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!