Bumpy Rides


We’ve had Women Laughing Alone with Salad and Women Struggling to Drink Water (which I think is subversively rude, but that’s another story). Can we please now have Women Smiling Inanely at their Bumps?

Let’s face it, it’s ripe for parody. As the obligatory cover of every pregnancy manual, and the go-to image for every pregnancy-related product, it has become the great cliche of maternity, a symbol of the wonderful optimism and joy that all pregnant women feel.

Because that’s how it feels to be pregnant, right?

Oh, er, well maybe. I mean, sometimes, yes. Perhaps. With a prevailing wind.

Well, actually, can I admit that pregnancy has made me the most miserable I’ve felt in years? Yes, there are definitely moments of wild excitement and happiness, but frankly, they’re few and far between. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a bump to gaze at yet, although I’m fast developing a sort of gentle incline that’s pushed my belly fat upwards, creating a rather nasty spare tyre.

Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve never felt so isolated. I’ve spent the last ten weeks pretty much stranded on the sofa, feeling sick, exhausted, faint and shivery. On the rare moments I’ve left the house, I feel vulnerable to every passing person, and am liable to suddenly feel so sick that I have to rush home again, back to my safe encampment in the living room.

There are black days, when I feel so miserable I can barely move, like a damp, heavy blanket has been thrown over me. There are paranoid days, when I become convinced that everyone hates me. There are tearful days, when I simply cannot stop sobbing.

And then there is the restlessness, the sense that the world is speeding past me while I sit and brood. It’s appalling to realise how limited my choices are already; and how limited they will continue to be for many years to come. And the doom-laden, insomniac worrying that cuts a 2-hour swathe through every night’s sleep: how on earth will we make ends meet? Will I lose myself in all of this? What will it do to my marriage?

Being online was such a comfort to me when I was writing The 52 Seductions, but at the moment it just makes it worse. All I see is women judging each other. It’s like a horrible premonition of my future, when I too, will no doubt be judged inadequate in so many ways (hey, I’m probably making a good start with this very post). When did parenting become so ridiculously political? And why on earth can’t we accept that different people will do things differently?

I seem to be entirely at odds with the world, because I just don’t feel particularly ideological about all this. I just want to see how it goes, and make decisions from there. I used to be irritated by stridency with which women argued for their chosen position on birthing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, childcare or whatever; now, it’s become actively toxic to me, a series of hurdles lined up for me to trip on. Frankly, I just hope I can get some sleep, and, in the absence of any grandparents nearby, get some time on my own occasionally.

It feels incredibly transgressive and ungrateful to admit all of this, and it feels dangerous, too, in such a climate of judgment. But then, there is something I feel strongly about: that we can’t only find one side of maternity acceptable – the pie-eyed, bump-gazing, joyously martyred side. It’s just not the whole picture. When intelligent, high-achieving, complex women become pregnant, we ought to expect a questioning, critical response. And with that, no small sense of loss, despite all the wonderful things we also stand to gain.

Maybe I just need a project to take my mind of it all. Look out for my future Tumblrs: Pregnant Women Doing Yoga, and its darker cousin, Pregnant Women Breaking a Cigarette with Fire in their Eyes. In the meantime, I’m delighted to present you with a meta-stock photo – Delightedly Pregnant Woman Laughing at Salad. Enjoy.

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34 Responses to Bumpy Rides

  1. katyboo 08/11/2011 at 11:46 #

    You write this so beautifully, and do be consoled. I felt exactly like this throughout my pregnancies too. You are not alone. And I went through the same mental dilemmas you outline because I wanted to do things my way, not the book’s way or anyone else’s way. For the first six months of my first child’s life I tried, under pressure, everyone else’s way, and slowly went mad. Then I decided to ignore everyone else and carry on with my child in my way so that I could go back to enjoying my life. And you know what? It worked, and apart from the odd wobble, I’ve never looked back.

