Over the past month or so at least six different people that I know have announced that they’re pregnant; some for the second time but most for the first. Even though I still find pregnancy announcements something of a mental health mine field I’ve made sure that I’ve been to see each person to congratulate them on their exciting news. I’ve asked them how they’re feeling, how appointments and scans have gone and when they think they’ll want to start their maternity leave.
What I haven’t asked, however, is the question that I would really like the answer to because I’m not sure whether it’s something that I should really be asking. The question itself seems harmless and innocuous but I know better than most it’s potential to open up an escape route for a huge volume of confused, pent-up emotions that can leave you feeling ashamed of your feelings and embarrassed for having shared them.
That question is “Are you pleased?”
It’s strange how such a simple question can be perceived as prying and intrusive and the last thing I want is for anyone to think I’m asking because I’m nosy or that I have some morbid fascination surrounding other people’s pregnancies. It’s just that when I first started telling people that I was pregnant with Squidge most people assumed that, because I was happily married with a stable job and home life that I had to be pleased about being pregnant and so no one ever thought to check whether that was actually true.
I understood why people didn’t ask; someone being unhappy about becoming pregnant is a difficult and uncomfortable truth to accept, particularly if you don’t know the person in question very well. There are few better ways to kill conversation and leave the other person red-faced and lost for words than, in response to their excited questions about scans and due dates, telling them that actually you are so scared and miserable that you can’t get out of bed in the morning. This may seem like an overly dramatic response to someone who is just trying to be nice and show an interest and I was in no way out to deliberately shock or upset people so instead I avoided situations where people were likely to ask me questions about my pregnancy.
As a result, instead of being open and honest I found myself pretending that I couldn’t think of anything more exciting than decorating the nursery, shopping for baby clothes and growing an alien bump that meant I couldn’t sleep properly and gave me raging heart burn. I found it very difficult to tell people that actually I was really struggling with the unexpected turn that my life had taken, convinced that they’d think I was some kind of monster.
Through one route or another, people found out that I was pregnant but also that it was taking a huge toll on my mental health. By the time I went back to work when Squidge was five months old, most of my colleagues knew that I’d struggled to accept my pregnancy and so it’s not something that I feel as though I need to hide from them. Equally, everyone whose opinion is important to me has been accepting and supportive even if the actual concept of being depressed during pregnancy is not something they can understand.
The medical care and mental health support I received during my pregnancy was (mostly) exceptional but I’m well aware that a large part of the reason why this was the case was because I was completely honest with every healthcare professional that I met, no matter how painful that honesty was for me. I’m also aware that not everyone is as lucky in that respect as me, either because their concerns aren’t recognised, are ignored or because they just don’t feel able to speak up.
I would hate to think that anyone I knew, particularly those who know what I’ve been through, felt as though they couldn’t talk to me if they were finding their own pregnancies difficult but at the same time I know how frightening it can be to open up to someone.
Which is why I’m conflicted as to whether I should be asking people if they’re pleased to be pregnant. On the one had it could be considered a hugely intrusive question but on the other it could be the opening that someone needs to take that first step to getting the help that they need. I know I’m not qualified to offer the help and support that women who are struggling need but at least I’d be able to let them know that they’re not alone, tell them the things I found most helpful and offer a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on in the difficult months ahead.
So far I’ve kept my questions to myself, relying on people to tell me whether they’re pleased about being pregnant with the excitement in their voice and the animation with which they talk about their growing bumps and plans for the future. No one I know has given me any reason to doubt their happiness but there’s still a niggling thought at the back of my mind. It reminds me how much I wanted someone to just ask me if being pregnant was what I wanted, so that I could tell them how confused and frightened I was and not have to pretend that everything was fine.
Am I right in not asking that one question?
What do you think?
Louise is a full time mum and a part time neonatal nurse who has battled depression for many years but particularly during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss.
In 2015 she was shortlisted in the ‘Fresh Voice’ category for the BIB (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and the ‘Bereavement Worker’ category for the Butterfly Awards. She was also one of the keynote speakers at BritMums Live reading’Twinkle Twinkle’ which was her account of caring for a premature baby on the day that he died.