Pregnant And Not Jumping For Joy
Motherhood brings mixed emotions for this writer, and not all of them are positive
It would be easier just to lie. On discovering I’m pregnant – not something that’s easy to hide at 38 weeks and counting – the inevitable response is: “You must be so excited”.
The simple thing would be to say I am. That I’m counting down the days until I have to put my professional and personal life on hold and experience one of the most traumatic things humans ever endure, let alone spend months responding to every single need of a helpless being while sustaining them with my body and existing in a state of permanent, hormonal exhaustion.
It would be easy to smile, say that I can’t wait; that I know it will all be worth it. That it’s a privilege to be a woman and have the chance to bring new life into the world. That what’s a few months of adversity against the myriad rewards of creating the next generation? That I’m jumping for joy at the prospect of being a mother.
And given that this is a planned pregnancy, and that my husband and I have made a conscious decision to – cringe – start a family, it wouldn’t be a total falsehood. I did choose this; I do want to procreate, and I accept that in the grand scheme of things, a few months of sleepless nights and feeding on demand will barely register. I know the fact it took us under a year to conceive and that we didn’t endure any miscarriages or complications makes us more fortunate than so, so many. I know too that I’m lucky to live somewhere with free healthcare and good maternity protections.
Nevertheless, the picture is complicated. Just because I want a family doesn’t mean I am unequivocally jumping for joy about what I must do – and what I must give up – for that to become a reality. It doesn’t mean that I don’t envy my partner for getting to become a father, rather than having to be the mother.
For starters, there are the huge financial considerations that come with going from two to three (who knew a crib mattress could cost that much?!) at a time when you’re likely not earning in full, and the inevitable hit on your career.
For some, maternity leave may well be a welcome break from an unfulfilling job, but I can’t be alone in both enjoying mine and worrying about what this time out of the workplace will do to my skills and my progression, given the abundance of research suggesting this is where the gender pay gap really starts to widen. Yet saying this – telling people I plan to take six months, not a year – is often greeted with surprise, or worse; a knowing look that “I’ll feel differently once I have the baby”. Maybe, maybe not. But it grates that a man is treated as a hero for taking anything more than a few weeks’ paternity leave, while women are made to feel they are letting the side down by not relishing swapping the water cooler (and the stimulation of work) for the nappy bag.
It’s also the fear of losing my identity; already I find myself bristling when midwives refer to me as “mum”. Many things define me, but I worry those will fade into the background and instead my main characteristics will become whether I’m breastfeeding, or how fast my child is developing. Those are important, certainly, but it’s hard to be enthused by the fact that, for a time anyway, my universe is going to narrow. What happens when I’m unable to keep up with the news, or finish a novel, or have no adult contact for hours at a time? Who am I if I’m not the person I’ve always been?
Then there’s the very real fear of suffering from post-natal depression, thought to affect more than 10% of new mums. As an insomniac for 16 years, with anxiety issues to boot, I’m terrified about what parenthood will do to my mental health. For every suggestion life with baby is blissful there’s another person joking about the toll it takes; what if I’m not robust enough to cope? What if I’m not good at it?
And yes, I’m not doing this alone. I have a very supportive husband who is unambiguously thrilled to become a father and is committed to being around, especially in those early months. But biology – and, being honest, society – dictates that the burden largely falls on the woman, especially early on. Only I can breastfeed (and If I don’t, I’m warned my progeny might be obese or diabetic); only I can physically have the baby and be affected by the subsequent hormonal hurricane.
Perhaps all this will fade when I’m holding my son or daughter for the first time. I hope so, and I hope many of my fears will be assuaged. But as someone still at the departure gate, but not yet in the air, it can feel incredibly isolating to not fit the stereotype of the contented mum-to-be.
I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this way. Instead of pretending that it’s all rosy, it’s time for us to talk honestly about the mixed emotions that come with becoming a mother.