When a UK website surveyed pregnant women about their biggest childbirth worries, it was mostly the usual suspects. Pregnant Anxiety #1: Pain. More than a third of women said they were more afraid of the pain of giving birth than anything else. Another heavy hitter: Pooping on the delivery table. Almost a quarter of women polled were most worried about this public embarrassment. A smaller percentage of women were worried about whether they’d be able to hack the sheer length of labor. And about 5% of pregnant women said their biggest worry was the havoc birth might wreak on their private parts.
All valid concerns that would probably show up in some proportion on any woman’s pre-labor anxiety dossier. (Danielle discusses those some more here.) But there was one somewhat more unexpected worry on the list.
At the top of the birth worry list for one in ten pregnant women, ranking higher than fear of labor, fear of pain, fear of public humiliation, and fear of destruction of the sex organs:
Fear of an ugly baby.
At first this might seem like a rather superficial worry. But if you think about it, it might actually be the deepest one of the lot. For one thing, all the others are passing problems. (Okay, maybe not the genital wreckage.) I could see how a mom to be could feel able to handle whatever the childbirth experience dishes out, but not so sure about how she’d handle an ugly baby. Some of the moms were specifically afraid of passing on unattractive family traits.
It’s easy to process this in light of our looks-obsessed culture. It’s YOUR BABY! Who cares what it looks like? After all, they call it “a face only a mother could love” for a reason. Which is why I don’t think ugly baby anxiety is about looks at all. I think it’s mostly about fear of not being able to connect with your baby.
Which, by the way, is totally normal. It’s normal during pregnancy, when you’ve got this strong connection with the baby growing in your body. But you’ve never seen him face to face. Once you do, will you feel the way you’re supposed to? What if you don’t? What if he has a face even his mother can’t love?
It’s even normal after birth, when the baby you get isn’t necessarily exactly the baby you imagined. Or when motherhood—or the very specific and uncharacteristic experience of mothering a newborn baby while recovering from giving birth to him—isn’t feeling like all that much fun. It’s even normal to have flashes of this feeling throughout your life as a parent. There will be times when you’re worried whether you can be there for your child when the going gets tough. But these worries don’t mean that you actually can’t, or won’t. They just mean that you’re acknowledging totally normal fears about your child and your role as a parent. So if you find yourself in the 9% of pregnant women who worry about whether their baby will be unappealing, don’t worry about worrying. Connecting with your baby doesn’t always happen the way you expect it to, but it almost always happens.
Oh, and just for the record—I can’t think of many parents who look back at their babies’ newborn pictures as their most gorgeous. Newborns are freaky looking!
photo: Looking Glass / Fernando de Sousa/flickr