    It will get better and you are right to want to do it your way. Everyone has their own path to follow during pregnancy and birth, and if more women were supportive of everyone’s right to do this as they please I am convinced that there would be much less post natal depression in the world and that people could actively begin to enjoy their children again.

    Good luck. Chin up.xx

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 12:01 #

      Thanks my lovely! It’s v v comforting to know I’m not the only one!

  2. Muddling Along 08/11/2011 at 11:49 #

    This has always been one of my issues (not least because I don’t do pregnancy well) – I didn’t turn into an incubator on legs when I got pregnant, and I did have to work through the issues of changing from the me that was not a mother to the me that is a mother and it isn’t as simple as some would have you believe

    And those images, they used to give me The Rage – I mean seriously? I looked like a miserable whale once I got something like a bump

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 12:00 #

      Ha ha yes, I just feel like a huge fat lump. And my thighs have started to judder like never before, due to lack of exercise. I cannot wait to be allowed to run around again.

  3. Ruth 08/11/2011 at 11:55 #

    Betty, not only are you entitled to feel like this, it’s positively normal. With the tiredness, sickness, inability to tell everyone and just general hormonal mentalness, early pregnancy is a pain in the crack. It is however, hard to admit to this if everyone else in your position seems insanely joyous and serene. It must be especially hard if you’ve fallen pregnant after a period of trying, and feel that you ought to be overjoyed that you’ve got what you wanted. Please don’t feel bad that you feel this way, and that the competitive aspects irk you. You will forge your own path, you won’t lose yourself and your marriage will be fine. You’ll cope financially, somehow or other. From the moment you see that blue line, parenting is hard. It brings worries and challenges you’d never previously imagined, but it also brings highs you didn’t think possible. You WILL be OK.

    However, I will say to you that pre-natal depression is one of the largest indicators for post-natal depression and you need to talk to your midwife about this so that she knows to make sure the appropriate support is in place should you need it. x

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 11:59 #

      Thank you – particularly for the ‘pain in the crack’ bit which made me grin a lot. Have spoken to midwife, who said all that I was feeling was totally normal, and wrote ‘risk of depression’ all over my notes. Sigh. In any case, it’s all made me so grateful to have a partner to look after me – my hat is well and truly off to women who cope with this alone.

  4. Rachel 08/11/2011 at 11:58 #

    You are absolutely entitled to feel that way. However I know that if I ever manage to get pregnant again I will be one of those “smiling women”

  5. Charlotte 08/11/2011 at 12:03 #

    I felt much the same when I was pregnant. I was tired, sick and fed up. I was bored, because I didn’t want to go out and spend my evenings in pubs with people drinking wine, which I desperately missed, so I went to bed early. I was so, so stressed about work and money and dealing with my family who were less than supportive. I was batting off ‘concern’ from people about how young my boyfriend was and how he’d probably leave me. After years of dieting to get a new slim figure I was having to buy maternity clothes almost immediately because of my constant need to eat chocolate buttons to keep the sickness at bay. And I was stressing about the cost of these clothes and working out how many nappies those trousers equated to.

    But I’d have taken all of that back to stay pregnant. Sadly it wasn’t to be. Almost the moment the sickness passed I was told the baby had died. I’d happily have spent the next months feeling sick to stay pregnant.

    Stick with it. You will get through it. Despiate all of the horrid things, being pregnant felt so right. I felt useful and loved and happy, under it all.

    And feel how you want to feel. And moan – that’s what the interwebs were made for! And if you want to just lie on the sofa for the next few months, do it.

    Also, tell any muppets judging you to “f*ck off” on behalf of you, me and womankind everywhere.


    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 12:26 #

      Oh that’s so sad, Charlotte. I didn’t know that had happened to you. I guess none of it’s every bloody easy from now on, is it? *grows a pair* *of boobs, probably*

    • Rebecca Emin 08/11/2011 at 12:38 #

      I am so sorry x

    • em 08/11/2011 at 17:33 #

      Charlotte, I wholeheartedly agree as I have been through the same. I’m scared that if I ever do get pregnant again (hard enough the first time!) I will be a miserable and panicky cow rather than blooming and lovely, but on the other hand I will probably relish every ‘pregnant’ feeling because it will probably give me reassurance that things are still ok!

