On the bleaker side of pregnancy…

What I wore for the office last week:
Lurex dress: George @ Asda via charity shop; scarf: gift from my colleague, Nic; maternity tights: H&M; shoes: M&S

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I feel like a bad “woman” just posting this, but pregnancy and I: we’re not really getting on. I mean, it’s all fine – I’m not having a rough time by many women’s standards and I therefore feel all the worse for complaining, but I am finding the whole thing particularly… frustrating. I spend a lot of time trying to express the fact that I’m frustrated to Dapper, only to get more frustrated as my (apparently medically disproven) baby brain cannot retrieve anything like the vocabulary it used to be capable of. And then I get frustrated with Dapper for getting frustrated with me and, well, there’s a lot of crying.

The frustration itself stems from a whole host of different problems. There’s my body. It looks AMAZING. I have probably spent more time gazing in the mirror in the last 20 weeks than in the rest of my life put together. I love my new boobs, am fascinated by my areolas, and intrigued by the soft downy fur spreading over my belly. The bump changes shape and position every day, and I feel so proud of it, I can’t help but stare admiringly. I am happier, naked, than I have ever been in my life. But all of this is aesthetic, and aesthetics are not everything…

I am told from all sides that I need to “take it easy”, that I am not capable, these days, of doing what I once could – that I am, indeed “intensive risk” now that I’m carrying twins and could do myself and my babies serious damage if I carry on as I did before. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s not actually like I have much choice in the matter. If I am tired, my body tells me in no uncertain terms that it is not willing to carry on. It’s not a matter of pushing on regardless – it just stops. I’ve never experienced this before. If I try to shake out the duvet, or lift something above my head, my arms just laugh at me. They refuse to respond to the signals from my brain – they just freeze up. My strength is sapped – my own body rebelling against my wishes, and I feel like an impotent bullying father who has just realised his son is now twice as large as he is and no longer responds to threats of a thrashing.

The first time I tried to change the bed pregnant and realised that I couldn’t shake out the duvet I just sat on the floor and cried. It was one of the most frustrating days of my life so far.

Then there’s that baby brain thing, that apparently doesn’t exist. Every work task seems to take twice as long as it used to. I can’t hold information in my head – I have to remember to write everything down – and I can’t multitask without stumbling off route. I can’t hold on to ideas or recall conversations. My laptop is littered with post-it notes reminding me to do tasks, but I find it is taking me longer and longer to complete them. I feel so much less intelligent than I used to – even my internal dictionary has started to fail me, as my vocabulary seems to shrink. Work is taking longer and longer to complete, and so becoming more and more exhausting as it pushes later and later into my evenings…

And my inability to retain information leads me on neatly to the somewhat unhelpful nature of the NHS. There seems to be no really efficient process in place for maternity care. The community midwife at my local Drs surgery and the local hospital, has no real link to the midwife at the specialist multiple births unit, where we have to trek for our appointments – in fact, I am regularly told that if I don’t make the effort to check in with the community midwife, I’ll “fall off the system”. My notes on the computer do not seem to be connected, and one can’t access details held by the other, so I inevitably get asked questions about my care which I can’t answer. Because the most frustrating thing of all is the fact that, as a pregnant woman, you feel you are being told NOTHING. Or at least nothing of any significance. Your green notes are not explained to you, and if you ask, it’s seen as something of a pain to explain, as you’re inevitably running almost two hours late already. None of your questions are answered, or those that are are answered with “You can phone the community midwife with questions any time”, and if you express any concern about things that you may have heard or read but aren’t part of your experience, you’re looked at askance, as if you’re a complete dullard to think that your pregnancy would remotely follow the pattern of anyone else’s. You’re treated as extremely stupid at all times, and fed different advice by each midwife you meet with. And you’re handed from person to person like a parcel, passed around the department from receptionist to sonographer to midwife to receptionist to phlebotomist, then back to reception to be signed out, only to be called by the midwife an hour later to come back in as everyone in the process has forgotten to weigh you… In situations like these the general consensus seems to be that you should have told someone that you needed weighing, much as you should have asked someone if you don’t know the answers to their questions – but as someone who has never done the mom-to-be thing before I can state unequivocally that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO ASK.

I’m also particularly bad at scans. Every mother around me tells me how amazing they are, how connected you feel to the baby when you can see them on screen, how excited they are to hear about mine when I come home. I spend a week (at least) before each scan worrying about what it will reveal, whether everything will be ok, and how exactly I’ll cope if it isn’t. I get myself so tightly wound, that on every visit to the sonographer so far I have felt close to passing out in the waiting room. Then, I drink so much water (the recommended 2 litres) that I am in complete agony for the hour or so that we are kept waiting, even though we technically have an appointment. When I get onto the bed, all I can think about is how if the sonographer pushes in the wrong spot I will wet myself. I go into panic mode.

