Christina Kenny is a PhD researcher in Dublin, Ireland. Her career has focused on health and chronic disease management. Alongside this, she has written extensively about her life growing up with a terminally-ill mother. Most recently she has begun her own journey into motherhood and has been documenting the trials and tribulations that go along with it.
Christina writes candidly and movingly below about her experience of pregnancy and I’m honoured to share her work here.
“I told him, kick once for porridge and twice for sausages” my cousin giggled cradling her 7- month baby bump with pride. My family giggled in unison, beaming along with her, everyone agreeing it was adorable.
As I sat with my barely-there five month bump I had to hide my cringing.
I could not relate.
You see, I was very excited to be pregnant and was already eager to meet my baby, but I wasn’t asking for his input on breakfast. I wasn’t asking for his input on anything actually. I wasn’t singing to the bump or playing music, I wasn’t talking to him, and my husband didn’t address the bump like an already-born baby. I was asked endlessly by older relatives if I was feeling the magic that is pregnancy and my answer was always the same, ‘No, I am really not enjoying pregnancy, but I can’t wait to meet him!’
My answer was met with confusion and even some shaming.
It seems that being excited and positive about pregnancy was directly proportional to how good of a mother I would be. One friend even suggested, upon me explaining I can feel him move now that perhaps the movement would, ‘help me bond better now’ suggesting I wasn’t bonded to my unborn son.
Prior to getting pregnant, I imagined the scenario as follows: immediate elation upon finding out, followed by a couple of months of morning sickness and then several months of living in a magical pregnancy bubble in which my skin was glowing, my cleavage was perky and my hair thicker than ever. I would choose adorable-sized onesies and cradle my bump when strangers asked how far along I was. I would tell friends that there is nothing like the feeling of feeling your baby move. I would be a character in a Disney movie.
Why was I under this illusion?
Well, for starters, that is exactly how the media portrays pregnancy.
Gigi Hadid walked the Victoria Secret runway while pregnant, Kate Middleton’s perfect blow-dry billowed hours after birth on the steps of the Lindo Wing and in every movie I had ever seen, pregnant women had this Goddess like status and floated through their second and third trimesters.
I thought my husband and I would attend baby-preparation classes and agonise over ever last detail about how to change and feed our baby. Instead, I found those classes repetitive, boring and majorly lacking. Does that make me a bad mother already? There are only so
many times I can hear about how to swaddle or wind my baby. I thought we would paint the baby’s room together, me in my adorable maternity overalls and him stopping to kiss me between strokes. In reality, I was much too tired and him much too busy at work to paint a room that already had a perfectly fine colour scheme.
Pregnancy was so much more mentally-complex than I expected it to be. I wasn’t prepared to face the huge elephant in the room, staring me in the face at every new milestone: the absence of my own mother. It had never even occurred to me that not only would my own grief make an abrupt return but the gap she left behind would be felt more than ever.
At every new milestone I was both happy and a little broken. How was I supposed to mother without my own? At a friend’s baby shower she gushed about how relieved she was that she could have both her mother and partner in the room during labour. I swallowed hard and attempted to hold it together. It felt like a punch to the stomach watching her mother fuss over her and hearing her mother’s touching speech about how proud she is to become a grandmother.
I had never felt so vulnerable and in need of my own mum. At every scan there was always a part of me left feeling empty and alone knowing that nobody would care quite as much as she would. Who would I text with questions? Who would I call during a 2am breakdown?
Google and I had to get acquainted very quickly.
I soon realised that there is a whole community of women out there mothering without their own mother.
What nobody told me was that even if you planned to get pregnant and really wanted it to happen, you can still be met with crippling anxiety about your choice.
It can trigger years old trauma you thought you had dealt with. It can mess with your mood. Oh, and morning sickness? That might be the least of your worries. You might be too busy with your pregnancy rhinitis, endless nosebleeds, and tear-inducing constipation to even have time to dry heave.
My pregnancy preparation classes mentioned none of these things. In fact, all they really did mention was the importance of hypnobirthing, breastfeeding and ideally a vaginal birth. I was bombarded with information on dealing with morning sickness and how to maintain a good diet, but nobody addressed anxiety or depression.
I can’t be the only one with mixed emotions. Can I?
As it turns out, I wasn’t. After class one day I mentioned to another soon-to-be mum how the new sensation of feeling my baby move felt weird and kind of alien. Her eyes immediately widened, and she yelled, ‘RIGHT? IT IS SO WEIRD’. We quickly bonded over how nobody ever talks about how it is an odd, unfamiliar (at least, at first) sensation. Over time, I have grown to love the feeling of him swishing around and practicing his best kicks on my ribcage but the first time I felt it, I was fully weirded out.
Society puts this pressure on women to become mothers the second they get pregnant. We are constantly lectured on, ‘maternal instinct’ and the idea that, ‘mother knows best’ but all that really does is create an uneven burden between mothers and fathers.
Women are expected to be instant mothers, fascinated by every detail of child-rearing from the very start while it is entirely acceptable for men to learn on the job. The phrase, ‘women become mothers when they get pregnant, and men become fathers when they meet their baby’ is routinely thrown around and there is little room for women to avail of the same privileges as men.
I can’t wait to finally hold my son in my arms and breathe a sigh of relief that he is finally here but I am not going to pretend I feel amazing right now. I am tired. I am grieving. I am overwhelmed with information on breastfeeding, wake windows, delayed cord clamping and kick counts. Pregnancy to me, feels like a means to an end. It is a process I have to endure in order to get my baby at the end. It is not the magical experience I thought it would be and that’s okay with me. I just wish it was okay with everyone else too.
I am standing on the precipice of motherhood without my own mum, terrified, about to leap into the great unknown. She won’t be there to hold my hand or answer the phone when I need her most but part of her lives on in me and I take comfort in that.
Even though she isn’t here to tell me what to do, deep down, I know that I don’t need her to tell me because I’ve got this. I can Google the rest.