  6. Libby 08/11/2011 at 12:12 #

    The first trimester can be utterly miserable – I certainly found it that way for 2 out of my 3 pregnancies. For me it definitely gets better once there is an obvious bump, and something actually fluttering about in there. I also seem to take up knitting (only) when I’m pregnant, and find it rather peaceful to be clicking away with the needles creating a cardy whilst the bump is clicking away beneath. The hormonal down sides never quite go away, but the positives seem to stack up and outweigh them as you work your way through pregnancy. I hope that you begin to enjoy it all a bit more soon x

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 12:24 #

      Thanks Libby – I do quite fancy a bit of knitting actually. I’ve hauled my knitting machine down from the loft for yet another doomed attempt at working out how to use it. In my head, I’m going to churn out dozens of elegant baby blankets. Ha!

      • Libby 08/11/2011 at 13:24 #

        dozens of blankets? I’m impressed. I’m 25 weeks in and have so far created a hat and half a cardigan!

        • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 14:05 #

          Oh god, that’s just in my imagination. I expect I’ll actually manage half a sleeve

  7. Rebecca Emin 08/11/2011 at 12:44 #

    I know how you feel better. I’ve had 3 and I think it’s partly the hormones and (for me) it was feeling like a beached whale and totally knackered the whole time that ruined the “during pregnancy you will bloom” thing. Yes my hair and skin looked good but I felt rubbish inside, and spent much of the early months wondering what I was doing having a baby with the most hideously dreadful man in the world (this was totally due to the hormones, by the way). I must admit when my 3rd was born there was a sense of “thank god I don’t ever have to be pregnant again”.

    It will go past quickly. And once you hold your baby you will forget all of this. Otherwise, why would anyone have more than 1?

    x x

    • Rebecca Emin 08/11/2011 at 12:45 #

      OMG I just called you “better” sorry, Betty! *blushes*

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 14:09 #

      Yes, I’m impressed you went back a couple more times – at the moment, I’m saying ‘One’s going to be enough for me!’ And as for hair and skin looking great – if only! I’m covered in spots. I was wondering aloud last night if perhaps I had the measles. Ah well.

  8. Kat 08/11/2011 at 12:50 #

    There are some folks out there who will go on about their chosen position with heavy hands often because they haven’t yet figured out other people doing something different is not a judgement on them. Others are doing it because they love what they are doing so much they think you will find the same kind of bliss. As for happy pregnant women – I wasn’t one. I was miserable and sour and counting the minutes until it was over. It will be over, I promise. Some of it is really brilliant and I would love to be pregnant again (and again and again) but so much of it is endurance. Chin up, at the end you will meet someone who will fill your heart will love you never imagined possible, who will fascinate and inspire you and distract from the sniping going on around you x

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 14:07 #

      Thanks Kat – it sounds like we’re all a bit sour and miserable when pregnant after all! It certainly isn’t how I imagined it, I’ll say that much.

  9. Angpang 08/11/2011 at 13:21 #

    That was me too. Woke up many a morning with this nagging sense of doom I could not put my finger on, then realised it was hormonal so blanked it as best I could. You’re responding as any intelligent, moral person would to a huge influx of responsibility mixed with the ridiculous level of information on the web. I hope the next trimester gives you that cliché glow, in the meantime keep repeating ‘sod off’ to anything you don’t want. A pregnant prerogative I think.

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 14:05 #

      Thanks Angela – maybe I’ll get a t-shirt made: ‘Fuck off, I’m pregnant and cross.’ ;-)

  10. Keris Stainton 08/11/2011 at 14:21 #

    This is so familiar, really. I remember tearfully telling one of my best friends that I wanted to die during early pregnancy with Harry and she said, “Oh yes! I remember that feeling!” which made me feel much better. It will pass. Honestly.

