When you announce to the world youíre having a baby, the initial responses you get will be ones of surprise, excitement and congratulations. And once the initial baby frenzy dies down, be prepared for nine months of you and your body becoming public property. Although almost every woman will have a child at some point in her life, itís amazing that pregnancy is seen as an oddity; something to be gazed at, pondered, commented upon and queried.
And while everyone will give you advice on your pregnancy, from the helpful ("rest while you can because you wonít get any when the baby comes"), to the ludicrous ("make sure you ask for an epidural because my sisterís obstetrician said womenís bodies arenít made to have their babies naturally the first time"); nothing can prepare you for the journey that lays ahead of you.
Although some women will cheerfully tell you about the agonizing 20 hour labor they went through when the anesthetist put the epidural in wrong and the baby was born via emergency caesarian section, or the umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck three times, or the baby was a forceps delivery and their vagina has never been the same since; there are some things about pregnancy that people wonít tell you.
You are the elected spokesperson for your kind.
As a pregnant woman, you will become the spokesperson for all pregnant women. Your opinion on pregnancy, labor, birthing plans, pain relief during labor and generally anything vaguely to do with pregnancy will be sought, and comparisons between you and any other known pregnant women will be mandatory.
Your body is no longer your own.
And Iím not talking about that littler person living inside you. As if itís not enough that your body has been robbed to nourish and grow this tiny human inside you, youíre external body is now public property. Be prepared for your body shape and size to be constantly compared to other pregnant women, and for people to comment on whether you are bigger or smaller than other pregnant women. "Kathís seven months pregnant like Sarah, but Kathís a fair bit bigger, I think." And get ready for the grabby hands that want to touch and feel "the baby". Never mind that your body is between their hands and the baby - that doesnít seem to matter. Acquaintances and strangers will coo in wonder over your expanding belly, and often reach out for a touch. If I was feeling particularly protective of myself and my baby, Iíd fend the hands away, often receiving looks of hurt indignation. Or if I was feeling cheeky Iíd reach out and give their stomach a rub too, or Iíd offer my swollen breasts for a touch, because "Hey, theyíve grown as well!"
You are now "Mom".
This one was particularly hard for me to handle, with the pregnancy of my first child. Everyone wants to call you "Mom". The first time our receptionist at work said, "Hi Mommy!" as I walked into the office in the morning, I thought it was quite sweet. However, when work colleagues from a different department started calling me "Mom" I was mortified. Although people think itís funny and cute, I found it frightening (some day soon I was going to be a mother, I wouldnít be my own person any more) and annoying (I wasnít their mother, was I?).
When youíre pregnant, youíre completely beholden to a person who isnít even a person yet. You change your lifestyle: you give up drinking and/or smoking, you cut back on caffeine, you donít eat soft cheeses or raw fish, and your body starts to tell you in no uncertain way that you are not in charge any more. Morning sickness, which actually means throwing up every morning and then feeling vaguely queasy with heart burn for the rest of the day, and constant trips to the bathroom in the early days of pregnancy slowly give way to an expanding waistline, shortness of breath, tiredness, irritability and general discomfort at being the size of a house. The excitement of impending birth is mixed with feelings of fear and dread, as you wonder just how much longer you can keep functioning as a human incubator.
Stretch Marks Ė On My What?
We all know about stretch marks. In fact, many women get stretch marks just going through puberty. So I was all prepared for the fact that in the last few months of pregnancy, I might get stretch marks on my stomach. But what I wasnít prepared for was stretch marks on my breasts! In the early weeks of my pregnancy my small and pert breasts took on a life of their own, growing from a 32B to a 34D in the space of two weeks. Not only was I in agony as my skin battled to accommodate the rapid change in volume, but I suddenly had to deal with tiny little silver snail-trails creeping their way across my ever-expanding bosom. Although I finally had the big boobs Iíd spent so many nights as a flat-chested teenager dreaming about, they were now so sore and swollen I couldnít bare to touch them!
If you donít want to be grossed out, stop reading here, but if youíre about to have a baby, you need to know the truth. Hemorrhoids are the bane of a pregnant womanís life. Because thereís so much pressure from your growing baby constantly bearing down, and the fact that many pregnant women experience constipation, youíre probably going to have to deal with hemorrhoids. The best thing you can do is take the pressure off when you can, (lying down with your feet up helps) and invest in one of those kiddy steps for the toilet. Ask any ergonomics expert Ė our toilets are too high off the ground for comfortable "evacuation". By using the kiddy stool youíre raising your feet and knees, which helps to open up any cavities that need a little help.
Swollen genitals. there, I said it! Of all the things other women wonít tell you about pregnancy, this is the big one. The amount of blood in your body increases by 50 percent during pregnancy, and this, combined with weight gain and fluid retention, can lead to swollen, sensitive genitals. My obstetrician referred to it as "getting juicy" which I found a little disturbing in itself, but incredibly accurate. Just like fruit ripening, as you grow into your pregnancy everything about your body gets softer, and looser and, well, juicier!
Hurry Up, Already!
The last four weeks of my first pregnancy felt like four years. Having a summer baby meant long hot days with my own personal furnace keeping me boiling hot, and never being able to get comfortable. The insomnia that meant I spent hours awake at night seemed like a cruel joke on the part of Mother Nature, given that I knew Iíd be without sleep once the baby arrived, and just added to the seemingly endless days of waiting for this new person to arrive. Just like a long-awaited holiday, the final lead up to the birth of a baby is often a time of annoyance and irritability.
Pure and Unadulterated Love.
OK, it might sound schmaltzy and sentimental, but Iíve saved the best for last. I donít want you to think all the secrets about pregnancy and childbirth are negative ones. All the discomfort, the doubts and the bad things Iíve mentioned about pregnancy are swept away when you first see your new baby, and even if they wanted to, no-one can accurately tell you what this feels like.
After the physical and emotional journey youíve spent nine months traveling, culminating in one of the most life-altering moments youíll ever go through, and one of the last purely "animal" experiences we as civilized people encounter in our lives, there are no words to describe the mixture of relief, exhaustion, pride, excitement, happiness, sadness, joy and love you feel upon meeting this new human being. Sure, the sleepless nights, the crying jags (both you and the baby), the endless feedings and the mountain of dirty nappies can put a dampener on all this, but for that first moment, that pure feeling of knowing that you created this person is indescribable.