Wednesday, September 22, 2010

People who say pregnancy is a beautiful thing need to be slapped

Photo by Ian Mackenzie

 (Just like my labor and deliveries, this is a long one.)

Pregnant with my second child and determined to take control of something, I popped into Jiffy Lube for an oil change. My serviceman was a woman named Ali. She looked fabulous in a blue jump suit with a smudge of grease on her cheek.

“How far along are you?” she asked, motioning towards my protruding belly.

“Just about 20 weeks,” I replied.

“Half way there,” I added cheerily, trying a bit too hard to sound optimistic.

“I have an 18-month -old at home,” Ali shared.

“I can remember feeling like I would be pregnant forever.”

Before I could say as much as an “Amen,” she continued:

“People who say pregnancy is a beautiful thing need to be slapped.”

And, just like that, Ali became my favorite person in the whole world.

The thing is, and I feel the need to whisper here, I hated being pregnant. Why am I whispering? Well, pregnancy is a miracle, a gift, a blessing,  a “beautiful thing.” Which leaves room for nothing short of gratitude. Right?

There are women out there who would do anything to have the experience of being pregnant. Couples go to great lengths-- shopping for eggs and sperm, staging fantastic medical interventions-- just to experience the magic of reproduction. How can I, someone who’s apparently as fertile as a guinea pig, someone who gave birth to two beautiful, healthy daughters, complain?

Yet keeping silent feels false. It feels as if I am advancing the myth that pregnancy is second nature for every woman, a blessed joyride, the ultimate signifier of true womanhood, the realization of every dream.

I didn't expect pregnancy to be easy, but I never expected it to be hell.

I got pregnant willingly. Twice. Like many seemingly- sensible, thirty-something women before me, I was blindsided by the desire to cast off my self-absorbed, carefree existence and plunge into the brave new, selfless world that is motherhood. When my breasts started to swell and my period didn’t come, my husband, Ian, and I danced naively, if somewhat clumsily, around the magic white wand with the plus sign in its window.

Then the music stopped. Around six weeks into my pregnancy I woke up with what felt to me like a the residual effects of too much alcohol and tobacco in my veins. Nausea oozed from my every pore yet I knew I needed to eat. It was as if there was a monster deep within me that fed on emptiness.

I took on the posture of Quasimodo. Dragging myself to work and back each day was a major accomplishment, duly rewarded with a twelve-hour nap. If Ian wanted to eat, he needed first to go to the store for groceries (supermarkets repelled me), then prepare himself something that didn’t require cooking and had no scent. If he did cook, even a single slice of onion or roasted pork chop, I would rise from my bed like the Bride of Frankenstein and moan, “You’re killing me.”

I became a bloodhound. Just opening the refrigerator door without getting sick required breathing out my ears. If the pickle jar hadn’t been closed properly, I noticed. I could smell a single mold spore growing on a piece of bread. I took offense to the smell of soap and shampoo. Even water had a scent.

It didn’t take me long to learn that hating being pregnant was not something you admit to or talk about:

“How do you feel?” a female co-worker consistently asked me each morning during my first pregnancy as I shuffled into the office with a forced smile on my face.

“Like an old, colicky horse that needs to be put down,” I finally answered one day.

“Don’t you dare say that!” she scolded. “What if the baby hears you?”

This woman, a mother herself, was one of those suspicious creatures who claim to feel better than normal during pregnancy and thus could neither empathize nor sympathize. Instead, she chastised.

My misery enjoyed little company.  I started to distrust every woman, including close friends, who didn’t feel sick during pregnancy. In the glaring light of their glowing selves, I felt like a toad.

As much as I resented my coworker’s lectures I couldn’t help wondering if she was right. Did the innocent baby growing inside me sense my misery? Did it make her feel unloved or unwanted? Did my womb feel as much like a hostile environment to her as my entire body did to me? Just in case, I talked to my unborn baby as much as possible:

“Don’t worry, Sweet Baboo,”I’d say, rubbing my palm in large, clockwise circles over my swollen belly. “Life will be better out here. I promise.”

