By Lauren Chval
Pop culture representations and mythic understandings of pregnancy had misled me.
Of course I’d heard of morning sickness, but apart from that pesky aside, I was under the impression that pregnancy was an amazing time in a woman’s life. “Magical” seems to be the word most often used. You have “a glow” about you. You’re a goddess of fertility. Your body is doing what it is meant to do (they say almost threateningly).
Let me assure you that I do not have a glow. Lest you think I’m being self-deprecating, I’ll offer some proof: I went to see my longtime masseur last week and revealed that I was expecting. “Usually I can tell when women are pregnant because they have a glow,” he said. “But you have more of an … exhaustion.”
He’s not wrong.
The only media portrayal of pregnancy that accurately captures how I feel is that bit from “Twilight” when Kristen Stewart’s character is carrying a half-vampire child that’s physically draining the life from her.
The most shocking betrayal of my naive conception of pregnancy was the first ultrasound. TV shows had led me to believe that cold goo is squirted onto your stomach and then the doctor moves the wand around your skin to reveal the baby on the screen.
Not so! When the fetus is that small, the wand is inserted into the vagina to capture the image. It is no more pleasant than it sounds.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but feel a kernel of resentment toward my husband as he sat opposite me, staring at the screen with the faintest hint of tears in his eyes. He was seeing our baby for the first time as a wholly positive experience, unburdened by the discomfort of having a machine thrust inside his body. For him, this was magical. For me, less so. I’ve heard prostate exams are a bummer, but at least men don’t have to undergo them to catch a glimpse of their unborn child.
That mental barrier between my husband and me persisted throughout the first trimester. I was plagued by nausea and headaches that made me cry. I woke up to pee every single night. Worst of all was the crushing exhaustion, which made it impossible for me to function as an entertainment editor at RedEye Chicago, where my job entails going to evening screenings and conducting early-morning interviews.
I had considered the reality that motherhood would change my identity once the baby arrived, but I had no idea pregnancy would rob me of my capable nature before I even held the kid in my arms.
As we shared the news with friends and family, everyone was through the roof with excitement. I wanted to join them. But how to be wholly joyful about something that is making you sick? There were two of us inhabiting my body now, but I felt isolated.
It wasn’t the experience I’d been promised.
When we announced the pregnancy via social media, wave after wave of congratulations flooded in. In particular, a former colleague of mine who is a few months further along than I am commented that “pregnancy is the best … I’ve loved it so much.”
I had gathered as much from her beautifully curated lifestyle blog, full of tasteful, professional bump pictures and posts on her skin care regimen and how to fashionably dress a pregnant body. She makes the glow look real, I thought, as I, a prickly, haggard gargoyle not so much perched on as embedded in my couch, scrolled through her blog. She was blown-out, dewy and in heels, for God’s sake.
Why I feel the urge to be competitive with other women even in pregnancy is beyond me. But as she gushed about pregnancy being the best, I struggled to digest my feeling that pregnancy has been the worst, and the pressure to embrace it as magical made that only harder. We don’t talk about our pregnancies in the first trimester because there’s still a high risk something will go wrong, but that silence feels suffocating when you’re living it.
I recently asked my father if he remembered my mom struggling with her first trimester. He shrugged. “Your mom doesn’t really complain.” It’s a trait she failed to pass on to me, but maybe we should complain! There’s honesty in complaining. I don’t mean to suggest I’m not grateful for the life I’m lucky to be growing, but is sugarcoating the difficulties the payment I have to make for that blessing?
I’m about to enter my second trimester, which everyone assures me is full of new energy and restored appetite. I hope they’re right, but I’m not counting on it. I already fell for the pregnancy myth once.