Despite it being possibly the most stressful and demanding time of their lives, many seem to feel that pregnant women aren’t sufficiently panicked about their situation. Luckily, there’s always another study or news story around the corner to further pile on the doubt and worry
I’ve never been pregnant; I’m a heterosexual male, and barring a sudden major shift in my underlying psychology coupled with a dramatic advancement in gender reassignment surgery, I never will be. I’ve known many pregnant women though. A few years ago I was even married to one, so have witnessed the process up close. You’d be very hard pushed (hah!) to find someone who hasn’t encountered a pregnant woman in modern society; it’s not exactly an uncommon thing.
It would be very hard to deny that pregnancy is a taxing process for women. Occasionally you might get some bloke saying pregnant women exaggerate what they’re going through, in a forlorn attempt to deflect from his own inadequacy. Of course, if you’re reduced to undermining pregnant women in order to demonstrate your own masculinity then it’s clearly already beyond salvaging. But hey, why not throw your dignity overboard with it?
The physical effects of pregnancy alone can make for eye-watering reading (literally; eye-watering is one potential side-effect), let alone the psychological ones. Pregnancy can be, and often is, the most stressful and demanding period of a woman’s life, at least in the biological sense.
As a result, many women find they need as much information, help and support as possible during pregnancy. But depressingly often, a line can be crossed from “helpful” to “oppressive”. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, many seem to think she is now public property. Expectant mothers are regularly bombarded by (usually unsolicited) advice, tips, warnings and a worrying number of horror stories about pregnancies gone wrong. These are all given with a view to being helpful, which is nice but makes complaining seem somewhat churlish.
It’s an understandable occurrence; countless people have direct experience with pregnancy, so feel well informed on the matter. Combine this with the fact that it blatantly invokes the “think of the children!” response and you get a lot of people with strong opinions and an assumed moral obligation to share them. Several of my social-media friends are currently pregnant, so I’m seeing it a lot lately.
This may prove stressful enough for pregnant women, but luckily the mainstream media is always on hand to dispense more warnings and restrictions regarding pregnant women’s behaviour, lest they start thinking they can relax for a minute. Just this month we had the baffling report which claimed smoking during pregnancy causes the child to turn gay, via mechanisms that are no doubt 100% plausible and not at all
exaggerated. And just recently there is the research that claims a pregnant woman’s fatty diet may alter a baby’s brain. This latest report is actually based on a study in mice. It’s a bit alarmist to imply a phenomenon only just observed in animal studies definitely occurs in humans, but better safe than sorry, eh?
Not that diet affecting pregnancy is a new concept. It already causes diabetes and alters DNA of the foetus. Being overweight in general is also bad if you’re pregnant. Luckily, pregnant women never feel the urge to eat a lot of weird food or anything. Of course, if they do, then at least dieting is safe. We don’t want women thinking they can stop being body conscious, just because there’s someone else inside it. But they mustn’t overdo it though, being underweight is not ideal either. But then again, neither is being too tall or too short, and what exactly they’re expected to do about that is anyone’s guess.
As for what pregnant women can eat, that’s a whole other minefield. And it’s not as if it’s all consistent, either. For example, don’t eat peanuts as they increase the risk of a child developing allergies. As well as that, do eat peanuts because they decrease the risk of a child developing allergies. So pregnant women are meant to both increase and decrease their peanut intake. Surely carrying a baby is stressful enough without having to shop around for quantum legumes? It’s enough to drive you to drink.
Except that’s not allowed either; drinking while visibly pregnant often elicits the same sort of response as applauding at a funeral. Smoking is arguably worse again. Having so much to deal with while everyone is dictating and judging your behaviour and your hormones are engaged in all-out warfare with each other, without the option of any of the typical unhealthy comforts we allow ourselves, is bound to prove very stressful.
Except that’s bad too; stress is very harmful to a baby, so if you’re an expectant mother you’d better learn to find the whole process wonderfully relaxing ASAP, or you’re risking harm to the baby and therefore a terrible human being.
At least once the baby is born, it’s all over then. Except it’s not, it just carries on. My own wife had a relatively easy time of it during pregnancy, but tremendous hassle in the post-natal stages. Her difficulty with breast feeding was compounded by the “expert advice” people who seemed to think that not breastfeeding (regardless of reasons) makes you inferior to an animal (actual quote), and that the only possible alternative to breast milk is feeding a baby expired kebab meat boiled in pond water.
Pregnant women and/or new mothers are human beings at their most vulnerable and bewildered, so why are they constantly bombarded with alarming “information”, unwelcome scrutiny and judgement? Aside from the odd deeply cynical marketing strategy, it's probably fair to say that it’s all a result of good intentions; people are just trying to help. And that’s fine; it’s nice when people want to help. But there comes a point when good intentions end up actually hindering or harming the supposed recipient, and with the amount of pressure pregnant women are under to do everything “right” this point undoubtedly gets passed very often. Even if you genuinely believe the foetus’s well-being is unquestionably the priority over the mother’s, this is bad. Oxygen is a priority over food and water for humans, but excluding them is just as harmful in the long term.
Every pregnant woman, like every human, is different, and can experience the process in ways that are poles apart from those of others. It’s a very complex process, and as a result there are numerous things that can interfere in detrimental ways, and ideally should be avoided. And sadly, there are plenty of expectant mothers out there with problems of their own that mean they genuinely do need this level of involvement
and observation in order to protect the child. However, assuming that this is the default norm is doing a huge disservice to the majority of capable pregnant women. At present it seems to be just an onslaught of rules and scrutiny that mean that doing something “wrong” while having and raising a child is a) unforgivable, and b) unavoidable. And that’s not nice. It’s also the rationale behind the title of this piece.
You may disagree with this whole article. You may think I’m just a complete stranger sticking his unwelcome, uninformed nose in and telling other people how to behave.
See how annoying it is?
Dean Burnett ran this blog past his wife before launching it and she said it was fine. He is on Twitter, @garwboy
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