As the woman handed me my eyebrow pencil in an unnecessarily large paper bag, she smiled and asked how many weeks in I am.
She meant, ‘how many weeks pregnant’.
Since coming towards the end of my pregnancy, I’ve noticed that this is A Thing. Not just in the regular places where I shop, where I have more of a conversational relationship with staff who are willing to spend some time and have a yarn, but in those places in which I shop irregularly.
Like the chemist where I bought the eyebrow pencil.
‘We’re about 36 weeks now,’ I replied with a smile.
I was hesitant. You never know what you’re going to get in response. Sometimes it’s a personal story, of which 8 out of 10 tend to be negative or destructive to one’s wellbeing to hear; sometimes it’s a story about a friend or a family member; half of the time it’s a generic wish for a good time (but, you know, phrased differently).
This woman broke away from Usual, however.
She said something that actually shocked me.
‘I bet you can’t wait til it’s out!’
Had this woman ever been pregnant? I had my doubts.
I eyed her evenly. Replied, ‘Well, I have loved every moment of my pregnancy, and I can’t wait to meet this new little person, if that’s what you mean.’
Her perfectly made-up expression faltered. It clearly wasn’t what she intended. I knew that. She knew that I knew that. And she had nowhere left to go.
‘Have you? Well, you’re lucky then!’
But you know what, for the majority of women in the world, that’s normal, that’s not lucky. It’s only lucky for western women who have been trained since they were born that pregnancy is horrible, that birth is worse, that the entire process is one of screaming, horror, and trauma.
If you have that expectation, guess what you get out the other side?
My experience of pregnancy has been something like this:
Imagine waking up in the morning, comfortable and in a place that you really love. You don’t have any stresses, really. In fact, it’s a lot like when you were about four years old, probably not at school yet. Every day is a day of possibility, learning new things, experiencing new experiences. You are filled with a joy and love that you don’t have to explain to anybody: It’s just there. And those people with whom you are closest make that love flare up and feel warm in your body. You love being around them, just because they’re there.
Now imagine that you add a puppy to this mix. Your heart bursts with love and joy just because the puppy exists. You don’t care that it pees on you, that you have to walk it and feed it and change your lifestyle to fit this puppy into your life. If something makes you uncomfortable – like a family member who turns out to be allergic – you just find a way around it.
But then you go back into your bubble of love.
Well, that’s what being pregnant is like.
Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s something that comes with all kinds of things that freak you out when you don’t know that it’s normal.
It comes with a highly medicalised birthing ‘system’ that insists on putting ob-gyns (whose entire world is things that go wrong) where midwives ought to be.
It comes with a purposely opaque labour-and-birthing system that is entirely foreign unless you’re clued in enough to have a skilled captain help you to chart your navigation.
For me, that person has been my doula. I credit a lot of my relaxation and lack of stress to having her in my life from the earliest part of my pregnancy. She helps me understand what I’m feeling physically and emotionally. She helps me prepare for the obtuse and opaque medical system that intentionally keeps women in the dark about their own power and choices. She encourages me to understand how I feel about things, to chart my own course. And if for some reason I am just having an emotional moment about something apparently ridiculous, I can call her and have a talk, and come back down to earth. It’s the best couple of grand I’ve spent in years.
Is it any wonder I am in a bubble of love all the time?
It is remarkable at how programmed women are against pregnancy and birth.
Surrounded by people who tell negative stories and use language that is unhelpful—sometimes even untruthful—many women in my generation chose not to have children. They grew up around depictions of birth as screaming horror stories, in popular media like TV shows, books, and movies. They hung around women when they were kids, women who told each other negative stories about birthing. And then when they learned about their own anatomy, nobody explained the magnificence of a relaxed birth to them, and how you have to do nothing but get out of your own head.
Nobody explained that women’s bodies are built to do this.
Nobody talked about extraordinary stories, like the truth that a woman’s body will birth a baby even if she’s in a coma.
Nobody explained that so much of an experience is how you language it to yourself. Many positive birth stories highlight this, in refusing to acknowledge a sensation as ‘pain’. Yet unless you’re already looking for those stories, you won’t see them. Language can and does shape your experiences, and can and does play a role in an experience of fear and adrenaline.
Few people are willing to examine the statistics, to show the risks of birthing in a hospital versus birthing at home, for example. You might be surprised to learn that birthing at home carries equal rate of risk as birthing in a hospital. But that’s ‘risk of morbidity’. It is not ‘risk of intervention’, which is an entirely different thing. Births at home, where mums are relaxed, require far fewer interventions than births in hospitals.
One key reason for that is time.
Birth is nature doing her thing. Hospitals run on schedules. Trying to reconcile nature to a schedule is what westerners have been trying to do only since the industrial revolution, and it never works. Nature is ordered chaos; schedules can’t handle chaos.
That’s why whenever anyone asks that tired old question, ‘when are you due?’, I reply with an airy-fairy ‘oh around the end of October sometime’.
People don’t like it.
They want a fixed date.
They want to be able to predict it.
They don’t realise that very few babies are born on their estimated due dates. That you have a window from 37 to 42 weeks (5 weeks!) in which baby can arrive ‘any day’.
Knowing this, isn’t expecting a child to be born on a day a little bit like buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win your money back? You and everyone around you will be disappointed. Bubs arrive when they arrive.
All of these things flashed through my mind when the perfectly made-up woman’s smile faltered, and she told me that I’m lucky.
I know that I’m not lucky.
I know that so much of pregnancy and birth is about state of mind. That it requires an emotional and mental shift away from the dominant stories that have always played out around you.
That sometimes you might require hypnosis to shift them. If you’re wondering, yes I have done this. And yes, it has been part of the reason why I feel very little fear.
Perhaps if more women surrounded themselves with positive stories of pregnancy and birthing, they’d stop asking each other if they’re in pain yet. Or saying things like, “just you wait until…”. Or horrifying each other and getting them into a state of fear long before those first surges of labour come along.
What I do know is that every woman who sees pregnancy and birthing as a terrifying, horrifying, and traumatic physical event are doing themselves a massive disservice.
I know it, because I used to be one of those people. I wish I’d gone down this road much earlier in my life. I might have been able to do it twice!
The sheer level of love and joy that I’ve experienced far outweigh the three months of nausea, the weirdnesses, anxieties, sleep disruptions, or anything else that comes with it.
And it’s for this reason that I am genuinely excited about my baby’s upcoming birth day.
I can’t wait to be amazed by my body.
And I am beyond excited about meeting this new little person, one that I’ve made!, eye-to-eye for the very first time.