    As for those Women Struggling to Drink Water, I’m with you – definitely rude. I was blushing from about halfway through.

  11. Claire 08/11/2011 at 15:21 #

    Halle-fucking-lulljah. This baby is so much wanted, but I’m so overwhelmed, despite it being my sixth pregnancy (only two have resulted in children though!)

    Felling vulnerable? Yes! Sick, lonely, worrying, unable to sleep? Yes! Also unwilling to tell people until I’m further on, so it’s horribly secretive, and the online world has felt torturous. I’ve done all this before, but it’s all changed so many times. I’m a bit long in the tooth for ideology, and have been feeling as though I’m letting down my embryo for not being so strident.

    Why do women criticise each other so much anyway?


    I hear ya, sista.

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 15:27 #

      Goodness, we should all form a support group! I reckon women are so critical because we all feel crazily insecure, and so we end up declaiming other people’s practises to make ourselves feel better. I’m going to try my best not to do it, mainly because I have absolutely no moral high ground to stand on whatsoever.

      • Claire 08/11/2011 at 16:37 #

        Haha, no, me neither. This baby will largely be made of Smash. I NEVER usually eat shit like that, how hard is it to bake a potato? But it’s not the same…

        • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 17:46 #

          That’s okay, mine’s made of crumpets and grapes. It’ll be fine.

      • thorn 11/11/2011 at 12:17 #

        That sounds horribly true. I find myself doing it (especially when I’m trying to diet) and I’ve started to tell myself off very firmly when I notice, because it’s no way to live.

        Good luck with all this, you’ve got lots of funny people on the internet rooting for you :)

        • Betty Herbert 11/11/2011 at 14:34 #

          Thank HEAVENS for all the funny people on the internet! What would we do without them, eh?

  12. Sorcha 08/11/2011 at 17:53 #

    I think you are more than entitled to feel whatever you do. People’s critisism is about them, not about you by any means. It si because everyone feels so self-consicious about parenthood they feel the need to slag off others, especially ones who admit to not feeling perfectly happy and content. So, I am not sure it helps, but as far as I can see many mothers feel/felt the way you do – but very few of them admit to it. You do and for which I applaud you. Congrats!

    • Betty Herbert 08/11/2011 at 18:51 #

      I think everyone’s so afraid that people will think they’re a bad parent if they own up to ambivalent feelings. But, actually, I think it’s maybe part of being a good parent – not being so intensively focused on your child that the outside world disappears.

  13. Korhomme 10/11/2011 at 20:09 #


  14. maria 11/11/2011 at 09:31 #

    I just finished having a second and a last one because I am now early 40s. I was never sick like you but I had feelings of doom for both my pregnancies unfortunately so I have never experienced the giddy…happy go lucky spirit some do. My 1st was diagnosed with a cleft lip and palate at 22 weeks so I spent the rest of my pregnancy wondering / doubting who the F*ck did I think I was>?? This kid deserves way better than me.. but that was the easy part..(sigh) She ended up having failure to thrive and was on a feeding tube for 4 months (kind of unrelated)… The 1st two years of her life were rough so ya I didn’t have a rosey picture of motherhood.. and pregnancy..

    My 2nd came after a miscarriage..Nothing like a miscarriage to scare you sh#tless about every darn move you make..

    and the judging and babay olympics out there.. Good Lord!! at least you are aware of it. I was blind-sided with my first..Now with this one I am trying not to be so obsessive and worried. She was a preemee so she is a bit ‘behind” anyway..but she has eyes the color of teh ocean at midnight under a full moon and a smile that goes from ear to ear,.. She doesn’t know she’s ‘delayed”.. so F*ck ’em! :0) Congrats again! oh and the whole you will lose the weight after nine months… or you will only get this round basketball bump.. ?Don’t be sad if it doesn’t happen.. It didn’t for me.. :(

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