Being pregnant does not mean you become public property
It’s quite easy to see why mums go on to have subsequent babies, we think. Not only do you bring a beautiful new life into the world, but when you’re pregnant you are looked after like no other time in your life. From the moment a positive pregnancy test result comes in, you’re on a prenatal healthcare journey in which you’ll meet lots of professional, friendly people whose one and only job is to make sure you’re well and comfortable and all (well mostly all if you go with the NHS) for free.
As a pregnant woman, it often feels as if you can do no wrong and everyone will bend over backwards to make sure you’re okay. For most non-pregnant people that rarely, if ever, happens. But sometimes, the interest of strangers regarding your pregnancy can be intrusive to say the least.
Here’s one mum’s view on pregnancy and how she felt about all that ‘care’.
The pregnant carrier bag
Yes, pregnancy is wonderful; yes you feel cared for and precious, but the one thing that most women say they hate about being visibly pregnant, even more than the back pain, is the fact that complete strangers seem compelled to touch you. It feels like you have become public property.
Picture the scene, you’re in a checkout queue with your trolley and you turn around absent-mindedly to find a smiling octogenarian (yes, it’s often older people) looking at you as if they’ve known you all your life.
“Ooh, aren’t you huge,” they’ll say with a chuckle.
And just as you’re reeling from the impertinence, out pops a wrinkly hand to rub your bump and maybe even give it a little pat.
“What are you hoping for?” They keep on smiling at you.
I’m hoping you’ll take your festering fingers off my body, that’s what I’m hoping for at this precise second, you want to yell.
Your actual response is likely to be polite and personable, but inside you’re thinking, “how do I get away” or “make it stop” or… Well, censorship prevents me from writing down some of the things that used to pop into my head!
You see, when you’re pregnant, you become something of a receptacle, a carrier bag per se. Yes, people are aware that you’re doing the heavy lifting, but all anyone is really interested in is what’s inside you. That’s why the question about what you’re hoping for can really grate sometimes. (I ended up answering “golden retriever”. That one made a few people move away quickly.)
For the first few months it all seems to be about your health, about how you’re feeling and coping. “Would you like to put your feet up?”, “Go on Jane, you have the last birthday doughnut ‘cos your pregnant,” etc etc. It’s all very lovely and touching. And then, during the last few weeks, as your little one becomes more of a reality in everyone’s consciousness, it’s almost as if you cease to exist.
Don’t get me wrong, showing interest and the typically kind intentions of others are lovely, but as your baby plays his ninth game of ‘kick the bladder’ that morning, and all your work buddies can offer as comments are things like, “Ooh, he’s going to play for England, that one is,” and “Not long now and you’ll have your lovely baby in your arms,” you’re rather inclined to scream inwardly, Yes, now! Now can I put my feet up? Please tell me I can go and lie down, now.
It’s like this, I guess: as you traverse into your last few weeks, people are used to seeing you coping well and they forget what the ‘little fella’ is actually doing to your insides. Your organs are all out of place, your lungs are being squeezed, all your systems are under pressure and you’ve probably got itchy swollen legs and feet which you can’t even reach to scratch because your humungous bump is in the way. But never mind.
Almost all of the pregnancy healthcare is over, you just have to get on with it.
By this point, almost all the monitoring is about the baby, how the baby is coping, has he engaged yet, how’s his heart rate? And reactions to your heavily-pregnant self can even be admonishing. “You shouldn’t be doing that,” said by complete stranger in Tesco, as I reached up to the top shelf for my husband’s favourite cereal, “You’ll hurt your baby.” Never mind that I could have pulled ligaments and hurt my back or toppled heavily to the floor because my centre of gravity was out of whack. It was just the baby who was deemed to be at risk.
Well, here’s a thought, my baby was tightly curled inside a cushioning sac of amniotic fluid, encased in the muscular walls of my uterus, enclosed by my swollen abdomen – my baby couldn’t have cared less that the top shelf was a touch out of the way.
And then, of course, the baby arrives. He’s out! You pushed and pushed, you’ve torn your most intimate parts, given yourself piles, and had a midwife’s whole hand in your vagina…but the baby is born. Hurrah! And all eyes are on the newborn. What’s the Apgar score? He needs oxygen. All move away from the mother and make sure the baby is all right. The mother doesn’t matter, we must just care for the tiny little baby, who’s a little blue and a little cold.
The carrier bag is empty. And I’m cold too and more than a little scared. But all eyes, yes even your partner’s, are focused on the new, fragile life.
Thankfully, my “little fella” was all right, and I was all right, but I did suffer a bout of post-natal depression and I think it stemmed from those feelings of being inconsequential. I know now that what I did, in carrying and giving birth to two beautiful children, was a mammoth, stupendous thing of infinite strength and courage. I am very proud.
And it has taught me the etiquette surrounding pregnancy bumps.
If you don’t quite get it, try this: next time you’re on a shopping trip and you spot someone with a large carrier bag, one of the posh kind, made of fancy heavy-weight paper, with proper handles made of ribbon, why don’t you just go up to the shopper and give the bag a little rub. Ask the person what they’ve got inside the bag…then wait a few moments and see if you get a polite response.