When I think about all the things that have to go just right in order to conceive a child, every pregnancy truly seems like a miracle. For future parents who want a child more than they’ve ever wanted anything, the pressure is enormous to not be the weak link in their own conception story.
Though Handmaid’s Tale is a bleak and dark example, the show comes to mind when I think of all the variables for a successful cycle, because sitcoms don’t tend to show the nitty gritty, perhaps with the exception of Charlotte’s fertility struggles on Sex and the City. When Monica is trying to get pregnant on Friends she and Chandler scurry off to the bedroom for a quickie and then immediately waltz out again after the commercial break. Offred in Handmaid’s Tale is given a pelvic exam to determine if she’s ovulating/about to ovulate, she lays flat on her back when she’s with the Commander, and they even mention that she should remain horizontal for twenty minutes after sex. I find this is much closer to reality than sitcom baby-making.
If you’re in it to win it, there’s math and physical cues to look for to determine when the
time is right, and then there’s the limited options to provide the correct angles for your bits and pieces, etc. It’s obviously very romantic and spontaneous, and the couples who go through the effort to make sure everything is perfect and still don’t test positive? Those folks are secretly pissed whenever a teenager accidentally gets pregnant from getting frisky in the back of a station wagon. Some not so secretly.
If all the stars align and you are blessed with a second line on your test two weeks after your calculated efforts, the real magic begins. While we, the breeders, are aware of how lucky we are to be carrying life in our bellies, pregnancy isn’t all cute bumps and baby showers. Perhaps because babies are indeed miracles of perfect timing and purposeful sex and so many couples struggle to conceive without intervention, the nine months before baby arrives are over-hyped as a time to be one with nature, one with all your female ancestors, and one with yourself as a life-creating goddess. Some parts are magical, but some parts are certainly not.
Here are the myths I have been fed as a perpetually pregnant woman:
“You’re glowing!” No one ever suggested I was glowing in high school when the skin on my face was a t-shaped oil slick, but that’s pretty much the reason pregnant women glow as well. Our skin is greasier and some women get acne as a result. Also, we’re sweaty because we’re big, can’t breathe properly and have a tiny furnace in our uterus. My skin is dull and sallow as a pregnant woman, so I paint on the expected “pregnancy glow” with highlighting and bronzing products.
“Your body is doing miraculous things!” True, you’re creating a human being from microscopic bits. Also, you have gas and can’t tie your own shoes. After five months you need help getting off the floor, and as the baby pushes up against your lungs you can’t climb a flight of stairs without having to stop and catch your breath. Your hair grows faster and doesn’t shed, but your toenails also stretch in double-time, and you can’t reach them for routine maintenance. You’re exhausted from all the daily miracles you’re in charge of in your womb, and by three o’clock it’s either nap or narcolepsy. Coffee would help, but it’s forbidden.
“If you’re healthy when you start trying for a baby, your pregnancy will be easier.” Nope. Are you seriously telling me that Duchess Kate lives an unhealthy lifestyle while trying to produce heirs? That girl has had hyperemesis gravidarum three times. Having experienced HG once, I can tell you it makes pregnancy much more difficult. I couldn’t get off the floor, for crying out loud. And of course, the drugs that tend to work are now being shown to have some adverse effects on infants, so that’s just marvelous. And no, taking those drugs doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby, it means if you don’t take them you’ll be malnourished and end up with an IV drip full of something more sinister just to keep you both alive.
Your body has it’s own plans, so while quitting your vices like smoking and binge-drinking are helpful before conception, I wouldn’t freak out about an all-organic diet and toss out the decaf because it has six milligrams of caffeine. The symptoms of pregnancy will find you either way.
“Feeling the baby move will be the highlight of every day.” Yes and no. I agree with this statement until about month six or seven, when the baby isn’t moving so much as he is kicking you in vital organs, ribs, and your lady bits. Feeling that baby move is balm to the soul for anxiety-ridden moms like me because if means your little one is healthy and wiggly. When they grow and get stronger, they bruise your ribs and send lightning bolts shooting through your crotch, depending on which way their head is facing at the time. They kick at night, too. I carry my babies low, so once they stretch out and move to the head-down position, I can’t lean forward at all. My only seated position is reclined with legs sprawled out underneath me. You’ve heard of manspreading? This is momspreading.
“There’s more blood in your nether region so everything is more pleasurable.” Not exactly as sexy as it sounds. True, the second trimester has me begging my husband to rewatch the early, sexier episodes of Game of Thrones followed by private role-play of Horse Lord and his Dragon Bride, but that’s generally short-lived. Mostly, the extra blood feels like too much blood every time you stand. And it is in fact too much fluid, because the veins in your legs will give up and die as a result. Have you ever put a rubber band around your finger until it was bulging and purple? I’m pretty sure that’s what happens to everything south of your belly button when you’re heavily pregnant.
“After you have the baby you’ll get your body back.” LOL. Even when I managed to lose weight between my second and third pregnancies, my rib-cage stayed wider than pre-baby, my feet are two sizes larger, my hip bones are farther apart, my boobs are a weird shape, and the marks and scars a baby leaves behind will never go away. Varicose veins, stretch marks, and some skin hyper-pigmentation — all forever. For those of you keeping track, I’m moving up a shoe size with every pregnancy, so citizens will be able to escape flash floods in my Toms by the time I have this child next year. For every celebrity that looks like they were never pregnant two months after giving birth there is a team of doctors with potions, peels, and searing lasers taking apart their bodies and putting them back together for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For everything I’m encouraged to believe about pregnancy, there is a glaring half-truth hidden underneath. Being able to carry a child is a miracle, especially for someone with an auto-immune disorder, but that doesn’t mean every minute is rainbows and unicorns. I am an earth-mother goddess with my feet deep in the soil and my arms extended in thanks and praise, but sometimes the ground has rocks and bugs and the sun goddess hurts my eyes. I do think dealing with the challenges and surprises of pregnancy prepares you for motherhood, where nothing goes as planned and you’re still sweaty with weird hair for over a year post-birth.