During my first pregnancy, people used to come up to me in stores. “You must be so happy,” they’d tell me. They wanted to know everything. How far along I was, did I know the gender of the baby — but they especially wanted to know how happy I was.
I should be happy. I was about to become a mother. I was to bring another life into the world, a child I would love more than anything else I had ever loved. How did I feel? I must feel very, very happy!
As these strangers told me this, I always felt like they were eyeing me like I was some kind of succulent fruit, plump enough to squeeze, ready to be burst. Yes, I was ready to burst, my juices running down me. I’m not talking about my water breaking, just the fact I constantly needed to pee. I was nauseous for months. So yes, I was ready to be burst, but just not in any way anyone would like. And I might have looked beautiful, radiant, glowing (adjectives people often used to describe me), but I felt sick, stressed, and irritable.
My back was always killing me from the sheer weight in my center pulling on it. My fat thighs would chafe together when I walked any length, causing a rash. And I was sick of getting stared at it. I was sick of being part of this weird club of pregnant women who would get approached at the grocery store to be told how happy we must be.
And it was a club. I felt an affinity to all the other pregnant women I saw out and about, and every woman in the waiting room during our weekly appointments to get poked and prodded by our doctors. My blood was always being taken to ensure of any number of terrible things weren’t happening to me or the baby. Closer to my due date, my vagina was regularly prodded to determine if my cervix was ripening.
See, I was a fruit, a peach to fondle for my softness. And yes, there was something miraculous about that new life growing inside of me. But there was also something debilitating, depressing, and scary about it. I’m afraid I might have upset. these good citizens approaching me in the store had I come clean to them.
Sure, I might sound like a negative Nelly — or god forbid, a feminist, putting her needs and comfort before her fetus’s. Though I am happy I have my both children, I never want to be pregnant again. It was not the happiest time in my life. It was one of the most hellish times of my life.
We need to recognize this and stop expecting women to be happy when they’re pregnant. And we shouldn’t shame them when they aren’t.
A woman is defined by more than her ability to give birth.
Even in our modern age, a woman’s worth still hinges on her reproductive viability. A woman is considered at her height of beauty when she’s at an age where she can still reproduce. When she’s over the hill (past her reproductive prime) she’ll find herself passed over for jobs. If she is an actress, she might as well just retire.
A woman is also judged for qualities that make her appear like she’d be a good candidate for a healthy pregnancy. Curvy hips, big breasts, long hair, glowing skin. Look at Kim Kardashian. And when she doesn’t have those attributes naturally, she can create them. Look at Kylie Jenner.
When a woman doesn’t decide to become a mother, we wonder what’s wrong with her. Take Kamala Harris — why didn’t she decide to have children? She’s selfish, clearly. She could have still climbed the ranks of the system as a mother. Look at Amy Coney Barrett and her brood of seven. Coney Barrett still ended up a Supreme Court Justice.
Because bringing children into the world is still seen as something women should do, becoming pregnant should make us very happy.
For some women, pregnancy really is one of the happiest times in their lives. That’s great. I’m happy for these women.
Angelina Jolie once told Vanity Fair: “I love it. [Pregnancy] makes me feel like a woman. It makes me feel that all the things about my body are suddenly there for a reason. It makes you feel round and supple, and to have a little life inside you is amazing.”
But what about the woman who doesn’t ever use those “things” about her body? What about the woman who never decides to become a “round and supple” pregnant woman?
And what about the woman who does and hates it? In her interview with Vanity Fair, Jolie shared how pregnancy made her feel “very sexy.” I always thought that it must be because she had so much paid help. My second pregnancy was even more difficult than my first. I was pregnant again when my first child was only nine months old. I already had a baby to take care of and now I had to go through another pregnancy.
I had morning sickness that lasted all day. I couldn’t eat. The smell of food made me nauseous. I still had to get up and take care of another baby even while this was happening. I would often find myself lying on the floor as the baby played, feeling like I was about to throw up.
And in this state, I was asked to be happy — and sexy as well. Sure, my husband always thought I was beautiful, no matter how big I got. He still wanted to have sex with me. I didn’t feel sexy. I felt fat and like I was about to puke.
I was constantly worried about the health of the baby. I was over the age of thirty-five, so I had to undergo several painful procedures that required a biopsy of my placenta and a long needle poked into my distended belly to take a sample of amniotic fluid. If I wasn’t at the doctor being subjected to tests, I was uncomfortable in general.
My discomfort increased the bigger I became. It was hard to move from point A to point B — I was just so big and heavy. My skin looked terrible. Not only did I develop melasma — brown patches on my face because of the heightened estrogen in my system — but I developed a “pregnancy mask.” This is acne around your mouth. I looked like hell and I felt like hell, too.
And in this state, I was asked to be happy.
We need to respect how each individual woman feels about her pregnancy.
Don’t think I blame those who expected me to be happily pregnant. Honestly, I feel the same thing now when I see a pregnant woman. I do feel happy for them.
And yes, these encounters often happen at the grocery store — the exact place where people so often approached me. I feel a giddy excitement for any woman I see as I watch her select pieces of fruit in the produce aisle, feeling them for ripeness. I am overcome by a need to feel her, too.
Of course, I never do. I never walk up and touch any woman’s belly. Not even when she’s a friend. I know that that’s simply one more awful thing that pregnant women have to endure — people touching us without our consent as if our big bellies simply invite it.
It’s obnoxious, but I can’t deny that I can also see where the desire to reach out and touch a pregnant woman is coming from. Pregnant women are gorgeous, full, ripe. Their fecund reality is attractive. But at the same time, I realize how bad this woman may be feeling. Though I might be feeling giddy with the understanding that this pregnant woman’s life is about to change — that she is carrying a new human inside, a new soul — I have to respect that she might not be feeling the same way. She might not feel happy at all being pregnant. She might not be enjoying the experience one bit.
And if she doesn’t feel happy as a pregnant woman, she shouldn’t feel lesser as a woman. She shouldn’t feel ashamed if she doesn’t believe her pregnancy is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
Pregnancy can be difficult for women to women and we need to honor that. Sometimes pregnancy can be one of the worst times in a woman’s life. That’s understandable and there’s nothing wrong with this. Women can feel however they want about their pregnancies. They don’t need to be happily pregnant. They need to be healthfully pregnant and receive all the love, support, and guidance they require to help make it through what for many can be a very difficult time.
Photo by Marlon Schmeiski.