When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, nearly eight years ago, the first thoughts I had were based along my career. I was in my late 20's and had got to a stage in my nursing career where I was in the "right" place: I enjoyed my work, I was progressing my career nicely, and I was about to embark on a 2-year degree which would take me further up the career ladder. We wanted to start a family, and were on the "if it happens it happens" stage of the process. We hadn't expected it to be successful straight away - we had allowed ourselves at least a year of trying! We were very lucky, and although I was over the moon when I saw the little blue line appear on the test stick, it was still a shock, and my mind was filled with questions, like "how will I work after the baby is born?" "How will I cope with sleepless nights and work?". I was very career-led at the time.
Next, I dashed to the bookshops in town and bought several books on pregnancy and birth, mostly for the benefit of my husband, who I'd told over the phone whilst he was at work, because I was too impatient to wait for him to come home that evening. I could almost hear him swaying on the end of the line as I told him.
For the next eight or so months, we read and re-read as much information as we could. We went to our antenatal classes, and made friends with couples in the same stage as us. We all knew we were going to have a baby, but we were focused on getting through the pain of labour in order to actually see and cuddle what had consumed our entire lives to that point. Few of us, I doubt, had considered what was to come in the following weeks and months, let alone prepared ourselves for what may happen if things didn't go according to our own expectations.
During that time, relationships with family and friends also began to change. Friends with children became closer, sage wise ones - dishing out advice at every opportunity - which was either politely taken on board for the recycling bin; or stored in the memory bank for later. For some of our childless friends, the dynamics changed to a more distant, less cosy relationship, whilst others enjoyed seeing how our lives were changing and were keen to celebrate these changes. The relationship with my in-laws became tense: I was constantly told I looked tired and exhausted, and whenever I put some food in my mouth the infuriating "eating for two, eh?!" comment would surface. At one stage, I was asked to perform a 360' turn to see where the distribution ratio of fat:baby bump was. This inevitably put strain on me and led to me keeping them at arms length to preserve my sanity. I am sure they didn't mean to make me feel scrutinised and judged, but that was how it felt, all the same.
Isn't this how society dominates the human pregnancy? The moment a woman finds herself pregnant, she is sitting in judgement of others. What she eats/drinks/wears; whether she looks "blooming", tired, or is having a "hormonal moment" is all the scrutiny of those around her. And how many people, including strangers, touch the "bump"? I personally found it an invasion of my space, and couldn't understand why complete strangers would come up to me (on three separate occasions) and rub my tummy! I would feel like saying, "I'm not Buddha, and I don't pass out good luck to all who rub my stomach!" But I was frequently mindful of being judged.
We were baffled, soon-to-be parents at what we actually needed to buy for our baby. We would take trips to well-known department stores to gawp at the prices for cots, mattresses, clothes, nappies, and maternity wear. We would stare in wonder at the array of "goods" needed in order to keep our baby happy, and safe. "Why on earth do we need cotton buds?" or, "what is the point in talcum powder? Isn't that carcinogenic?" "Does a newborn baby really need to have a comb? Surely that will be a pointless object?" These conversations were prolonged, subjective, confusing and often resulted in heated, loudly-whispered debates in the maternity pad aisle, next to the haemorrhoid creams section. But we were both suckers for the soft, fleecy cot toy which played tinkly music and resulted in us both welling up and hugging awkwardly before leaving the shop having purchased the said item and ignored anything remotely practical and needed in favour of a treasured trophy which, to this day, has us both grinning at each other wistfully as we are reminded of that moment of love and excitement at the prospect of welcoming our daughter into the world.
Then there were the questions about how I wanted to have my baby. "Safely" was my most repeated comment, and again, I felt judged if I mentioned I'd quite like a quiet water birth without drugs. "Oh you'll never cope without drugs!" I was told. "I bet you'll be screaming for an epidural after your first contraction!". This made me feel cross. How was anyone else to know my pain threshold? And wasn't the way I intended to give birth a personal matter between me and my husband, and the hospital? If I chose to give out these details, it was a different thing, but the boundaries were crossed at frequent times. Or the other person would give a graphic, detailed description of their birthing experiences. I wasn't always sure if it was an attempt to prepare me, or to frighten me. Either way it didn't bother me, as I still had fresh-ish memories of being a student on a labour ward, and had regular contact with other pregnant women and newborns in my job. My husband, however, grew more anxious about the birth as the date approached.
The most frequently-asked question though, was how I planned to feed my baby. I had decided that I was going to give breastfeeding my best shot. With that in mind, I didn't buy any bottles or teats. I was given a sterilising unit, but had no idea about using it. I read up a bit about how to do it, and expected the midwives at my hospital to help me out. That was what I'd seen in my training. I was told by my antenatal midwife to buy some formula just in case I couldn't breastfeed. I decided to ignore her. I was going to breastfeed, and that was the end of that conversation!