A Thoroughly Modern Pregnancy

Admittedly, I am new to this game but as far as I can tell the meaning of pregnancy has remained the same since the beginning of time. The condition of being pregnant in 2020, however, brings with it a minefield of modern expectations, considerations, and revelations.

In Search of Information

Having hit the halfway mark, I am now ‘openly’ pregnant for as long as I was keeping it to myself (sorry, ‘ourselves’. There is an other-half involved in this which means, according to the modern language of all things prenatal, we must now always refer to ‘us’ being pregnant. I haven’t seen too much swelling, stretch marks or bloating around his person but maybe he’s just lucky). This timeline means that I have experienced over 10 weeks of public advice and instructions, much of it unsolicited, to add to the existing bank of information that I had garnered from my medical team: Sr. Midwife and Dr. Google. And as I take in the plethora of new comment I can’t help wonder how much of the trappings of modern pregnancy are necessary evolution and how much will be looked back on with a healthy dose of cynicism?

During the first 12 weeks my husband implored that I climb out of the forum holes in which I was deeply ensconced. Considering I couldn’t ask those closest to me, I turned to anonymous, sometimes questionable, sources in search of ‘reassurance’. This is Generation Social Media and in 2019 there are myriad places in which to find your information, most of them strongly advised against by the enthusiastic midwife that gave our ‘So You’re Pregnant for the First Time and Don’t Have a Clue What You’re Up to?’ induction talk at Holles St. In fact, she begged each of us twitchy new parents-to-be to avoid anything that wasn’t hospital approved literature. Told-You-So beside me was thrilled; I promised to comply. But then the official reading ran out and it was back to Jacqui from Denver and her alarmist Facebook group telling me what I was doing wrong. In an age of podcasts (At Your Cervix was a particular highlight), blog posts, chat groups and Insta-everything, you would think we have everything covered in terms of knowledge. However, perhaps due to the permission-to-comment culture that these communicative tools have cultivated, we are, it seems, truly bamboozled.

To Consume or Not To Consume

Undoubtedly the highest percentage of questions that I witnessed from both the humans in that maternity hospital and avatars in the online pregnancy world were related to diet. Since day one of finding out that I was expecting, a green smoothie became a morning essential; essential to ensure I ingested at least some vitamins and minerals for the health of my growing embryo. My immense hunger led to immense guilt about what I craved versus what I needed. I desired beige food in such an aggressive and urgent manner that I feared for our joint well-being. I once found myself skidding two wheels off the road into a supermarket carpark, abandoning said car without any consideration of locking, proceeding in sprint to the back of the store urgently demanding two large sausage rolls. Within minutes I was sitting in the ill-positioned vehicle demolishing them whole. As I shook the paper bag into my mouth I sort of came to, covered in pastry flakes and regret, with a trolley collection man staring at me through the window much like one might observe an animal in their enclosure. At that very moment my ears tuned back into the podcast playing through the speakers, encouragingly sharing simple recipes for ‘essential gut health in pregnancy’. My intentions were always so good, Officer…

If you reviewed my search history from those first few months they went from ‘tasty coffee alternatives’ to ‘how many mgs of caffeine in a flat white?’.  I longed for my milky cup of Jo that was as much about ritual as craving. I decided that if I were to have a coffee it would be one shot and delicious. Sometimes I would save the it until a lunchtime meeting, enthusiastically ordering ‘a delicious flat white, please’. ‘Decaf, yes?’ came the response on more than one occasion. I was mortified into agreeing, nay, thanking them for their consideration. Then I would spend the rest of the day seething at allowing others dictate my consumption.

Opinion: Expert and Otherwise

Does this happen at cheese counters? At the sandwich deli? I hadn’t even considered the risk of deli meat until I read Busy Philipps biography where she discusses missing her favourite turkey sandwich whilst pregnant. I presumed it was some unnecessary hysteria but on consulting my trusty HSE ‘Eating Well in Pregnancy’ page, I learnt that the danger of listeria is real. They suggest microwaving the deli meat until it’s piping hot. And the prospect of that sweaty, wet meat would even put Busy off her longed for TLT, I’m quite sure.

The other side of rules are the varied interpretations. When I wonder aloud ‘can I eat that?’ I’m often met with, ‘Oh for God’s sake, you’ll be grand’. I’ve been shamed into ordering prawns to share, knowing well I won’t touch them but fearing being deemed neurotic. Considering the increase in the sheer volume of food I have eaten since becoming pregnant (‘Careful now! Eating for two is a myth!’), the joy of food has diminished significantly. Between my inner voice and the outer commentary, there is no such thing as ‘business as normal’. But then, that’s true of all aspects of pregnancy.

Mind, Body and Neurosis

Along with diet, preparation of body is the subject into which you can dive for equal measures of empowerment and isolation. We’re in a time when every class and therapy imaginable is available in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ pregnancy: Acupuncture, Tai Chi and Hypnotherapy are most buzzed about. So far, I have engaged in prenatal Pilates, maternity Yoga, antenatal swim class, and have attempted ‘mindful pregnancy’, all in the quest for a ‘happier and healthier’ baby. I have experienced equal parts relaxation and frustration. Although Pilates is certainly the most physical of my two mat-based undertakings, the lack of clarity as to whether to be zipping up or zipping down whilst exhaling fully before even dreaming about inhaling another breath leaves me more frazzled and confused than energised and bolstered. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy the yoga experience, I liken it more to a massage than an exercise class: pleasant, kind and gentle – with a little snooze at the end thrown in for good measure. It was during one of our naps that I first felt the ‘bubbles’ in my tummy which I came to realise (after entering description into search engines) were my baby moving – not claustrophobic wind, hurray! – so it will always have a special place in my heart.

To have a ‘mindful pregnancy’ is to ‘pay attention to posture, food and emotions’. Makes sense. And I’m all for keeping stress levels down by any means. However, reading the risks of not being mindful during pregnancy was undoubtedly one of the most anxiety inducing acts I have undertaken. I had to consciously uncouple from the gurus on that one. Swim class filled the void, not least when I witnessed all the 37 week-ers receiving crowns to adorn their latex covered heads. Celebrating each other in real life was the chlorine-scented breath of fresh air needed to offset the toxicity of so much else I had invited upon myself previously.

The Best Laid Plans

Now I am stepping away from the speculation and engaging in the motivation. An active birthing workshop is scheduled to learn first-hand my options rather than berate myself for considering intervention. As I make my birth plan I do so in the knowledge that, with the best will in the world, only my baby will decide when and how to arrive. And I like to remember that there was a time when a hospital in Cork was happy to offer epidurals, so long as you were in labour on a Tuesday or Thursday. Apparently the curry house did a roaring trade on Mondays and Wednesdays.

And on the days that I just want to feel like I’m actively engaging with my baby but have no energy for anything else, I take to the couch with the Spotify pregnancy playlist, safe in the knowledge that shuffle will always greet me with Coldplay’s Don’t Panic.