Everyone will have an opinion on your birth plan and won’t let something like not having a medical degree stand in the way of giving it to you.
Before getting pregnant, I viewed pregnancy the same way I viewed the gluten-free: something other people did and were smug-annoying about.
Things I wish I’d known:
1. The first trimester is one long identity crisis.
Pregnancy triggers a rapid and disorienting identity shift. One minute you’re a woman of the world who can pee uninterrupted, the next you’ve got but nine precious months before a tiny tyrant arrives to make you their bitch.
You can try and fight it. Assert that you’re still “wild and free!” by staying out all night / sleeping with a bartender. You can pretend your life is still controllable if you just research the right vegan diet and wrap your life in germ-free eco-wrap.
Rest assured, while neither response actually works, both are perfectly normal reactions to the realization that a giant wrecking ball labeled “harden the f*** up” is coming for your life.
2. Others will validate you in a way no one has before.
Let’s face it—having working ovaries doesn’t require a shred of skill or even innate moral goodness. Women whose idea of good mothering is naming their twins Benson and Hedges get two in one go, while other women struggle to conceive. Who knows what celestial forces determine who gets a biological child?
Years ago, over a few drinks, my former boss lamented her inability to conceive. “Let’s face it,” she said. “If you’re a woman without children you may as well jump off a bridge.”
It was shocking. She’d done the most incredible things personally and professionally, and yet the false and destructive idea that motherhood makes your life legitimate persists.
My best friend in high school got pregnant our senior year. When her daughter reached school age she said she didn’t know what else to do with herself, so she got pregnant again. As each successive child started school, she had another. Being a mother gave her a sense of being valued in her community that she didn’t know how to achieve in other ways.
It can be so easy to let your own identity be consumed by your “mother” identity, but the consequences are dire. You could wake one day and realize you’re the star of Dance Moms, and just snuck a box of laxatives into a rival kid’s Diet Coke.
3. You don’t have to offer up your choices for others to pick over.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but that village needs something to discuss around the well.
Whether you go for the “heroic” no-pain-relief birth or a “too posh to push” caesarean, everyone will have an opinion on your birth plan and won’t let something like not having a medical degree stand in the way of giving it to you.
My advice? Make up the story you want told about your labor and repeat it. I’m going with “I chose no drugs, because I really wanted to feel my baby rip me from vagina to anus. It totally strengthened our bond!”
Boundaries: It’s OK to get some.
4. You will have no f***s to give.
Pregnancy brings everything and everyone into your life into stark contrast: With me or against me? A baby bump is not a sign that a woman has suddenly turned soft and nurturing. It’s a massive warning sign to take your crazy sh*t elsewhere.
A friend told me that having a child made her “a lake of human empathy.” Now, when she sees people acting out, she says “I know there’s real pain behind it.”
In my experience, pregnancy does the exact opposite. Where you once dutifully offered an ear for all those who were “going through a hard time right now, I’m just not particularly interested in doing anything to proactive fix it,” you suddenly find it hard to scrounge up a f*** to give about family drama/energy vampires.
(Thankfully, you also have no f***s to give if people don’t like it.)
5. It’s OK not to read the baby books.
There’s a tipping point when more information just fuels anxiety. (Week 20: The fetus can hear now, but I’m still swearing so I must be a bad mother!) When I stopped listening to all the well-meaning advice, I suddenly felt more connected to the creature in my belly and less anxious about all the ways I could possibly screw it up.
All you need to know is this:
1. Everything you consume, your baby consumes.
2. If something (certain yoga poses etc.) feels weird in your tummy DON’T DO IT.
3. Natural birth, drugs, or C-section? Whatever you decide, fate is having a laugh in advance.
4. Stay away from people who shit on you.
6. It’s nice to be smiled at by strangers.
When it feels like there’s a 20-pound dumbbell hanging from your belly button and another from your lower back, random smiles can be a welcome relief.
7. Pregnancy is a great opportunity for “healing.”
All your issues will come to the surface. Deal with them now, or pass them on to the next generation.
You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to get yourself to a place where you can love your child unconditionally. Accepting the crappiest parts of your own flawed self certainly helps.
Alice Williams is a Melbourne author and yoga teacher.