We don’t just consume media every minute of every day, we are force-fed media. Media is unavoidable. It’s on the computer, where many of us do a lot of work. It’s on the TV, where we sometimes go to relax. Here in NYC, it’s on every single street. You can’t leave your apartment without being assaulted by socializing images and ideas. So until I was 23 and my best friend had a baby, almost everything I knew about pregnancy came from media – television shows, movies, and magazines. I could hardly remember my mother’s two pregnancies after my birth, so I didn’t have much, as it were, up-close-and-personal experience.
But even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered, because here’s the thing about pregnancy: everyone lies about it.
Lies! So many lies. And so much lying by omission; so much just not-telling about the truth of pregnancy. Media has a nicely packaged version of pregnancy that is meant to make it look difficult, but funny, and ultimately completely worthwhile. This is understandable, since most media is run by people who can never, ever actually get pregnant. I have a theory about the lying and lying-by-omission done by people who have understand pregnancy on more intimate terms, too. I think that people who know the truth about pregnancy lie about it because if we knew the truth about pregnancy, almost no one would ever consent to being pregnant.
I always thought there was a secret mommy-club I wasn’t part of, where women (in the time and place where I grew up, pregnancy, parenting, and everything else were highly gendered) sat around in little sewing-type circles, drinking tea and lightly sharing what I viewed as some of the most mysterious secrets of the universe. And I was right. There is a secret mommy club. When my first close friend got pregnant, I was inducted as an honorary member and given a special pass, which I still keep on a lanyard for when I need it. The mommy club pulled back the curtain for me, and what I saw behind it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.
I have been exposed to more images of fake baby-bumps that I have been exposed to actual people’s real, pregnant bodies. As a result, I thought pregnant bodies had sort of big, round, firm bellies, like a safe case for the baby – like a guitar in a guitar case. THIS IS NOT TRUE. A pregnant belly is a lot more like a sac that an alien is growing in, and it’s freaky. Babies move in-utero and sit on your spine, on your vital organs – one friend, while in-utero, sent her mother to bed for several months because she just loved to lie on a major artery and she CUT OFF HER MOTHER’S BLOOD SUPPLY. Once, my friend’s baby reached it’s little hand out, from the womb, to high-five me. I could see a hand trying to reach through my friend’s stomach, from the inside. Guys, pregnancy is horror-movie-level WEIRD, and that is no joke.
Morning sickness? That ain’t some cute shit you see in the movies where you throw up once or twice and then the truth slowly dawns all over your face and then you run to the drug store, pick up a test, and flash-cut to you sitting on a toilet holding a stick with a plus sign and then it fades away so you can hurry up to the setting-up-the-crib montage. Morning sickness often doesn’t fade away. Morning sickness is crippling. For some pregnant people, morning sickness is code for “7 months of constantly having the flu, running a slight fever, vomiting several times a day.” You should read the whole post I just linked to. It’s by a young woman who’s pregnant and it mostly details sitting on or near the toilet literally all day, every day.
My friend is breastfeeding. Her hair is falling out. Her dentist told her she’s losing so much calcium to the adorable, beloved parasite (this is the cutest parasite in history, you have no idea) that she may need dental surgery.
Mood swings? Hollywood loves to make mood swings the funny center of a relationship up-and-down that starts with yelling and ends with The Woman sitting on the couch, crying, admitting that she feels fat and powerless, and The Man sitting down, the weight of everything she’s doing for him suddenly settling upon him, vowing to do better, Exeunt Stage Right, Consumed By Bliss. Except that mood swings for several of my friends more closely resembled crippling depression. They were unable to get out of bed. They felt powerless because pregnancy had actually rendered them powerless; they couldn’t go to work, or go to the grocery store, or do really fucking basic things for themselves, and it felt awful. And their partners felt despair, because they too were powerless, because they could go to the grocery store and pick up flowers and say nice things but they couldn’t make it better.
There came a time in my life where people started being honest about pregnancy and I started listening, but many people I know got pregnant before anyone had explained to them seriously what being pregnant might mean. When I describe immobility, helplessness, depression, severe physical discomfort, daily vomiting, and hair loss, I am not describing pregnancy worst-case-scenarios: I am describing common side effects of pregnancy.
And that’s just pregnancy. That’s not even getting in to childbirth itself. Do you know what a vaginal tear is? If you think you may ever give birth, it’s a fairly common phenomenon you may want to familiarize yourself with.
I may get pregnant someday; I may decide to have kids someday. But in the meantime, I interrogate pregnant friends and family members, in their most vulnerable, defenseless, pregnant state, like it’s my job. If I am ever going to do this thing, I want to know, as much as I possibly ever can, exactly what I have gone and gotten myself into. And I want my partner to know as well. I want both of us to be aware of what carrying a child will mean for my body, and what those changes, and frankly, that damage, will mean for our life together. I want a shared honesty about what could essentially be termed a temporary insanity brought on pregnancy and what that would mean for our home.
I see The Truth About Pregnancy being shared more and more, but still mostly in female-dominated spaces, like “mommy blogs” and Pinterest. I’d love to see young people move towards a complete honesty of what this experience means to them, or meant for them, and what elements of that experience seem unique or commonly shared.
In other words, “Sit down, honey. We need to talk about vaginal tears.”