Over the weekend I read a Washington Post advice column in which a pregnant woman complains, “I am a very unhappy pregnant woman and friends/family seem to be bothered by that. I actually had a friend practically give me a lecture the other day saying that I was ungrateful…. So far it’s been about getting fat, being bloated, restricting what I can eat and drink, feeling sick, etc”
I read this and thought of so many pregnant women I’ve talked to who’ve started conversations with the words, “I know I’m supposed to be glowing and happy right now but…. ” Then they break down with a list of complains and apologies for the complaints.
So I was a little taken aback by the advice this miserable pregnant woman got: “What’s happening to you is a big, fleeting deal; a moment. Your discomfort is real, for sure. But to reduce it to weight gain and (frankly, minimal) food restrictions strikes me as a tragic waste of that moment.”
I don’t know. It always seems a bit rough to tell someone to just *change* his or her attitude and enjoy whatever it is he or she is not enjoying. I guess motivational speakers build fortunes telling people they can have it all if they just change their attitude, but I think maybe all this woman needs is to be reassured.
A little validation goes a long way and it sounds like she’s not getting it. I’ve always found that the more you tell someone their complaint is invalid the more they cling to it. With pregnancy this dynamic can become rather toxic as there is an overwhelming expectation that when a woman is filled with a baby, she should also be filled with joy.
Pregnant women are supposed to be happy and “grateful.” And I think on some level, those of us who want to have a baby are. But that doesn’t mean we have to be grateful for morning sickness, the culture of fear surrounding the pregnancy diet, changes to our bodies that make us feel exhausted and uncomfortable. Pregnancy can also be an emotionally uprooting time for a million reasons. For first time moms especially: you’re no longer who you were, but you’re not a mother yet. This can lead to feelings of excitement and hope for the unknown. Or just frustration. (Often both.)
What can be hard for someone who’s having a real runaround with pregnancy, is when only the “grateful” feelings are validated. The other ones are not considered polite. So they can be pushed under and then rear up in all kinds of ways. “I don’t know why I’m crying, I’m so happy.”
Here’s a story I’d tell the miserable pregnant women: I have a friend with two boys. She is a really funny, hands-on and happy mother and these boys aren’t easy either. When she was pregnant with her third we got to talking. Given her general maternal attitude, I had assumed she liked being pregnant. But she set me straight, “Oh, I HATE being pregnant. HATE IT. HATE IT.” She said she feels awful, out of sorts, unable to do what she likes to do. She feels stuck and mired and passive. She went on for a bit, then a kid yelled and she was off and running or waddling really. This was her third pregnancy so the icky stuff felt less taboo to her. A group of women pregnant for the second (or third, or fourth…) time can let some hilarious complaints fly and people are less likely to judge. Maybe just because these mothers know that their complaints are normal and don’t have anything to do with being a “good mother.”
So I guess my advice to this woman would be, I’m sorry it’s not fun for you, but this has no bearing on how you’ll feel as a mother of a baby or a twelve year -old or a twenty year-old. You may not win consensus on this point, most people want to hear that everything is hunky-dory. Try meeting up with other women at the same place in pregnancy and see if you can suss out an ally. There’s always someone in a room full of pregnant women just dying to just let loose pent-up complaints and resentments. It may take time, but she’s out there and she will be relieved to hear your voice.