When I was pregnant with my little Bean, everything was new to me. She was my first child. Cool and strange things happened to my body weekly, almost daily. Pregnancy requires you to either match your learning curve to the rounding of your belly or feel blindsided by the baby inside you. Still, there was so much I didn’t know. I told myself, Sure, women birthing babies is nothing new, but it’s still new to you. But with all of the women I knew who had given birth, why did some of the information feel…secret?
Motherhood, and by extension, pregnancy, seems like an invite-only club sometimes. Sure, the information is readily available to the public with a few clicks to WebMD. But I don’t know many women–myself included–who delve into the nitty gritty of having babies before it’s their turn. All the things I learned after getting knocked up made me wonder why I never knew them before.
That’s when I realized: We don’t really like to hear pregnant women discuss being pregnant beyond the happy expectant mommy spiel. And we never, ever, ever, want real talk about the delivery. A pregnant woman or new mother is always and only a topic of light conversation.
Questions tend to follow a script, with a lot of salivating at the prospect of you suffering:
- Girl or boy?
- Did you have morning sickness? Was it awfully terribly horribly bad? (leans forward, salivating)
- Are you ready to never sleep again? (leans forward, salivating)
- How far along are you? When are you due?
- Do you have a name yet?
- What is your craziest craving?!
- How long was your labor? (leans forward, salivating) (Leans waaay back if actual details emerge).
- So when are you having the next one??
But since I gave birth, I see pregnant and new mommies with different eyes. We dress the occasion up in pastels but motherhood is beautifully messy and painful. I remember my own experience and I try to speak frankly about it. I tell the “secrets” I didn’t know until I was expecting, and I watch eyes pop open.
For instance, I was dumbfounded when I learned all women bleed for six to eight weeks postpartum. Your body builds up blood volume for nearly 10 months to sustain the baby; it has to go somewhere. (That’s right: it probably took your mama ten months to make ya. Full term pregnancy is 40 weeks.) Postpartum bleeding is like being on the worst period in the history of blood for six weeks. And I’m talking cherry-sized clots, wearing these huge diaper-like pads…oh, and not being able to (per most medical advice) have sex for the duration of that time.
It’s absolutely as gross as it sounds.
Don’t forget the tearing that can come with vaginal birth. Babies have the ability to split you, as someone’s grandma would say, from the roota to the toota. If you give birth vaginally, you could be in for urinary incontinence for about year after giving birth. You laugh? You pee. You sneeze? You tinkle. Yay.
I had an emergency C-section so I skipped all that. Instead, I got a nice, thickish scar across my pelvis, that hurt for months afterward and still gives me sharp pains randomly nearly 4 years later. Cesareans are not the boutique birth movies would have you think. You aren’t allowed to drive for a month afterward. And apparently, babies do expect you to snap to their newborn bidding after you’ve been sliced across the abdomen.
Also, you get fun symptoms that never plagued you before you got pregnant, like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and my personal favorite, PUPPP, an itchy rash that erupted from my feet to my hips.
You know what else I had no idea about? Your “water broke” is seldom the gush of liquid depicted on television shows. Actually, it’s more like a trickle, and most women are already in labor by the time their water breaks. There’s no mad rush to get to the hospital the minute you see fluid. Any midwife or doctor will likely tell a woman to stay where she is, start timing any contractions, and wait until they are close enough to go to the hospital. The majority of women don’t come barreling through the bay doors screaming, “I’M HAVING A BABY! GET THIS THING OUTTA ME!” It’s all rather…slow.
There are so many other “secrets” I could list. What really stands out to me is how little we discuss women’s mental health during and after pregnancy. It’s what causes me to ask seriously how new mommies are doing after giving birth. I ask them not if they are sleeping–I know the answer to that–but how their labor was. It is such an unfortunate secret that many women go through post-traumatic stress disorder postpartum because of their childbirth experience. I have written at length about my struggle to come terms with childbirth and postpartum depression here and here.
During childbirth, a doctor told me my child was all that mattered now. I knew then and I know now that is unequivocally a lie. But this is what we demonstrate to women with our societal bashfulness about the ugly parts of childbirth. We gloss over the lasting pain of bearing babies and focus on the newly arrived child. No one wants to hear about how happy some women aren’t after the bundle of joy arrives. It’s not neat. It’s not acceptable. And so we leave it to other women and men to discover the unpleasantries for themselves, when this knowledge could help prepare someone else.
It is my pleasure to break this cycle and
gross you out demystify pregnancy and childbirth one person at a time. Pregnancy is the oldest “secret” in the world. It’s time we stop whispering about it.
What “secrets” about pregnancy were you surprised to learn? Did I miss any that shocked you?