THE DIARY OF AN AMBIVALENT PREGNANCY
The more pregnant I become, the less I feel like myself – I’ve got more to talk about than what’s cooking in my womb
Six months pregnant and if one more person calls Cathy Adams ‘enormous’ she might scream
I was at a dinner a few weeks ago at an upscale Spanish restaurant in central London. I had been offered a glass of cava on my way in – at this point, not looking particularly pregnant – and had happily accepted it. I’ve subscribed to the Emily Oster school of thought, which says that women in their second and third trimesters “can be comfortable with up to one drink a day” without adversely affecting the baby. (The American economist’s book, Expecting Better, is well worth a read if you’re sweating issues like alcohol, coffee and sushi.)
Then I sat down, now more obviously pregnant, and turned to chat to my table neighbour. With impressive speed, the half-sipped glass of cava that I’d left next to my water was swiftly whisked away by staff. What to do? I’m ashamed to say I shrugged and didn’t say anything – I was quite happy with sparkling water and lemon anyway.
I was 21 weeks pregnant. It was the first moment that I realised decisions were going to made for me; opinions given whether I asked for them or not. I’d always thought that I had total control over my actions and body. But the moment a woman becomes “with child”, her body is viewed as incubator, a spawning, bleeding vessel; little more than a battery farm turning out supermarket hens.
The risible female character in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s summer smash novel Fleishman Is In Trouble, Rachel, succinctly sums up this bizarre transformation better than I can. “Right before you were pregnant, you were a person. The minute you became an incubator for another life, you got reduced to your parts.” I didn’t agree with anything else about this spineless character, but that line resonated.
The more pregnant I become, the less I feel like myself. I’m cumbersome, I can’t sleep because the baby is sitting on my bladder, and I’m down to about 30 per cent of my wardrobe if I’m lucky (shapeless shirts and maternity leggings). My life, which previously revolved around travel, booze and late nights, has narrowed to scrolling Mumsnet forums and shopping for prams with attributes such as “good travel system” and “leatherette one-handed handlebars”.
I worry constantly that I’m not going to be a good mother, that I’m too selfish and self-absorbed to adapt to the needs of a child. I worry that my career will suffer in the nine-ish months I plan to take off. Then I worry that I’m worrying about my much-loved job when a baby seems more… permanent. I worry that I’m not doing enough pelvic floor exercises. I know for a fact my husband feels none of this physical and emotional weight. Instead, he read a Pregnancy For Men book and now constantly asks me how many pelvic floor crunches I’ve done. The answer? A handful, usually during work meetings.
There’s already so much about me that has changed since the positive pregnancy test at five weeks. I’m not myself, especially when faced with strangers who want to tell you how big, small, fat or thin you look. At a recent conference, one woman told me bluntly how “enormous” I looked when I told her I was due in March – four months later. It probably didn’t help that I was holding a muffin, chocolate cookie and a latte at the time, and the comfiest of maternity dresses are stretchy and rather highlight the bump. The non-pregnant me would’ve told her where to go – the pregnant me was too shocked to respond.
Even friends immediately gravitate towards my growing bump, wanting to cup it sweetly. It’s cute; I don’t mind friends or family groping my swollen tum if they ask first. But I’m already nostalgic for the time when I had more to talk about than what I’m cooking in my womb.
I do mind the NHS coldly referring to me as “the mother” in letters about the baby’s progress, as if I am nothing but an instrument serving this thing inside me with a heartbeat that’s double the rate of mine. What’s wrong with my name?
Maybe I’m being unfair. Most strangers are quick with the congratulations – which is really all you need to say! – and some have been positively delightful. One hotel I stayed in recently left a horseshoe-shaped pregnancy pillow in my room after noticing my Baby on Board badge at check-in. I felt wet-eyed with gratitude. Neither did staff so much as blink when I ordered a (small) glass of chardonnay at the bar later on.
Perhaps I should lean into it. I have a “Preggs” T-shirt that I accidently wore to work this week. Never have I received so many compliments on my outfit – two people even wanted to take a picture of me, my bump clearly defined in it. Maybe I can live with being a battery hen after all.