Stop Telling Me to Enjoy My Pregnancy When I Feel Like Sh*t

Stop Telling Me to Enjoy My Pregnancy When I Feel Like Sh*t

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PHOTO: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Rolling yourself out of bed and heaving your body into an upright position is only the first of the myriad ways your third-trimester-pregnant body will punish you throughout the day. As soon as your feet—which have somehow curled into swollen Velociraptor claws overnight and now require you to walk in a zombie like shuffle—hit the ground, they’ll remind you that your loosened ligaments have stretched your arches out into nonexistence, rendering them nearly useless.

But no time for dallying! Get thee to the bathroom for the first of 27 trips you will make during the day, none of which will amount to more than two tablespoons of urine, but all of which will remind you that squatting is no longer on your body’s list of Things I Can Do. And speaking of urine, if a seasonal cold has come upon you, don’t cough too hard until you’re on the toilet! Those loose ligaments have turned your Kegels into a gelatinous mound like the one you find in your fridge three days post-Thanksgiving when you uncover the bowl of canned cranberry. In short: You will pee when you cough. In your pants.

Never in your life will you be asked, “How do you feel?” more frequently than when you’re pregnant. It’s always meant kindly—friends and family members want to extend their concern to how we’re faring through one of life’s most bizarre physical events.

But try answering that question with an honest reply, even if it’s scaled down to account for common decency. You might say, “Pretty good, but I’ve really only been sleeping a few hours a night.” Or, “You know, it hasn’t been that bad, but my feet are always killing me.” Men will look at you awkwardly, as if they’ve been burned by this line of inquiry before, and they typically hesitate to take the conversation any further. Which, quite honestly, I appreciate!

Women, on the other hand, often end up routing the dialogue in one particular direction, usually concluding with a line that is meant to encourage but ends up infuriating: “Just try to enjoy it!” 

Of course, there are plenty of things that make you enjoy pregnancy. The first glimpse of your child’s profile on the ultrasound screen, the third-trimester spectacle of your baby visibly sliding across your belly, the way people urge you to sit down even when you’re feeling fine.

But now, 33 weeks into my first pregnancy, I can assure you that it is indeed a medical condition as much as it’s a miracle. The pains and inconveniences don’t diminish the pleasures, but they are ever-present and draining and often downright debilitating. The so-called fatigue of the first trimester should more appropriately be labelled “three months of mono.” Morning sickness isn’t a sudden urge to vomit followed by relief—for some women it’s three months of never-ending nausea. Imagine that! Seriously, imagine it. It’s unbearable. The inability to sleep isn’t just fodder for some communal kvetching—and I’m saying this as someone who’s had a relatively benign pregnancy.

 

The problem is that “Just try to enjoy it” implies that enjoyment is the optimal setting for a pregnant woman. It hints that enjoyment should override frustration or pain, that there is something lacking in a woman whose response is a complaint about her aching sciatica. No matter what other advice or support is offered in the conversation, that comment leaves a wash on the whole thing that suggests that if you aren’t finding pleasure in pregnancy then you are foolishly missing out on some opportunity.

Yes, the phrase is meant to remind a pregnant woman that a sense of nostalgia may some day pass over her for the days when her baby was kept close inside her. Post-birth, the tiny person who was entirely yours for nearly a year moves out into a new realm, where she is to be shared with the public. There is simply no recreating—or holding onto—the private emotional bond that develops between mother and child during a pregnancy, and there’s firm value in cherishing that.

But we invalidate the pain and frustration of pregnant women because their discomfort is seen as a service to an adorable greater good: a baby. Why is the pain of a back mangled by an expanding pelvis less real than than one damaged by non-pregnancy-related injury? Would we tell a diabetic to just “try to enjoy” giving herself daily injections? I know your broken ankle is a real pain in the ass, but just try to enjoy it! You’ll miss all that sitting around in a few months!

When we tell a woman to try to enjoy pregnancy pain and discomfort, we’re reinforcing the damaging social convention that expects women to suffer for their happiness, to blithely accept that we should be happy to sacrifice anything for our child, to cheerfully give ourselves over to any and every aspect of motherhood. I plan on doing everything I can for my child. I don’t feel like I have to smile through the worst parts just because it makes you more comfortable if I do.

So do us all a favor: Listen, nod, and once this is all over, offer your formerly pregnant friend a cocktail and a friendly ear.