Around 18 weeks in — well beyond the 12- week cutoff point the how-to books offer up as the moment all pregnant women become vibrant, glowing goddesses—the nausea relented.

Ian thought we had turned a corner the night I came home from work and said, “I want steak and potatoes and I want it now.”

I wanted him too. All day and all night, I dreamed of sex. What kind of cruel joke was this, giving a woman the libido of a minx and the body of a bovine?

My aversion to being pregnant went beyond the physical. It wasn’t just the sickly, toxic feeling that had me complaining, but the whole package. Carrying life inside me, fattening up and slowing down, rendered me cumbersome and defenseless. I couldn’t help thinking that, should a large, hairy monster happen to jump out of the shadows and want to eat me; I wouldn’t be able to run to save my life. I would just have to look that monster in the eye and say, “go ahead, I’m all yours.”

As a former athlete, surrendering my body to the merciless goddess of fertility felt like letting go of the one thing I derive the most pleasure and pride from. Normally lean and boyish, with conception the female inside me is undeniable. I become a Rubenesque fertility wench with a thick layer of pliant flesh evenly distributed across my entire body and pendulous breasts protruding, funhouse like, from my usually humble chest. The extra fat, meant to serve as protection for the baby, felt to me like a soft cloak of vulnerability.

The expression “big as a house,” while insensitive, is truly apt. Pregnant women are houses; temporary homes for their unborn children. And I was a Mcmansion. The 25- to- 35-pound “guideline” was my half-way mark. I gained 50 pounds both times, without eating a single donut. My stomach stuck out, high and proud, like the nose cone of a jumbo jet. Suddenly those giant underthings they sell at Motherhood didn’t look so cartoonish to me anymore.

My hatred of pregnancy nagged at me. How could something so natural, something that women have been doing since the beginning of time, feel so wrong? Had I made a bad choice? Would I make a bad mother? Or, worse yet, would I have a “bad” child?

Sure I experienced magic moments of quickening, with Ian's amazing hands on my belly.  And watching my stomach lurch and roll as if my baby were busy stacking wood inside me, each night after dinner, was entertaining. But it wasn't until the actual moment, okay days, of labor and childbirth where I was redeemed.

Now this I could handle. I’m all for enduring physical discomfort as long as there is a visible finish line. Finally, I could take active part in this venture. No longer just lolling about, growing arms and legs and brain tissue, I was actually chaperoning a living, breathing being into the world using the very core of my mental and physical strength.

Pregnancy number two wasn’t at all the same. It was worse. I developed a relatively rare disorder called “hyperemesis gravidarum,” which translates as excessive vomiting. As if allergic to progesterone, I was reduced to a crawling, heaving, moaning animal for weeks on end.

My parents stood at the end of my bed, wishing there was something they could do to help. My husband did the same.

"Just don't touch me," I said. "And a gun might help."

I was physically incapable of smiling at my daughter, husband, or anyone, for 8 straight weeks.

There were times I felt I would rather die than throw up one more time. The knowledge that the only thing that would make me feel better was to not be pregnant anymore weighed heavily on my mind. I took class B drugs just so I could eat and drink and, eventually, go back to work. They made me feel wasted. What were they doing to my baby?

What kept me going through it all, once again, was Esther. Almost four now, Esther reveled in her femininity, residing in her little woman’s body as if she had lived there since the beginning of time. At the age of  three, she was already aware of and fascinated by the thought of “egg sacks”  inside her tummy just waiting to grow into babies. I was her inspiration. And she was mine.

Throughout my pregnancy with her little sister, Esther marveled at my ripeness. In the bath together she would sit behind me, reach her slippery arms as far as she could around my colossal belly and say, “Mummy you’re amazing.” 

Isla’s birth was amazing too. A little shorter the second time around, but no less challenging or intense.  I still remember the relief of feeling her hot little body placed on my chest and looking into her clenched up, red face and thinking,

“I am never, ever, doing that again.”

Now, standing on top of this mountain I so gracelessly clambered up, I’m confronted with a panoramic view of motherhood. At times it is stunning. At other times it’s terrifying. I can look back and see the route I took to get here, and feel amazed that I made it all.

