On my 24th birthday I went out for a meal with some friends, one of whom was about eight months pregnant.
Throughout the meal she was happy and chatty but at some point she clearly became tired even though she wasn’t quite ready to go home. Instead she sat back in her chair and seemed to go into herself a little as she slowly rubbed her bump, occasionally murmuring to her unborn son if he kicked or moved.
At the time I didn’t want to be pregnant nor was it the ‘right’ time. The Northern One was still a medical student, I couldn’t drive, we wanted to move out of London before we had children. There were so many sensible and valid reasons in addition to the fact that we just didn’t want a baby at that time.
And yet I watched her with some emotion that I couldn’t quite name but was fast approaching envy.
She looked so much like and adult when I felt so much like a child.
In that moment she seemed so calm and serene and just so sure of herself and her place in the world while I spent most days desperately paddling to try and keep my head about water.
I would have given almost anything to feel as certain and centered as she looked that day.
I knew that being pregnant or having a baby wasn’t the solution to my mental health issues and I would like to make it completely clear that I didn’t deliberately attempt to become pregnant because I thought it would be the answer to my problems.
But from that day I built up an idea in my head about what it would like to be pregnant; that it would somehow change me in a way that nothing else could because it had to. The alternative was accepting that my life would always be governed by medications and counselling and uncertainty.
I knew that it didn’t make sense but I clung to the idea because if a life event as fundamental as pregnancy didn’t change me then what would?
Once I was pregnant (whenever it happened) I would suddenly be able to stick to a diet that was healthy and nutritious and didn’t involve periods of binge eating junk food. Eating huge amounts of chocolate in one sitting would no longer appeal because it wouldn’t be good for my baby.
I would spend time out walking and gently exercising, maybe take up yoga to prepare my body for pregnancy and birth instead of sitting on the sofa wrapped in the duvet, hiding from the outside world.
I was determined that I wouldn’t fall prey to ‘eating for two’ and while I knew that I was likely to gain some pregnancy weight I wasn’t going to turn into one of these women who gains lots of weight during pregnancy and then finds themselves unable to shift it once the baby arrives.
I was going to knit little hats and booties just as I had done when friends and relatives had babies, except this time I would be making them for my baby. I pictured myself knitting a blanket and draping it over the bump to make sure that it was big enough to wrap my little one in when they arrived.
In my mind I was going to look like this:
I actually looked more like this:
Looking back, I think this was the reason that I struggled with my mental health so much during my actual pregnancy.
The vision I had of my ‘ideal’ pregnancy was shattered the second that I realised that the pregnancy test I’d just taken was positive.
Instead of the joy that I’d been so sure I’d feel, I felt like my life as I knew it was ending and I just wasn’t ready for that.
Far from feeling transformed into a sensible, mature adult I reached out to anyone and everyone who would look after me while I regressed to the extent that I took a cuddly toy to bed every night to snuggle with.
My idea of what my pregnancy would be like in no way matched up with the reality of extreme morning sickness, SPD and an inability to cope with life in general. Being pregnant didn’t help me to work through my issues, it magnified them to the extent that most days I struggled to get out of bed.
I didn’t knit (I did try on a few occasions but I just couldn’t settle to it).
I didn’t exercise or take up yoga.
Instead of buying maternity clothes that proudly showed off my bump I hid myself and the bump inside a selection of baggy clothes that a very understanding friend gave me instead of donating them to the charity shop.
For the first four months I lived on a diet that almost exclusively consisted of sugary cereal and flavoured milk because those were the only things I could keep down. Then when my appetite recovered at around five months I comfort ate to the extent that I’m still wearing my maternity jeans.
Squidge is over a year old and I’m still dealing with the effects being pregnant had upon my physical and mental health.
I’m also still grieving the loss of my ‘ideal’ pregnancy and the fact that this may well be my one and only pregnancy only heightens that sense of loss.
Before we had Squidge the Northern One and I planned to have two or three children with three or four years between each.
Even though we wouldn’t want another baby for at least two years we’re already having serious discussions as to whether our wanting another child outweighs the risk that a subsequent pregnancy may be just as difficult and damaging as the first.
Regardless of how awful my pregnancy actually was, I have a little boy who needs me.
He needs me to be whole and well and able to look after him properly.
Who knows, in a year or two years or even ten years I may feel different or be different but I can’t help feeling that it would be incredibly selfish of me to risk the family I already have for chance of something even vaguely resembling my ‘ideal’ pregnancy.
There will always be the risk.
We just have to decide if we’re willing to take it.