Then, there are the blissful few moments of relief and joy when I see my babies are ok. They’re wriggling, kicking, waving, and generally being their healthy, hearty little selves in my belly. And that bit: that is truly awesome – as in some full on AWE. I watch them, tears spring to my eyes, I take in what the sonographer is saying, request photos and spend the next half hour in the waiting room just staring at them. Usually whilst whoever is with me asks repeatedly if I’m ok, and why I’m frowning.

Then, once I’m home again, I curl up on the sofa and I break my heart, usually for a good 45 minutes. I sob. I know I’m supposed to be happy, and so much of it is relief, but a lot of it is also that frustration again. That loss of control. I am doing everything I can for these babies and I know that no matter how much I do, there is a chance that, through absolutely no fault of my own, something could go wrong. And there won’t be a single thing I could have done to prevent it. I can’t tell you how much I hate that feeling.

And then I feel guilty – because I’m supposed to be happy and excited, and I feel as if I’m letting everyone down. I know I need to send texts and share pictures and make phone calls, and put on a happy face and voice, but by this point I just feel beyond exhausted. My hormones are in overdrive, and I’m feeling doubly guilty because I know the babies are feeling my distress. And all I want to do is curl up on the sofa in Dapper’s arms until the emotions subside. Which they inevitably do, after an hour or so, by which point everyone who knew I had a scan booked in is panicking because they haven’t yet heard about it.

Why, you may ask, am I telling you this? Well, I suppose because pregnancy can feel very lonely. It’s no reflection on your loving partner, family, friends, or really even the NHS, but the pressure to be the happy shiny future-mummy of the magazines and to hide the hormonal mess you sometimes feel inside can get overwhelming. Particularly if you’re aware that much of it is just hormones, and that, although you feel as if the world is crumbling around you and you can’t cope at this moment, you’ll be laughing in half an hour’s time. This knowledge can actually make things worse – it can make you ashamed to express how very bad you’re feeling. It can make you feel as if you’re somehow doing everything wrong, as if your emotional responses are somehow incorrect – as if there is something wrong with you as an individual. And this is the lonely bit. Trying to explain to a logical and desperately confused partner or parent that yes, of course you are delighted that the babies are healthy and no, it’s not something they have said or done, but that you just need comfort and sympathy without the logic… it can be difficult to express. It can be more frustrating than the usually eloquent can imagine. But whichever part of pregnancy you may struggle with it is worthwhile just to know that you’re not alone. You’re not stupid. You’re not wrong, or incorrect or a bad “woman”. You’re just… pregnant!

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18 thoughts on “On the bleaker side of pregnancy…

  1. ….and completely normal! I agree I felt exactly the same about the loss of control while pregnant. It does get easier I promise. Your energy will come back but you will find that generally you have to slow down a little. Also as for loneliness – it was the worst part for me. I know we dont know each other really but if you do need to vent or ask stupid questions then I am right here. I have spit up on my shoulder and I smell faintly of vomit but its all very recent with mancub only being 4 months old. much love xxx

    • Thank you lovely lady, I am sure I’m not alone in this – which is why I wanted to put it out there. And may I just say, the terminology “mancub” made me beam! Whenever I feel any discomfort Dapper says not to worry, it’s just the cubs chasing their tails – glad we’re not the only ones having puppies!! 🙂 xxx

  2. Aw hun, this all sounds horrible, stressful and completely understandable. Your body is in overdrive, working harder than it has ever had to work before to bring not one, but two little, tiny, demanding personalities into the world. As such you’re full of hormones, and that makes your experience of pregnancy and everything that goes with it utterly unique to you. Noone but you can expect to understand what you’re going through, and it is OK to ask people (in the nicest way possible) to back off and let you be – you’ll fill them in when you feel capable and willing, and until you feel that way it’s only going to hurt you and exhaust you more to try and meet all their expectations. Explain this, let them know, and I’m sure they’ll let you deal with things in your own way.

    We’re all here for you, any time. Text, call, or stay at home and don’t get in contact, it’s all OK. Completely. If you ever want anyone to bring round ice cream, soup, carrots smothered in chocolate (cravings, anyone?!), bad TV, etc. just ask.

    Lots of love xxxxxxxx

    • Thanks hon, it’s just so difficult sometimes to tell people that you’re not feeling how they think you should be. But that goes for all mental health issues, I guess – and hopefully posts like this one can help others as well as myself to see this.

      No need for carrots smothered in chocolate just yet, but thanks for the offer! 😀 xxx

  3. Caroline, I just want to reach through the screen and hug you. I have no experience of pregnancy, as you know, but I very much relate to the feeling of not being “allowed” to admit to any kind of negative feelings at all. If I even hint at feeling down about something, people all rush to remind me that there are starving children in the world, and that I have a lot of shoes, so, you know, I can’t POSSIBLY have any reason to be down! (And I mean,I love my shoes, but SERIOUSLY?) So I applaud you for talking about this: I wish more people would be honest, and admit that everything is not just rainbows and unicorns all the time!