While I still tend to agree with Ali the mechanic-- my pregnancies were far from beautiful-- I do think beauty is overrated.

An explanation for this past-tense post, can be found over here at Momformation. 


Seamingly Sarah said...

I love this post. I'm not a fan of pregnancy either, but keep my mouth shut and feel guilty for being so fertile. (It literally took one try for each kid) But the process, the endurance and the giving over to change was beautifully worded. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, my first pregnancy I didn't have morning sickness. However, I did go through preterm labor and get put on bed rest. A term most people would think was heaven was hell for me. Laying in bed all day and eating, just made me feel for those people who are overweight and are trapped on their beds.
After giving birth, I like probably most women think "Oh, that was alright". Everything is forgotten. Foolishly, I got pregnant with a 2nd and now I am miserable! Morning sicknes?! Morning, noon, night, whenever it felt like it sickness. Right now, I am suppose to be in my honeymoon stage. Well, there isn't nothing honeymoonish about this stage! I thought for sure the morning sickness would go away. It did, for a week. Now, I am back in it again. At least now, I am not throwing up. Just nasty queasy/sick of eating if it is making me feel this way sickness. But I press on with shoveling food in my mouth and feeling gross. This one feels like forever!!! And I am still one month away from the halfway mark. Ugh!!! I can't keep up with work or my toddler. Sleeping too much is getting on my nerves. Long naps are getting on my nerves. It takes away from all the work I have to do and I feel so stressed out!!!!!

But I am like you. I am never, ever, ever doing this again!!! In my 30s and getting too up there for this. No clue how people do it in their 40s. Forget that nonsense!!

Ducks said...

I'm doing this in my 40s.... and I can't imagine how anyone does it in their 20s. I just wasn't mature enough to stick with the program despite the inherent miseries. I'd have run off like a wild woman.

Betsy, this is such a fabulous post. Clearly you do not suck at it: that doesn't mean it doesn't suck for you. :) I'm having a very crabby (and passionately grateful, but yes, oh so very crabby) 3rd trimester and this kind of post makes me thank goodness to be in good company.

...Misery loves it, right? :)

Virginia said...

You said it all. Hyperemesis landed me in the hospital with an IV with my first. It started while I was in PArk City for the Olympics. I must have looked really bad and pathetic because an elderly woman offered me crackers from her purse. I spent my morning commutes to NYC heaving into ziplock bags lined with paper towels. The smell of windex would send me over the edge. All I wanted to eat was rare deli roast beef and cold cereal. The only time I didn't feel sick was while I was cramming food down my throat - and of course, as soon as I stopped, it all came back up. At 20 weeks I was put on bed rest for an incompetant cervix, 3 of those weeks were in the hospital on the maternity ward where I could hear all of the babies. Twenty weeks of bed rest so the baby wouldn't fall out. 14 hours of back labor only to have an emergency c section. WHAT A BLAST! It only took 5 years to decide to have another child. I had to make sure my son could fend for himself because I was not going to be cooking him anything! When I becape prego with my daughter, I had hyperemesis again but was smart enough to ask for zofran. I was throwing up right until I hoped onto the table fro section #2. The heaving didn't even fase my son - he'd keep right on taling to me as though nothing was happening as my head was in the kitchen sink. No RESPECT! So 2 is all I could handle. No more. I'm done. Now every time I feel the slightest bit queasy, I panic. Oh shit, I hope I'm not pregnant!

Betsy said...

I hear that, Virginia. The terror of a late period is like no other for me. It's good to know when your done, I guess.

Kristen said...

Right there with ya, sister! I still can't believe I got pregnant a second time. Major morning sickness with both of mine. Thank goodness for zofran during the second was even worse than the first. I laughed out loud at the part where you said you were never doing this again after your second was born. The first words out of my mouth after my 9 lb. son was born were, "holy crap, I can actually breathe." And after my 8 lb. daughter was born precipitously within seconds of walking through the doors of the hospital (and without time for even an aspirin) the first thing I said was, "I am soooo done with this BS." I thought the nurse was going to pass out. Thankfully, my husband was totally on board with getting snipped so I don't have to worry about any surprises. I do, however, feel that I have used up my lifetime quota of nausea and vomiting and am very resentful whenever I get even the most mild stomach bug. :P

Emma said...

