The Unrealistic Expectations of Pregnancy & Parenthood
Pre-kids, I’d devoured every book I could get hold of that could prepare me for parenthood, I’d seen the movies (two pushes and it’s out) and completed an NCT crash course on a weekend with my husband. Naturally, I’d convinced myself that motherhood would be a total breeze for me, a walk in the park. Literally. Baby and I spending most of my maternity leave going for endless strolls, no stress, me in holiday-mode on the best break of my life because it was just baby and I: my accessory of a son dressed in sailor suit and hat to boot, having the time of our lives.
That’s a sort of new motherhood dream for us all right? And to be fair, not all the books proposed this. Just the movies. All of the movies. Since the birth of Hollywood, basically. And admittedly I’d told myself this ‘story’ as have countless other broody women no doubt-the one where motherhood would meet every expectation and dream along with the white lies of, ‘my kids won’t be like those ones wailing in the supermarket’ and ‘Life would just be perfect with babies’. It keeps people procreating-but the media perpetuating those myths, can be dangerous and isolating.
Thank goodness for the rise in parenting bloggers and vloggers telling it like it is. If only I’d discovered these real voices and they’d been as prominent 7 years ago when I had my first son.
All I had was traditional media then…and it’s because of those often skewed narratives on pregnancy and parenting that I thought I’d feel truly wonderful with bump, some kind of pregnant goddess relishing in the best 9 months of my life before magically leaving hospital bump-less within days just like VB (and probably in high heels too).
I was sure I was made for carrying kids (big hips will do that to a girl) and as I was a maternal person regardless, I was certain each month up the duff would not only be the best experience ever but it would fly by too- because that’s what I’d been told by many and it was my own mum’s experience as well. She loved being pregnant and always told me how mine and my brother’s births were the greatest experience of her life. Which is wonderful and the ideal of course yet isn’t the case for many. Plus, nostalgia is a beautiful thing, we naturally only remember the good bits, however trying the whole experience.
Now let me kick off by stating that this post isn’t meant to scare you. Far from it, I’m writing this to reassure and offer my support in case life with a bump and beyond might feel a little tough. Every woman, baby, and experience of pregnancy and birth is different yet many go through hard times and it can be harder still to find other stories that relate to yours.
And that’s the thing, I’ve found the supposed universal truths on having kids (that I’ve been fed, any least) are not THAT universal.
Many are more myth-like and most can be unhelpful, particularly for first-time parents, so by sharing my own experiences and helping to demystify pregnancy and motherhood, maybe others can manage their own expectations. More women might feel better informed for the what ifs? and in turn more confident to ask for help if they need to.
Plus, I need to admit openly and in black and white that when it came to preparing for first time motherhood, I was quite the epic dingbat.
Firstly, to think of my unborn baby as a cute accessory, and secondly, to have fallen for what the movies and mass media told me at the time. I was a director pre-blogging for goodness sake and should have known better.
A lot of the traditional media have presented us with a limited representation of motherhood that didn’t always match up to reality.
We have been made to believe for the most part that pregnancy and giving birth is the most natural thing in the world, when for many, it can feel the most unnatural!
Pregnancy and birth an be a tumultuous time, some breeze through it, granted, but for others, the struggle is real. It can be hard, tiring, lonely and tough. The pressures can feel stifling too and without a freedom to express quite how hard it is, a fear of being judged, your ability to be a mother questioned, can make you feel worse.
Being open and speaking to others is half the battle.
Pregnancy is so often a time others feel most pressured to be present themselves as happy and grateful mamas-to-be, making it harder than ever to ask for help when feeling far from rosy and glow-y.
It can be hard to reveal that your body expanding might feel strange (if it does), that you’re not sure you’re ready for motherhood (despite wanting it with all your heart)-and a million other worries, big or small whether this is your first baby or your fifth. Because that’s life.
We’re all just humans- making humans- and nobody said it would be easy- expect they all actually pretty much did.
Until now. Until bloggers and vloggers. Until parents began to rewrite the narrative and continue to, bravely being REAL with others about the bad and the good when it comes to procreation and parenthood.
So what’s my story?
I was pretty much left broken from a troubled pregnancy and birth with my first son. My second was thankfully much easier, a mostly straight forward pregnancy bar a nightmare water infection and hospital stay early on followed by an upbeat 8 months, a positive elective and a happy time post birth.
Each pregnancy, and child, is of course different and unique but it’s fair to state that first-time pregnancy and parenthood can be a shock. You have no bar to compare it to, going from ‘normal’ life to a whole new way of life or #crazylife and coupled with the great weight of expectations and actual weight gain/body not feeling your own and rollercoaster of hormones it takes some getting used to.
