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.