I'm in this club too. Pregnancy was never my best time, and by the time i was half way through with my third, i knew i was well and truly done. The constant nausea and exhaustion is just miserable. I don't think you need to feel guilty about it! Lots and lots of women feel the same way.

Betsy said...

Kristen: Love the "holy crap, I can breathe" comment. I recall being fixated on my first meal post baby, knowing it would be the first in 9 months that didn't make me nauseous or give me heartburn.
And ditto on the stomach bug paranoia. I have definitely fulfilled my puking quota for life.

April (Polkadot Sparrow) said...


I'm surviving my second pregnancy and it's so hard to put the experience into words for others who have not gone through this. You did a great job explaining it. Kudos.

Bec said...

My first pregnancy ended when I was at 27 weeks because of a congenital defect. That was after I had gained 40 pounds on my very small frame and was nauseous for a straight 14 weeks. I am now 23 and a half weeks into my second pregnancy. I have already packed on 30 pounds and am finally feeling non-nauseous after 21 weeks of morning, afternoon, and evening of alternating between being starving and dry heaving. The headaches and migraines have continued and I feel as if I haven’t been able to take a deep breath for months now.

I feel so guilty for admitting how miserable I am. My body was not built for this. I am eternally grateful that this baby is healthy and I was able to get pregnant again. And how fun that I am starting to feel him move, but... well, I hate this. I still haven’t gotten to that reward part after the misery, but that is definitely what keeps me going.

Thank you for making me feel not so alone.

andrea frazer/this old spouse said...

Betsy, you should really submit this to a Pregnancy Magazine. It's written so well. Honest, without slamming pregnancy. You have such a way with words.

Betsy said...

Thanks, Andrea. This essay, or certain edits of it, have been submitted and rejected many times to many different magazines over the years. I am not sure if I tried Pregnancy...

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Fantastic post, Betsy. I am glad you 'fessed up about hating the whole pregnancy gig. It is absolutely NOT a joy for every woman, and it is important someone share the truth about it all.

This was priceless "What kind of cruel joke was this, giving a woman the libido of a minx and the body of a bovine?" Heheheheheheh!

I did not have horrible pregnancies, but the one in my late 30's left me with an empty, stretch mark ridden sack of skin on my front, and ugly bulging, blue veins on my legs, both conditions which give me much angst when it comes to things like bathing suits and shorts. It's hard to have these scars that have stuck with me, and I might have traded them both for puking non-stop for eight or more weeks if I could have kept my old stomach and prettier legs.

Still, we get what we get, don't we. And we have continued the species, hopefully with exemplary beings that further the positive trajectory of that species. :)

Like you commented, "It's good to know when your done." Amen.

andrea frazer said...

Oh my God, Betsy, just keep going. Or find someone at a magazine that you can help by linking their writers from Momfo. Once you do that, a relationship is established. it's much harder to say no, then, to someone you love. And they will love you. Just look at it from a different angle!!!!! Go do this!

Christy said...

I don't think that anyone should have to feel guilty for hating being pregnant...fertile or not.

I have struggled with infertility...I was only able to have both of my children through in vitro, the first after 6 years of trying...and I still hated being pregnant.

I didn't even have horrible pregnancies, there are women I know who had a much tougher time of it, yet I still say that there were only two things good about being pregnant...feeling the baby move and knowing that there would be a baby at the end. In my mind, it's one of those things that you just do because of the end result.

And those women who say that being pregnant was the best time of their lives? I say they are either lying, crazy or both ;)

Lorrie said...

Thank goodness for Zofran. I had the same type of experience and therefore ONE lovely daughter! I still gag when I brush my teeth or smell certain foods cooking, and the pregnancy was 8 years ago. Thanks for always sharing Betsy.

Betsy said...

Lorrie: Yes that toothbrush gagging and dirty oven aversion is hard to shake.

