In the strange days at the end of my last pregnancy, I had a ritual. Every time I felt my baby, I’d take a screenshot of the time on my phone’s home screen. It helped that my homescreen had a picture of my 28-week-old foetus on it: a 3D sleepy blob with clear eyelids and a snub-button nose. Over the next few months, my images folder filled with these pictures, because I didn’t trust my pregnancy. I trusted reams of online advice, which often clashed and contradicted, instead.
Only four years later, having spoken to so many of my friends, and processed their very varied experiences, can I see how every pregnancy is utterly different – and know that this is healthy, normal and, crucially, wonderful.
Living, as we do, in the 21st century, it’s difficult to accept every pregnancy being different – after all, we live in a world where we’re told we can be in control. In pregnancy, you have sod-all control – it’s like being in a sci-fi film of your own making. Time bends. Nine months can crawl slowly, exhaustingly, and then suddenly speed up. You’re a vessel for a creature you can’t see or understand, which abides by its own, unknowable rules. For someone used to knowing what was going on at all times, I found this a tough gig. For someone who had miscarried first time around, it was even tougher. This second baby didn’t kick much, for example. Later on, he was positioned the wrong way round in my womb (he eventually turned 180 degrees while I was crossing a road; I felt like a washing machine on a spin cycle).
At first, nobody with authority told me that this happened to people, and that this was OK. Several doctors told me to “trust my instincts” instead, about whether I was feeling right or wrong – a stupid thing to hear when you’re in a state of confusion, as if an answer would magically emerge from my mind and quickly sort everything. Not being told every pregnancy was different, and that that was OK, my anxieties found fuel online on forums populated by people who weren’t experts, instead. What saved me, ultimately, were other real, breathing people, with whom I could have real conversations about similar things happening to them. A pro tip from someone who has the benefit of hindsight to those currently waddling around: meet other women who’ve carried healthy babies in person, listen to them and embrace their very different experiences.
What saved me, ultimately, were other real, breathing people, with whom I could have real conversations about similar things happening to them
After all, human interactions allow for reassurance during pregnancy that the internet doesn’t. Hello, nuanced responses. The possibility of asking more questions and getting more answers. Rants and raves delivered by a voice that rises and falls. Sympathy and empathy in the context of physical emotion – and, crucially, hugs. All this reminds you a pregnancy is a human, emotional thing, not a condition to be rationalised and analysed on a screen. Real people also helped me understand that 21st-century information-gathering isn’t always set up to recognise and celebrate the diversity of human experience. In 2018, this is something that we, as human beings, not machines, have to learn to remind ourselves.
Another thing to remember, when we think of the babies that emerge wetly from our wombs: there are no sufficient rules or guidelines for the job of growing a baby. Many different babies emerge after that time and their mothers have done different things while their sprogs were doing time inside. I know, there are obvious things not to do: take drugs, drink lots of booze or throw yourself down the stairs, for a start. It nonetheless remains true that babies are born when these things have occurred and indiscretions, on many occasions, don’t have an effect. I say this not to ignore conditions like foetal alcohol syndrome, of course, or encourage irresponsible benders followed by house-bound slalom events (still, I was definitely drunk and pregnant before finding out that my son had been made, and my friend Lucy fell down the stairs pregnant in my house – her daughter is now seven, and impossibly clever and kind).
I say this rather to stress how other, highly debatable, pieces of advice are often bandied about as essential instructions in newspaper headlines – there entirely, it seems to me, to generate clickbait concern. They keep women questioning everything further, without any proper answers being available. So, I say: look around you when you’re anxious. See the people you know who’ve had healthy kids. Ask how their experiences differed. See their babies all grown, and then smile.
Also, look back to when our mothers and our grandmothers were having us, many decades ago. My own mother-in-law has told me, many times, how her ignorance back then was a strange kind of bliss. She couldn’t consult online advice constantly, so had to just let things slowly move on, giving herself time to do other things – like drink Guinness for her iron reserves, while chatting with her friends about what was to come. And guess what: her kid turned out alright. As has his son, my own 3D blob, who turns four next month, running around the garden with his button nose in the air as I write this. Human life is diverse and wonderful and uncontrollable, and that’s OK. Let’s hug it as close as we can.