I wanted to kick myself when I blamed a work mistake on “baby brain.” While I felt my once razor-sharp attention to detail fading into foggy brain syndrome, I knew all others heard was an excuse, a pregnant lady lore that’s more of a self-deprecating joke than a legitimate situation.
When people ask, “How are you feeling?” they don’t want to hear something like, “There’s a small body part hammering into my bladder, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m currently having a stabbing sensation in my pubic bone.” They much prefer a cheerful “Great! The baby’s kicking a lot!”
You know, women have been doing this since the beginning of time.
When we do share the realities of pregnancy, at best the response is a sympathetic nod and smile, and at worst, it’s completely dismissive: “At least it’ll be over in a few months and THEN you’ll really know what tired is.” “It hurts when you walk? That’s weird, I know someone who ran until she was seven months pregnant.” Then there's the ultimate passive-aggressive kicker: "You know, women have been doing this since the beginning of time."
Those kinds of responses put us in a defensive and strangely apologetic mode: “I guess I wasn’t in that great shape before I got pregnant.” “They say it can be harder the second time around, and I'm older now.” "Well, it's a great excuse to take a nap, right?"
From the outside, all people see in a pregnant woman are the most basic physical transformations: the growing belly, the repetitive wardrobe, perhaps a weirdly swollen nose and a waddling gait. A grown woman becomes reduced to an adorable caricature of herself. There’s no inkling that inside, bones and ligaments are shifting and stretching, hormonally charged turmoil is always somewhere near the surface and symptoms are changing day to day, week to week.
There’s an enormous spectrum of what’s considered “normal” in pregnancy, so among well-meaning friends and even OBs and nurses, most symptoms are met with a casual, “As long as the baby is healthy!” Yes, of COURSE, all we ultimately want is to carry a healthy baby to term, but pregnancy takes us so far from our normal selves that it becomes an all-consuming process.
So the next time you ask a pregnant woman how she’s feeling, know that she’s not looking for a free back rub or a pass to nap under her desk. Instead, listen for a minute. Ask questions. We’re even open to advice sourced from your friend’s pregnant cousin, as long as it has nothing to do with Saltines and ginger ale. All we ask is to be heard.