At 35 weeks pregnant, people have been astonished that I’m not miserable, haven’t gained an extreme amount of weight, and am still out and about in the world doing things like going to social events or to the beach. One young cafe server went so far as to imitate a ’typical’ pregnant woman who can be ‘big as a house’ and ‘complain about everything.’
While their intentions are to compliment, I’m disturbed by the amount of jokes our society makes about pregnant women and I believe we are perpetuating a stereotype that in turn tells women a narrative that they are then more likely to believe: that pregnancy is inhibitive, obtrusive, and defeating.
Yes, there are certain things women need to stop doing once pregnant, for example heavy contact sports, heavy drinking, and very heavy weight lifting, but notice that these things are also not something most people regularly engage in anyways.
Yes, pregnant women can experience nausea, can have lower energy, can have changes in food preferences, can have back aches, and yes some experience severe medical complications.
However, most of the negative effects of pregnancy (excluding women with a severe medical complication all throughout pregnancy) are temporary, not consistent. Even the women I know who had the worst nausea, had some relief after a certain point in the day, and then it passed completely after the first trimester.
The more that I’m told that I’m a delightful surprise when it comes to pregnancy the more I want all pregnant and previously pregnant women to stand up and say:
"Based on what?? What idea of pregnancy do you have from movies, media, and comedians, versus from actual pregnant women you know, that you’re using as this barometer for what is normal / surprising / appealing?"
Unless you work in healthcare, you’ve likely only been exposed to a handful of pregnant women in your life, but have heard hundreds of jokes about pregnancy by people who are not pregnant.
OB/GYN doctors, nurses, and midwives will tell you how resilient the body is and that your little one is protected in the womb similar to the way your internal organs are. So for me it’s not surprising that I’ve continued to exercise every day, eat healthy, go to social functions, wear form-fitting clothes, travel on planes, trains, and boats, and enjoy life mostly in the same way as I did before. How often did I hurt myself doing these things when I wasn’t pregnant? So why should it be such a surprise that I’m still doing these things now?
Yes I did stop higher-risk sports such as learning to kite surf or practicing windsurfing and that was a simple calculation of risk: is it worth the risk of taking a bad fall and hurting my baby? No, of course not.
I believe that the narrative we tell so often about pregnant women: that they will be sick, irrationally emotional, finicky with their food or ravenous monsters, may even encourage women to go down that path when the stress hits.
If you have lower energy you don’t feel like exercising - though the feeling of low energy doesn’t stop you from working out. Your appetite will increase during pregnancy, however that’s only an additional 300-450 calories per day and that increased intake doesn’t need to kick in until the second and third trimester.
It is not impossible to mostly retain your normal routine and patterns during pregnancy if you desire to (again apart from women who have medical complications). However, when we hear directly and indirectly that it's likely a pregnant woman will turn into an incapable comically rounded person, that creates a perception and expectation that gets applied to all pregnant women.
Throughout this pregnancy I’ve been told more than a handful of times to “go ahead order the donut, cake, pie, etc.” because I’m “eating for two,” and yet we live in a society where cafe servers casually mock women who gain a lot of weight in pregnancy.
Yet again, women are subject to a dual-edged sword: either you swell up like a balloon and fit the comic strip version of pregnancy, or you induce shock and awe by appearing mostly the same as you did before but with a baby bump.
Why don’t we allow for a comfortable zone in the middle of these extreme perceptions where women can simply be pregnant without all the external assessments?
What this experience has taught me, although it’s more of a reminder since it applies to other life situations, is to allow people to experience their journeys in their own way - not through the lens of my own experiences and expectations.
While my pregnancy has allowed me to do certain things, I don’t expect another pregnant woman to do or feel the same. They have their journey and I have mine.
What I do expect however, is that we give women the space to just be, which means refraining from commenting about how their pregnancy measures up to our own perceptions of pregnancy.