    For what it’s worth, I may not have children myself, but a couple of my close friends have recently given birth, and your experiences seem very similar to what they’ve described to me. I think there’s a tendency now for people to paint pregnancy as this blessed time when the expectant mother floats around on a cloud of happiness, but of course it’s one of the most extreme experiences you can go through, both physically and emotionally, so it would actually be strange if you DIDN’T have lots of conflicting feelings about it. My friends all told me that although they obviously love their children, they did not enjoy being pregnant, and felt there must be something “wrong” with them, because of that. I suspect that may be more common than the media/blogs etc tend to paint it!

    *big virtual hug here*

    • Amber, as always you have made me Laugh Out Loud. Of course you have no right to feel anything but chirpy, what with having so many SHOES to gaze at. Look at the pretties, they will make everything else in life hunky-dory! 😀

      But yes, I am coming to realise that, whilst everyone’s experience of pregnancy is different, more Mamas than I previously knew feel the isolation and frustration element. And although I’d never thought about it that way, I suppose pregnancy is a pretty extreme experience – I spend so much time telling myself that we’ve been doing it for millennia, I forget that it’s still a pretty big deal! So thank you for that!

      And for the hug too, of course.

  4. Dear Caroline,

    I really have to thank you so much for writing this post. In this era of Mumsnet-tyranny, it’s getting harder and harder to be able to admit to having a difficult time with pregnancy and motherhood. I read your post and felt like I could breathe a bit. Thank you so, so much.

    I’m in the very early stages of a pregnancy I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I have a severe anxiety disorder though, so where I should be a blooming/happy/serene image of happy motherhood I am an absolute wreck. I don’t know the meaning of the messages my body is sending me – every little twinge makes me terrified something is wrong. I have been told this is normal. But that doesn’t make it any less emotionally draining or difficult, does it?

    Early on, it’s so very lonely. Everyone advises you not to tell anyone outside family until after 12 weeks – that’s 12 weeks of having no idea what’s going on with yourself, tackling exhaustion and nausea, trying your best to act normal – without anyone really to talk to. You’re not really allowed to be excited at this stage – you know, just in case.

    I’m sorry that the challenges are being exacerbated by NHS issues – why, in this digital era, is it impossible for people to access notes on a database? The (pregnant) mind boggles.

    It sounds hugely condescending, but do be kind to yourself. When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, it’s the first thing my therapist told me. It sounds obvious, but sometimes with all the duties we juggle with work, housework, family, we forget about ourselves. Claiming a bit of time for myself, to do things I enjoy, JUST BECAUSE, really gives me a little bit of control back when everything is so uncertain and out of my hands. Plus, it’s nice.

    You look beautiful by the way. I love the sparkly dress with the pretty colours in the scarf.

    • Congratulations Nazneen – what lovely news! And yes, those first 12 weeks can be pretty lonely, particularly if you’re trying to keep things secret whilst dealing with morning sickness too!

      I particularly like your turn of phrase, “But that doesn’t make it any less emotionally draining or difficult, does it?” This is something I really struggle with, and should have stressed more in my post – yes, a lot of those feelings might be related to hormones, and no, you may not be entirely alone in feeling them, but neither of these factors should be seen as a reason to dismiss them as irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why you feel bad, what matters is that you feel bad – for whatever reason.

      I will take your advice on being kind to myself and taking some time back for me. I hope you’re managing to do the same!

      Take care of yourself! xx

  5. Ugh this sounds all too familiar although I am sure it must be even more challenging when there are two lots of baking going on! I am sorry you are feeling this way. And I know you don’t want fixes (just as well, there aren’t really any!) but I am sending you a buttload of sympathy and love and every other good feeling. You are not a bad woman, mama-to-be or person to be feeling any of what you are feeling. Also? The whole ‘myth’ of baby brain – I’m sorry, but I have to say it was pretty damn real to me (and two years on, it still rears its head). Take care of yourself. Tell me if I can do anything to help or if you simply want to sob on my shoulder. Love you, honey. xxxxx

    • Sympathy, love and other good feelings are exactly what I want and need right now, my lovely 😀 They seem to provide far better remedies than logic, at least!

