Being pregnant is the best thing in the whole wide world. The hormones coursing through your body make you feel happy and energized all the time. You emanate peace and serenity. You glow! It’s wonderful!
Except when it’s not.
We’re supposed to love being knocked up, but for some of us, that’s just not reality. We’re sick, we’re tired, we hurt, we feel like elephants, and we’re worried all the time—at least that’s how I felt. So did Tara Sullivan, of Saint John, NB.
“I didn’t love it,” admits Sullivan, a new mom to three-week-old Nola. “I found the experience was mostly one of fear and worry and feeling like a failure. There was so much information about what to eat and what not to eat, it was impossible to follow it all. And I was surprised at how judge-y other moms were. Everyone thinks you should be doing something you’re not, or not doing something you are, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think.”
Women are also bombarded with images of gestating celebrities balancing massive bellies on ridiculously high heels and beaming like they’re about to explode with joy, not vomit. And there’s always someone around to tell us how much they loved being pregnant. In my case, that person was my mom. Every time I complained, she would reply, “Really? I had no problems at all!” Thanks, Mom.
“I was surprised to feel this way,” says Sullivan. “I knew it would be a challenge because I was 39 when I got pregnant, but the medical community constantly talking about my ‘advanced maternal age’ made it impossible to relax.”
Toronto midwife Jasmin Tecson says that, indeed, you should relax—because it’s normal to not love being pregnant. These feelings surface even with pregnancies that are welcome, or that people have worked hard to achieve. “There are a lot of constructs about how glorious pregnancy is,” she says. “It is a special time, but also a very intense period of physical, mental and emotional change. Some negative emotions can be very normal, and it’s important to acknowledge that, or women can feel isolated and guilty.”
Of course, if you’re feeling ill, uncomfortable or sad, you should talk to your healthcare provider to rule out any serious issues, and keep the dialogue going throughout your pregnancy. But, says Tecson, “women don’t have to have a significant pathology or a lot of dramatic concerns to not be thrilled about being pregnant. Some mental or emotional resistance might be due to things like having difficulty adjusting to the loss of control or a change in body image. We might not be able to do anything about the underlying cause, but we can normalize it. Women feel better if they have an outlet, a space to say ‘This really stinks.’ It helps them to move on to acceptance.”
This unloading is important, says Tecson, because a woman who is unhappy during pregnancy can be at an increased risk for postpartum depression. “It’s possible that she’ll need more support from friends and family—for her own healing, as well as with baby care and help around the house—to feel positive postpartum,” says Tecson, but she adds that this isn’t always the case. “Lots of women hate being pregnant but love life postpartum. They just don’t like the process of pregnancy and want their baby out so they can bond with him or her.”
I was one of those women. Pregnancy felt like it lasted a million years, but for me, being a mom truly is the best thing in the world.
Sullivan isn’t quite there yet. “I do love being a mom, but I’m sure it will be even better when I average more than two hours of sleep per 24 hour period!” she says.
Yes, it would be fantastic if pregnancy could be great for everyone. But if it’s not, don’t make it worse by beating yourself up over it. “There’s nothing wrong with having a realistic reaction to an intense reality,” says Tecson. “Pregnancy is healthy. It’s a normal state, but it’s not necessarily puppies and sunshine.”
A version of this article appeared in our March 2014 issue with the headline "No glow?" p. 35.