“Ahhh! That’s so exciting!”
“I suppose so…”
I am pregnant. My husband and I are starting a family and, traditionally, that is exciting. So, no wonder my lacklustre response makes everyone feel uncomfortable.
But, while I am pleased, after nearly 20 years of trying extremely hard to not get pregnant, it’s just not coming naturally to me. I was never someone whose ovaries ached at the sight of a freshly minted human; I never used to coo over baby clothes. I can’t start now. I’d feel like a hypocrite. I’m just… the same. But people are not down with that.
At the sight of panic in their eyes, I backtrack. “Oh, yes, it is exciting... I am very pleased,” I nod and smile. But I’m wooden; I’m not convincing anyone.
Before I started growing a baby, I found conversations about them pretty boring and I still feel the same way. Mostly, I reveal the pregnancy to address the elephant in the room – or womb (sorry) – so we all don't have to pretend I’m not drinking because I’m on antibiotics. So we can move on. But it’s always awkward.
When we congratulate the newly pregnant, we’re congratulating them for the scary and momentous decision they’ve made, not the getting pregnant itself. It’s the meaning behind the announcement that’s exciting – you’re going to be a family, you’ve chosen to perpetuate the human race. Your genes’ desire to replicate has won over your logical brain, which likes things such as holidays and disposable income. And sleep.
So, it’s much easier to be excited about someone else’s life-changing decision. Now it’s me, I’m significantly less excited. Did I make the most of my boobs in their original form now that it’s too late? And, perhaps more importantly, can I actually do this?! I don’t take the privilege of being able to have a child lightly and I know how lucky I am, but with that comes a heavy and terrifying weight of responsibility. As an overthinker, I’m more shell-shocked than celebratory right now.
In overthinking mode, all I can focus on is how this poor baby will be born a few weeks after Brexit (possibly), into a crunchy world of political uncertainty, social unrest, wide divisions and a country on the edge of economic catastrophe. Not to mention that we’ve completely destroyed the planet. I can’t talk nursery colours; I’m too busy feeling guilty about the mountain of nappies we’ll be sending to landfill, and googling the best type of biodegradable wet wipe.
When I’m not googling boring products I’d rather not have to spend my money on, I’d much rather talk about books and box sets, politics and personal dilemmas, Tinder tales and work dramas – not my impending sleeplessness or future worries I can’t do anything about right now. I still want my friends to call me up and ask my opinion on things, rather than assume I have “better things to worry about”. I still want to fully participate in the non-baby world.
Of course, having a baby is a major life change. It’s certainly preoccupying, and in the right context it’s interesting and I do want to talk about it. But I just don’t want losing my pre-mum personality to be a prerequisite. Asking if I’m “still going to be fun” when I’m a mum is just mean. Why do I have to shed my entire pre-parent self to procreate? I’m still a rational being. I don’t need to be told what I should and shouldn’t be doing by every friend and acquaintance I see.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refused society’s demands on women to “perform pregnancy”, keeping hers under wraps, avoiding our need for pregnant women to conform to various recognisable types. And with the Duchess of Sussex’s every move scrutinised (including literally where she chooses to place her own hands on her own body), it’s clear that whatever progress we’ve made, preconceptions of pregnancy are still going strong. My experience backs that up. Even those who know me well have altered how they talk to me and the subjects they cover, as if my personality has automatically been subsumed by the simple title "pregnant".
Pregnancy is as unique as each woman who goes through it, and we all need to do it our way, from enjoying it to just getting through every day. For me, that means – at the risk of sounding ungrateful – making a joke out of the “decision to ruin my life” and bemoaning the fact that I can’t do all the fun things I usually like to do. And actively mourning wine.
A bit of preggo chat is understandable, but really I haven’t changed. I haven’t suddenly developed a keen interest in something called a "travel system" (unless it’s a new way of going on holiday). So, let’s just carry on business as usual, shall we?