      As for the baby brain “myth”, I have yet to meet a pregnant woman or new mum who doesn’t feel quite strongly on that point – just because a myth cannot be explained by science doesn’t mean there’s no truth to it!! xxxx

  6. Ha, if you think the midwives are bad, wait til you have to do battle with the health visitor! My sis has had a bit of a time with them. But seriously, you’re definitely not the only one who’s felt like this and I’m sure you’ll be helping others to talk about it by talking about it yourself. Also, baby brain: totally exists. My sister and my friend C will happily testify to that. It’s probably doubly bad cos you have 2 babies in there! You’re doing great, keep it up.
    xx

  7. Hi Caroline, your post wanted to make me laugh and cry at the same time! It brought back so many happy and frustrating memories! I laughed most at the drinking so much water before your scan. I did the same and had to go to the loo four or five times to let out a dribble to ease the pain – then went into panic mode thinking there wouldn’t be enough fluid left to see the baby!! I think everything you have experienced so far is just your body preparing you for when the babies arrive! My advice is to just listen to your body and your instincts – they know best! XX

    • Hi Tina – Laughing and crying at the same time – pretty much sums pregnancy up for me! 🙂 But good advice on listening to instincts – I think that’s the trick. Will try to do just that… xx

  8. I understand where you’re coming from – being pregnant is damned hard, physically and emotionally. I’ve done it four times and never managed to be that blooming, smiley mummy from the adverts etc! Just remember that you can do it (in fact you ARE doing it) – it’s hard too once they’re here (mine are 10 to 17 now and are lovely, but there are still challenges galore), but what experiences! I truly believe that we get presented only with challenges that we can meet and that we need to live through in order to develop. In my experience, pregnancy and motherhood offer a very steep learning curve, which is regularly despair-inducingly tough (I’m with you on the tears), but how rich your life will be for going through it (though this won’t be apparent at all times)! You’re doing SO well, because you’re trying your best – that’s all we can ever do, but not everyone manages it. On a facetious note, at least you don’t HAVE to do it again to ensure your little ones have a sibling! Caroline (lovely name – and that of my third child, aged 12!), your babies are very, very lucky little cubs to have you both! Wishing you well, Sarah XXX

    • Thanks Sarah – am looking forward to a lifetime of challenges ahead!! As for siblings – when I first told Dapper it was twins his response was “Great – if you have triplets next time we’ll be done in two goes!” – so there’s that to look forward to… (He wants a proper litter.) xxx

      P.S. With regards to Caroline – I have always loved my name!

  9. Funny – I was Googling for second-hand style blogs and came across your blog and this post, and boy, did it make me feel better. I can relate to much of how you are feeling. At 14 weeks and manic something is going to go awry, I have not yet told my blogging buddies or even lots of friends (yet I open up to a complete stranger in blog land – ah there is the power of the blogosphere for you!). I am in a new country with a new system and a new language and often feel very alone ( though I also had experience with the NHS pre-pregnancy). And pregnancy brain? Mega kudos to you for getting up in the morning and going to work – I simply cannot imagine going to, let alone performing well, at work when a two-hour walk or running errands leaves me crumpled up on the couch for the evening. You look fabulous and it is so nice to hear a pregnant woman being proud of and happy with her body. Thanks for letting me rant, and if you do make it over to my blog, well, Mum’s the word!

  10. Hi Caroline. Congratulations! I read your blog from time to time – I’m a friend of Alysa’s and came across your blog via hers, a few years ago now. I was feeling a bit down this morning and decided to distract myself by checking out a few blogs I hadn’t looked at for some time. This has worked! Wow, a wedding and twins on the way – that’s exciting. But I sympathise completely with this particular post and just wanted to reiterate what others have said – this is completely normal. I remember spending the first twelve weeks of my first (wanted) pregnancy feeling anything but radiant- sick, tired, scared…It seemed like an eternity before we could tell people. It did get better, and second trimester I felt good, and like you, found it did a lot for my body image. I loved going to the gym and not caring about the skinny girls in tight lycra anymore! But after my daughter was born, I did have mild post-natal depression – I came through it, but I remember acutely how overwhelming the guilt was. You feel terrible for not being happy and serene, and then eventually you realise that hardly any mothers do, but it’s too much of a taboo to admit to. Crazy, given that this is the most life-changing thing any of us can do! Hang in there, it will get better, you will have more energy and feel calmer, but you need to be kind to yourself and indulge in lots of things you won’t be able to do once the babies arrive. On a practical note, I think having twins is actually a very big deal, compared with just one baby, and that you shouldn’t expect to feel like just any other pregnant woman. It might be worth seeing if there is a twin support group anywhere near you – I know there was one in Cambridge, where my children were born. As for baby brain, I hated the idea, as it seemed to me to play into a stereotype whereby women are deemed less capable once they’ve had kids, but sadly I have found my memory shot and my confidence about some things. I can’t offer any solutions except a lot of patience, prioritising sleep when you can get it, and to-do lists, post-it notes and the like. (I took a lot of ideas from Kate at All Five Horizons, when I could still access her blog.) Anyway, good luck and congratulations – children are unbelievably hard work but so, so worth it!

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