Tuesday, February 8, 2011

THIS JUST IN: Pregnancy Not Always a Walk in the Park

If you know me, you'll know I'm childfree. You'll also know I have nothing against those who choose to breed. You know, so long as they don't furnish me with constant details, or anything. Indeed, part of being pro-choice is supporting the rights of pregnant women to have the pregnancy and birth that they choose. And one of the things that I tend to get up in arms about is the taboo surrounding expressing feelings of depression, frustration or disconnection during or after pregnancy.

I frequent a few forums, and in my wanderings came upon a woman who was distressed and upset because, she said, she had no connection to her 10 week old foetus. She had been under the impression that women bonded instantly with their zygotes and stayed that way right the way through, and because she hadn't done so, there must be something terribly wrong with her.

These feelings are more common than she (and many other women) realise. Societal pressure for women to be perfect, flawless mothers means that those that do speak up and try to voice their emotional distress aren't embraced and supported but ruthlessly attacked. Oh, not always, I grant you - but far too often. They are called horrible women, told they will be bad mothers and that they may as well abort or adopt the baby out, because they're obviously not going to make a good parent. These things happened to the woman I saw in the forums, and they happen to other women too. So women feeling that disconnect from their foetus don't express those feelings (would you, knowing you'd be at the receiving end of a barrage of insults and attacks?) and so feel isolated, as if they're the only people who feel that disconnect.

Women who have easy, happy pregnancies may give birth and realise they feel nothing for their children. Months may pass without this lifting. They might feel fear or dread when holding or looking at their baby. They may worry that they will never love their child. They may not want to hold their child, or breastfeed, or spend time with their child. These are indicators of post-partum (also called post-natal) depression, which is surprisingly common. Doctors and Plunket nurses will be able to diagnose and give more information, and help mothers with their support networks. But there are also women who, with hormones and a new baby to deal with and other life issues besides, are simply so busy or exhausted they don't have the time to bond with their babies.

It's not automatic. And we're conditioned to believe it should be.

Which leaves women who don't automatically love their babies feeling like horrible people. And gods help them if they try to express their frustration and distress.

Depression - which I will say now I have experienced, at least the non-post-natal variety - is exhausting. Absolutely physically and emotionally exhausting. It's hard getting help at the best of times, if nothing else because actually reaching out to others takes energy that's difficult to even contemplate expending. It's difficult to imagine building up the courage and strength to reach out for that help only to be harshly criticised for emotions that they can't help feeling, and shamed by others as bad mothers and bad women. They aren't bad women. They aren't bad mothers. But for many, as far as they know they're the only women in the world who feel the way they do, because it's so difficult to say. Difficult to admit, in a world where new mothers feel like they should know everything, in a world where mothers should love their children instantly and unconditionally, that they are sad, they are afraid, and they are unable to cope on their own.

Now pregnancy is a difficult time for many women. They may be feeling depressed, maybe they aren't connecting with their foetus. Maybe it's simply a difficult pregnancy and their symptoms are making their life hell. And when they express this, every so often, they get a comment like this:

"Do you know what I would give to be able to experience [that] 'hell'? I might not be able to get pregnant. I'd give anything just to be able to have one child of my own. So, I find this very offensive, and hurtful." 

And yes, that is an actual quote.
How is it some women can be so utterly and disgustingly self-centred as to consider every pregnant woman venting her frustration or reaching out for help as some sort of personal insult? You're offended? Why? Because a pregnant person dares to admit that their experience isn't one of constant ecstasy? Because she dares express emotions that are normal? Is a normal woman's natural response to her pregnancy actually offensive to you? What the fuck is your problem?

God forbid women be less than perfect. God forbid that pregnancy be anything less than a cake-walk. Apparently not going through life with a smile plastered across your face makes you some kind of failure as a woman, and if you complain, ever, all you're doing is intentionally hurting other women who would so dearly love to have such terrible problems as you have.

What happened here? Where did this crap come from? Fuck these taboos. New mothers are allowed to be human and they need to know that they are not alone, and that they're not failures or bad mothers for feeling what they feel.

I'm with you, ladies. I know that you secretly want to spit venom at those damn women whose pregnancies are a constant joy, who float around as if carrying a baby makes them the Virgin Mary or something and who coo over your belly while making inane comments about their own pregnancies. "Oh are you craving pickles yet? I simply couldn't get enough pickles. Have you chosen a name yet? Don't you just LOVE being pregnant?" Meanwhile you're barely aware of what's going on because you're so damn fatigued, and you're all stretched out of shape and feeling ill and not at all enthustiastic and all you want to do is punch these cooing bantams in the face and then lie down and drink some tequila, which you can't do BECAUSE YOU'RE FUCKING PREGNANT.

Plunket on Post-Natal Depression
Wikipedia on Post-Partum Depression
 Y'know, see your doctor, and all that. Peace.


  1. One of many, and not even the foremost, of why I do not want to get pregnant. I actually read fanfiction that contained post-partnum depression and couldn't even finish reading it (it was ooc to me considering the show showed the woman and baby together and their were no such signs of this) because it was just...depressing and a bit too real and scary for me to deal with at the time (and likely still is.

    I can't imagine getting chewed out for feeling what is a condition among women, considering we're more prone to depression than men, and...in such a...urgh. I hope that forum wasn't the one we're on, or I'm going to have to search for it and go lay some smack-downs on those naive, ignorant fools.

  2. Kahlan: Nope, it was another forum. In the "life issues" section, believe it or not, where people are supposed to be able to post their problems without getting flamed. I did my nut, I swear.