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog. Thank God!!! I am pregnant for the second time (not by choice!). My first pregnancy was on purpose and miserable enough for me not to ever want to do it again, but the desire for a second child was intense. When I found out I was six weeks along, I was both happy (to know that at least six weeks were done already) and horrified (like a prison sentence being handed down - seven and a half months of hard time!).

I keep staring at my daughter to remind myself that this is the end result. I am only eight weeks along and want to kill someone, have horrible dreams, don't sleep well, my breasts hurt, I am more tired than I ever remember being (even working all night then going out to an after-after party high on drugs - I still had more energy than this!). I can't say anything to anyone because we have so many friends who are trying so hard to get pregnant...and here I am at the age of 38, defying the odds, getting pregnant while on the pill no less and not even trying.

I am trying to be grateful. I know I will love my baby, but I wish I could just get knocked out cold and someone could wake me up when the baby is ready to come out.

Anyhow, all this to say thank you for speaking out.

Amy said...

This is so beautifully written. I teared up when I read about you and your daughter in the bath together. You are a mom and you are amazing!

Angela said...

Betsy, thanks for this. I too hated being pregnant (twice), I just can't face it ever again even though I love my kids very much and would also love more. But I don't tell people about that because they just don't understand, because pregnancy is beautiful! Well, no. Not for me. Babies are beautiful, but what you have to do to get there... I'm so glad that that part is over!!!

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for this post!!! Our daughter was born thanks to a gestational surrogate. I so wanted to have a child, be pregnant and was, of course, sad that I couldn´t. Reading your post made me feel better. I know there is nothing like the moment when your child is born from you, but the way you described the 9 months leading up to your deliveries, well, it doesn´t sound ¨rosey¨. I´m so glad that everything worked out for you, though.

Anonymous said...

Betsy, I believe honesty is the best policy and commend you for this post. I am 11 weeks pregnant with my second child (unplanned) and am ready to slide down the stairs stomach first. My first child is 16 and what I remember of that pregnancy is little to nothing. OMG, am I being punished? I feel as though my body is rejecting the baby as if it is a virus or something. I am definitely not seeing the beauty of pregnancy, but I do see a doctors appointment for my husband to get fixed! He is such a sweetheart and loads of help, but I still just want to beat the hell out of him sometimes for not being able to share this physical misery, but then again he does have to deal with me, so I guess we are sort of even.
Anyhoo....I love your post! It made me laugh because I can completely relate and it made me cry because it is wonderful to know that others feel this way too.

Anonymous said...

So thankful for this type of sharing. I HATE the out of control feeling when I'm pregnant. It feels like every time you complain about something to your OB, they shake their head, smirk a little, and go "Oh that's just part of pregnancy, nothing we can do about it." I hate just watching things happen to my body that I have no control over. So frustrating and yet no one wants to hear how I really feel. Blerg. Almost done. 6 more weeks left on #3 for me. Then cut and burn those tubes because I'm adopting after this if we want more kids.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Some people look at me absolutely horrified (members of my own family, no less) that I don't enjoy my bouts of pitting edema and having to gag on multiple supplements and crazy amounts of high protein/day.

What a horrible person I am to think that I should be able to eat what I want!

Zofran was a lifesaver,but I had to practically beg the Dr. To give it to me, because Vit. B6 works for everyone? (I'm just being sarcastic).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! When I googled "i hate pregnancy," I never thought I would find something so comforting and relatable. I'm a little over six weeks and staring down the barrel of the next eight months with what I thought was unnatural dread. Again, thanks for posting this; it's good to know I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's hard for me to relate to anyone of my friends. I also have hypermesis and acid reflux along with it. It is just agony. I emphasize and sympathize with any woman going through this.

Annie said...