The media plays its part, often glorifying and sometimes even sexualising pregnancy (Demi Moore anyone?) and that coupled with the much repeated assumption that, ‘pregnancy and childbirth is the most important part of your life’ creates a mountain like pressure on parents-to-be’s shoulders.
My reality having Oliver was less VB in Louboutins and more trying my best to walk in Uggs, a white nursing bra visible (from space probably) through a brown wrap tie dress, frankly feeling like I’d been hit by bus.
In pain and in deep shock, I felt completely clueless as to how my husband and I would be able to bring up this baby in my arms. This tiny creature that totally depended on us. And I’m sure many parents feel this way, vastly unprepared, because whilst nothing can actually prepare you for parenthood, an honest conversation or two on how hard it can be, can go a long way.
Were we ever told of what could be? An emergency C-Section for me? A shock to the system, a 360 on our lives? Did I feel prepared to feel this way? Not one bit to be honest. I loved my son but my new life, I didn’t really like it.
Suffering from a traumatic birth, I felt scared to admit I needed help for fear I might be failing as a mother. It took a move to Leeds close to family and a frank conversation with my husband and mum to find the strength to see my doctor.
I even remember having to convince the locum GP on when I went in, to refer me to see a counsellor. It was a struggle at a time when I was already struggling.
But I got there in the end and I got through it too, thanks to a super therapist, this blog, my husband, friends and family.
So the moral of the story is we need to be more candid about how we feel. In pregnancy and beyond.
I get it, it’s frightening to hold your hand up and say you’re worried or you’re not feeling yourself but the sooner you do, the less alone and more supported you will feel.
Earlier today, a lady who follows my Honest Mum Facebook page, sent me a private message asking if it’s normal at 17 weeks pregnant to not have that happy mum-to-be feeling, to feel a little worried and ill-prepared about pregnancy and impending motherhood.
I wanted to hug her. Because it is entirely normal to feel that way. Many of us have been there, right?
I promised I would write this post for her, and for others reading it.
I’ve encouraged the lady who messaged me to chat to her midwife and doctor with any concerns as I’m not a professional, just an understanding blogger and mother but I’ve also asked my friend, a GP and mum of three, Dr Juliet McGrattan to shed light some light here too:
‘Please don’t worry if you don’t feel full of joy when you’re pregnant; this can still be normal. There’s a whole raft of hormonal changes going on in your body that can affect your feelings and mood. Pregnancy can be a bewildering and confusing time, especially if you’re having to put up with lots of pregnancy niggles and nausea. Fears about the future and how you’ll cope alongside anxieties about actually growing another human being inside you are totally understandable and can be overwhelming. Sharing how you feel with a close friend or relative is important. If, however you find that every day is a dark day, you’re tearful, withdrawing from the world and can’t get any pleasure from things you usually enjoy then you should speak to your midwife or GP. Pregnant mums get depressed too and there’s plenty of help and support available; you just need to pluck up the courage to ask for it’.
Pregnancy can be a topsy-turvy time for many, very few will have it easy, not for the entire way through anyway; the same goes for parenthood. With each new joyous chapter comes fresh challenges too. A lot is amazing but equally times can be testing too.
So please don’t worry if you don’t love every single minute of being pregnant- or if you don’t instantly feel in love with your baby on its arrival either. Having a child is a shock to the system and birth brings with it a million variable feelings-often all at once. And however you feel at first, know that love grows and grows. And grows.
Again, be kind to yourself when baby get here. New parenthood is often a blur of sleep deprivation and addled hormones with nights and days feeling long and relentless. And yes, the pain is worth it, of course it is, having kids is life-enhancing and wondrous but it doesn’t mean you have to endure the hard times on your own, that you can’t ask for help because you wanted kids. You don’t need to be a martyr. No way. On those trying days and months, pregnant or once baby arrives and beyond, please ask for help if you need it, chat to those you trust and reach out to your midwife and GP.
I was scared to do all of the above with Oliver but I wish I had much sooner than I did. I’d hate for anyone who felt like I did to suffer in silence, to simply try to carry on without the help they craved…
It’s a big old, wonderful, ‘wouldn’t have it any other way’ whirlwind of a job carrying and raising kids- nothing truly prepares you but I hope posts like this might help to normalise it all… To reassure you that you’re not alone.
Now a mum of two, aged 6 and 4, far past the days of pregnancy, it’s clear that parenthood is no real walk in the park. Not everyday at least.
I know that now.
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