Pregnancy: The state of carrying a developing embryo or foetus within the female body.
So far, so universal, right?
However, as soon as ‘PREGNANT’ appears on the white stick (I’ll choose that brand next time; the eye squints and body contortion required to make absolutely certain the horizontal line wasn’t eye-trickery was simply too stressful), we are programmed to approach pregnancy in a hugely different manner from generations past. As I navigated this new, daunting, longed-for yet terrifying territory, I became privy to many apparently commonplace modern customs, and wondered daily whether the rituals help or hinder the pregnancy process. My opinion flip flops on any given day. And that’s my prerogative; nothing to do with hormones, OK?
Of course, I could just stick to the advice of the medics but, I ask you, what’s a niggle without a Google? In 2019 there are myriad sources from which to get your information and I’d be lying to say I didn’t indulge a little time on all, particularly during those first few weeks of secrecy: forums; blog posts; Instagram; podcasts; YouTube; the One Born midwives and Emma Willis in all their collective labour glory; Facebook groups; Waterford Whispers etc. The ponds from which one can fish for facts are many, an abundance of both crystal clear and murky waters in which to dip your rod. The masochist in me lingers longer in the dark sections. Self-flagellation of myself as a bad mother started early – the strangers said I was wrong therefore I am! Welcome to the age of comparison pregnancy. Brought to you by the power of high-speed internet and the quest for reassurance. Turn back now, I implore you.
After our 12-week scan we began to share the news. Hello, new wave viewpoints: this time face-to-face. Friends, colleagues, neighbours, clients, tram passengers, a fella up the road I once got off with, my local shopkeeper, my friend’s mum’s friend I last met at 17, deli staff, husbands of girls I barely know, mortgage advisors, delivery men; basically, all those with my best interest at heart. I once heard that a pregnant lady becomes public property once she begins to show. I understood this exactly after my first sober wedding (I would usually partake in a little tipple to mark friends’ nuptials; you understand). The revelations were shocking. Drunk people are awful; ask any sober person. Drunk people with a growing bump in their sights? Hideous. At 14 weeks I thought my bump was sweet but worried about the speed at which it was expanding. I took comfort in those (still sober) people who reassured me it was beautiful and normal. ‘Beautiful’ and ‘normal’ – take note, and if you use only those words when speaking with/to/at/about/around pregnant women we’ll all be fine. I was congratulated, told I was great, ‘fantastic’ by those with bubbles on their tongue. Honestly, I felt great; look at me embracing pregnancy, not even wanting to be available for shots. Fast forward a number of hours to the post-speeches toilet queue. ’14 weeks?’ That’s all? Are you sure it’s not twins? And this your first baby? I have literally never seen anyone that size at 14 weeks on their first. That’s just not right’.
That’s just not right? This particular barrage was all from just one person. An unsolicited soliloquy of judgement. Like the comments section of a particularly unfriendly Mama-To-Be website, only I could feel the alcohol scented spittle of each of her words on my crestfallen face. No log-off option here. And yer-wan in the loo was taking forever.
It was one of copious opinions I received. Observations on my weight, diet, look, prospects, career and future. Not all unkind, but so personal and absolute in their delivery. The next day I felt more hungover than the cousin that fell into the wedding cake. The processing hurt my brain and had rendered sleep impossible. Was everyone always this pass remarkable or have we become so used to reading unfiltered comments in our everyday media consumption that we can no longer decipher what is appropriate? Maybe ye olde practice of sequestering mother-to-be away for 9 months (10!) wasn’t at all barbaric, perhaps it was custom for the preservation of her sanity.
‘Have you announced it yet?’ I found this regular question confusing. Hadn’t I just said it? Wasn’t I telling everyone? The announcement to which they were referring, however, was of course the online variety. This is Generation Social Media Pregnancy. Short of doing a Markle and having the Palace announce on my behalf, I needed to take things into my own hands. So I shared a photo of me standing in front of a little wood cabin, writing something about types of homes, referring ‘cutely’ to my housing of a human. I realised I missed the mark when someone congratulated me on my new eco-accommodation venture. You live and learn.
And should I be lucky enough to have the opportunity, I could always seek professional advice on future postings. With 371K #pregnancyannouncements on Instagram, the business of pronouncements is big. There are ‘concept advisors’ to help you decide on your image / text combination route: due date on chalk boards – classic; toddlers wearing ‘Big Brother/Sister’ t-shirts – adorable; sonograms – timeless. Then there’s the wealth of paraphernalia available to enhance said announcement. It’s as if Etsy was invented for just such an occasion.
A trip down the rabbit hole of Instagram pregnancy led to many other contemplations. Should one commission a pregnancy photo shoot? The squares don’t lie. I’ve seen more strangers’ bumps naked than I have seen my own. Demi Moore and Vanity Fair move over. Groundbreaking as you were, you’re only trotting after these sepia bump silhouettes. Have you bump tattooed? ‘Tatts make excellent selfie material! Chart growth for your memory book! Use as fun gender reveal!’.
Ah, the gender reveal. A particular favourite of mine. We have gone with ‘wait and see’ when it comes to finding out but those learning the news ahead of birth are discovering exciting ways to share with family, friends and followers. Once the reserve of the socialite, the idea of reveal parties is that you find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl at the very time your guests do. Having entrusted the party organizer with the note from your doctor, the disclosure takes place in the form of a cake, sparklers or puffs of smoke – pink or blue to signify. The most popular method in Ireland is the balloon burst: parents-to-be pop the rubber which then releases the coloured confetti, delightfully informing the expectants. Be as cynical and anti ‘bloody American traditions’ as you like, I guarantee if you view one you’ll be smiling along like a Cheshire cat once you learn whether it’s Poppy or Archie joining the family. If you’re like me, however, you might also become immediately anxious about the legitimacy of the result. Who exactly took responsibility for the insertion of confetti? Were they hungover? Are blue and pink easily confused? At 16 my pal had a Saturday gig in a balloon shop. He liked a little ‘calming’ smoke before work and would take his ‘giggles’ wherever he could make them. The unshakable concern adds further sweat to my already damp uniboob.
I’m sure that once the bundle of joy arrives there is no less fanfare or commentary. In the end, the Duke and Duchess also shared their news on the Sussex Royals Instagram page. Indeed, I might follow suit: a call to the Queen, a gun salute and an official framed announcement placed upon an easel at our gates – we have the carpark or bike rack ones to choose from in our block so I’ll give the exact positioning some consideration. Followed by the Instagram post. Ideal. Although I might turn off comments for that one. Unless everyone can agree to stick to ‘beautiful’ or ‘normal’, we’d all be comfortable with that.