Your post said it all. I really enjoyed it. I understand absolutely everything. Thank you so much for sharing this. And everybody else btw! I too HAAAATE being pregnant. Our body MADE for that!? It s a natural, thus EASY thing to do!? Yep, these women who say so MUST be either lyers, or crazy, or both! ;ppp I really hated the fact that so many women of my entourage just didn't get it, that, YES, it is possible to have a miserable pregnancy, HATE IT, and want to talk about it!!! AND IT DOESN'T MEAN WE HATE OUR BABIES!!!!! :SSS We're trying for bb2 right now as we want our wonderful 13 month boy to have a sibling, but, oh la la... I just want to cry at the thought of having to go through all this again! I'm panicking inside. Just like when I feel a tiny bit nauseous again! It was a true nightmare; the swelling (ankles, legs, eyes, face,...), the nausea, the BREATHING, the weight gain (more than 55 pounds on my skinny frame... now gone forever? :).), the skin tags, the mask in the face (WHAT GLOW?!?!), sleeping on my side, going to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Dear God. I hated everything. Going to work was horrible. And the delivery. Emergency c section after 12 hours of contractions and indifference at our bb almost dying 3 times during labour, resulting in brain damage, recognized by a doctor only after 48 hours of trying to convince every single nurse and doctor that put a foot in our room that our baby was moving his arm weirdly, and having to put up with the condescending looks and responses that, for first time parents (in their 40s), we didn't understand that this was NORMAL. BTW, my husband IS a doctor, did his specialty as a OBGYN, and no one was listening to what he kept repeating to them, that a c section was urgent, and afterwards that the bb had something! Unbelievable. So... It s gonna take all of our courage as we say in French to go through another pregnancy, AND delivery again. :/

Anonymous said...

Well I am 25 and I foolishly thought that being young and healthy was going to help, and I was so wrong, basically the ONlY thing I haven't experienced is morning sickness (but im not shouting victory just yet either..) NO OnE tells you how much this sucks and doesn't feel "natural and beautiful" all the time, maybe we're scared that if we say those things out loud it makes us horrible women, or mothers? Which is frankly just silly, it is like harbouring a parasite for 9 months that sucks the life and energy from you, rendering us fat and sluggish. If the consolation prize weren't so great I believe humanity would have ended when birth control began..loved this post, made me feel less bad about complaining xxx

Chantuay McCoy said...

I had two relatively good pregnancies but I can relate to what you said. Your body is no longer your own and food? FORGET ABOUT IT! With my first one it was tuna fish on a pita with jalapeno peppers and my second one was nothing but blueberries. And I mean A LOT of blueberries. I had my first one at 39 and my second one at 41, what I miss most is my body. I wasn't skinny but I looked good with nice curves, now I still have my curves but the seem to all be sticking out from my stomach. Do you know how hard it is to get a 43 year old body back in shape?? Try impossible. :)
Thank you for putting this out there, I think you just became the virtual voice for millions of mothers! :)

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS! i am 17 weeks and an laying in bed wishing someone would just put me out to pasture! Pregnacy SUCKS and i know it is worth it in the end, but that doesnt help when u feel like u are experinceing a hangover that wont end!

Baby shower coupons said...

I am sure that many parents appreciate what you shared here. No matter what anyone says, pregnancy is a labor of love, a gift. Nothing worthwhile in this world comes easy.

Somebody, somewhere had to work for it. Making it seem like pregnancy is just effortless sort of downplays the significance of everything that is happening while you are carrying another human.

Anonymous said...

I'm 15 weeks into my 2nd pregnancy. I am not having fun. Your story and others like it are making the difference for me. People expect me to glow, still be fit and strong and sane... I'm getting fatter, tireder, more and more unfit each day. I cant be doing exercise, no matter what 'experts' say. My stomach feels all wrong. My big boobs (usually no boobs) would knock my glasses off my face if I tried to run. As for push ups... really? Isn't growing a small person in my womb enough for people? I don't mind that my colleague's friend kept running and eating healthy all through her pregnancy; that is fine. I'm jealous. I feel like crying and stuffing my black hole that used to be my mouth full of apple turnovers. And cheese on toast. It's nice to know I'm not the only one not glowing. I love my kid who made it through my first pregnancy, and love the one living inside me, controlling me like some weird zombie virus. It's amazing what you will do for love. I wish that all pregnant people ever where would automatically glow. But we don't. And it's not through lack of will power. It's just what bodies do.