My Pregnancy Was A Nightmare. Here's What Every Expecting Mum Should Know.
My Facebook feed has many glowing baby bumps.
Pregnant Meghan Markle is impeccably dressed with an effortless smile. On television, in the Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, when Mallory is pregnant, she acts just like she usually would plus one extra big bump. In fact, that is how pregnancy is portrayed in the media and on our screens: a woman + one bump with accompanying back pain and rosy cheeks.
Then there’s comedian Amy Schumer. She’s let her pregnancy all hang out. She’s had severe nausea -- hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) – a rare complication. Her Instagram includes video of herself throwing up, of being in hospital, and of looking unflatteringly pregnant, challenging the images we constantly see of the ‘beauty of pregnancy’ with quotes such as ‘this is some bullshit’ or ‘am I blushing?’
But why does pregnancy have to be complicated to be candid? Why do we pretend pregnancy is delightful when it can really, really suck? And is it actually doing a great deal of harm to women and feminism?
When I got pregnant, I was so excited. But just like Amy, it didn’t last long. Despite trying to eat well, I grew into a balloon, going way over the healthy recommended weight gain. I had a baseline of nausea throughout my entire pregnancy, with the scent of toast and men’s aftershave having me running for the toilet to puke up my guts.
I had no real control over what was going into my mouth because I just ate what I felt I could tolerate during the times I wasn’t feeling sick. Pregnancy had me at the mercy of the alien growing inside me -- because that’s what it feels like -- like an alien is poking at your bladder and your stomach, trying to make its way out. This is what happens when you get pregnant: your body is no longer yours, it is controlled by the baby growing inside you.
Then it happened. The niggling back pain I had sitting at my desk at work presented itself as pelvic girdle pain (PGP). By the time I was in my last trimester I could barely walk two meters without assistance.
I had to stop work earlier than I had anticipated. Researchers believe pelvic joint instability is caused by the hormone Relaxin. This hormone allows the pelvic bones to shift to make way for the delivery of a baby, but sometimes they shift out of alignment. According to the Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy, 70 percent of pregnant women experience PGP, which, in some cases, can cause significant impairment.
And while HG is considered rare -- according to Florida Hospital, 80 percent of all women experience morning sickness in the first three months of pregnancy with 0.3 percent to two percent affected by hyperemesis gravidarum -- the problem is sometimes practitioners, and even society, don’t take these complications seriously enough because they are perceived as ‘just part of being pregnant’ of which woman are just ‘supposed to cope with’.
The HER Foundation says "HG is not fully understood and conclusive research on its potential cause is rare" and that "women often lose their employment because of HG, and women are frequently undertreated and left feeling stigmatized by a disease erroneously presumed to be psychological".
The same goes for PGP, in an article published in 2013 in the journal Facts, Views and Vision in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, it stated that "most doctors perceive pregnancy related pelvic girdle pain (PPGP) as 'physiologic' or 'expected during pregnancy' where no treatment is needed. As such, women with PGP mostly experience little recognition". And also that "many scientific literature describes PGP as being severe with considerable levels of pain and disability and socio-economic consequences in about 20 percent of the cases".
I remember when I was in hospital after having a 46 hour labour how extended family came to visit and I had to get my sister to turn them away. I felt like the worst person in the world.
This was supposed to be the happiest moment in my life but it was anything but. My baby wouldn’t stop crying. I was in so much pain.
Going to the toilet after my emergency caesarean was excruciating – I was in tears on the toilet while family were outside eager to greet my new child with bunches of flowers and smiles.
My milk hadn’t come in yet and the nurses were telling me that my baby was getting dehydrated and maybe I should give her some formula and one nurse was extremely pushy about it so I had to get my sister to tell her not to come back.
I had different nurses telling me different things but I was lucky one nurse got me on the breast pump and my milk started to flow. But I just remember being completely overwhelmed by it all -- like my whole world had been flipped upside down -- and that nobody understood. I felt so alone and disconnected from my child.
What comes after childbirth is just as disconcerting. You don’t get your body handed back to you on a silver platter. It is never the same again.
I needed to go to physiotherapy for a year post childbirth to strengthen my pelvic muscles to start walking again. I had to do this with a newborn child who, when I attached to my breast, it was as if someone was getting sandpaper and rubbing it on my nipples. I had developed thrush on my nipples but I did not want to give up breastfeeding because I was adamant that I wanted to give my daughter the best. I cried in agonising silence every time I fed my daughter for twelve weeks before the thrush cleared.
In hindsight, I don’t think if I would have suffered as much had I known what was coming. Because we don’t know what’s coming, when we actually get pregnant, and we have the child, and we try to breastfeed, we plummet, and we plummet hard.
Seventy to eighty 80 of new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child according to the American Pregnancy Association. According the American Psychological Society one in seven experience the serious mood disorder postpartum depression. Feeling like you are failure if you don’t breastfeed contributes to this. Maybe more women would breastfeed if they understood that it is challenging but so rewarding.
Maybe we wouldn’t compete with each other too, if there was more honesty about what it’s like.
Even Amy Schumer has joked about Meghan Markle being her ‘pregnancy-nemesis’.
More honesty, less bitchiness and more understanding would really help.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance writer and the author of Love and F—k Poems and Just Give Me The Pills. www.koralydimitriadis.com.