady. I’m assuming the person who yelled out at her was a “friend” or acquaintance. Anyway, this young woman was having a hard time walking to the bus and I just felt so bad for her. It just reinforced my desire to not experience pregnancy.

  3. Marissa February 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    The hair loss thing is . . . not really a thing. It’s just that you don’t lose hair while you’re pregnant, so once the baby comes, you lose at a much faster rate than normal (i.e. all the hair you would’ve lost over the last 9 months suddenly comes out). C.f.

    But the rest is pretty much true. I had a second-degree vaginal tear (thanks, nearly-10-pound, nearly-two-foot-tall son), and it was excruciating. All my mom said was to be thankful I hadn’t had an episiotomy, since “things are never the same down there after that.” One of many things she told me once I was pregnant that she’d never told me before.

  4. irina February 7, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    Well, the thing is that not two people are living this experience the same way. And it’s not just the media, bodies are just different and the hormone rage does different things to different people. I loved being pregnant, twice. It felt good, it felt like something I was meant to be doing. At the same time, I had horrid acne, my hair fell through the pregnancy and after to the point that it had to be cut off radically at the end just to allow the new short strands to blend in, I had haemorrhoids and I was horribly out of breath the last couple of months. But I miss it. And I would happily do it again. Yes, it is not entirely comfortable to share your body for 9 months, and if anyone starts out with the idea that it is, well, it is sign of a lack of imagination, I should think. But also, if fear is the main emotion that gets empowered during this period, the discomfort (and depression) risks to be a self-fulfilling prophecy (I only mean the cases when one is NOT confronted with crippling morning sickness, pre-eclampsia or other extreme forms of being ill).
    What I wanted to say, in fact, is this: while we, as women, need to claim control about all sorts of things that are influencing and badgering us daily, pregnancy and birth may just be one area where we have to let go of this compulsion of control. As soon as the decision, which is ours entirely (!), has been taken, the things that our pregnant body does are beyond ourselves and should escape the absolute control of the self.
    By the way, vaginal tears are not at all a must 🙂 . Which is not to say that giving birth is a breeze.

    • Courtney February 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

      Sometimes though, the decision to remain pregnant is not entirely the pregnant person’s and it’s naive to assume that it is.
      Sometimes the person cannot afford an abortion, sometimes they are in an abusive relationship and their intimate partner threatens bodily harm (or some other type of harm) if they obtain an abortion, etc.

      I’m glad you feel positively about your pregnancy experience but let’s not assume that everyone has the choice in carrying a pregnancy to term.

  5. Kayla February 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    I agree with this blog because I believe the same things. this was well written and funny. Being less than 20 years of age I laughed at a lot of the jokes about women admitting they were fat and helpless, It is most definitely understanding. It blatantly said what some people don’t ever know about the dark side of pregnancy.

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