*This post is authored by President and Founder Dia L. Michels
Getting Real About Pregnancy
Celebrities make pregnancy looks glamorous, but many expectant moms feel like anything but a star.
“My Pregnancy has been easier than I ever dreamed it would be,” boasted a very round, very happy Vanna White in the National Enquirer. Demi Moore appeared equally poised and collected when she exposed her beautiful, resplendent, and nude body on the cover of Vanity Fair—in her third trimester.
The beaming Vanna and Demi are hardly the first celebrities to display their expanding waistlines to the public, but they exemplify what I call the media-perfect pregnancy—the current attitude that gestation is synonymous with health and vitality. The 19th-century notion of nine months of weakness and incapacity no longer seems to apply. Nowadays, carrying a child is considered a thoroughly joyous time when women look radiant, feel terrific, and need not slow down for a minute.
When Your Pregnancy is Difficult
The problem is that for many of us, pregnancy is a time of fragility. And for those of us who suffer from infirmities, the myth of a tranquil, untroubled gestation makes for a harsher reality. I, for one, can assure you that pregnancy isn’t always a blissful passage filled only with excited anticipation of the birth.
I’m one of the approximately 5 percent of women for whom pregnancy is a test of survival, for whom morning sickness is not a nuisance but a debilitating disease. During each of my pregnancies, the rooms began spinning well before any test could verify my condition. And each week brought a worsening odyssey of misery.
Some days, all I could do was cry. Other days, too weak even to move, I’d never get out of bed. I was reduced to an overcooked vegetable, a limp turnip. I couldn’t work or keep up with the basic household chores. Worst of all, during my second pregnancy, I couldn’t even take care of my young daughter.
I tried every imaginable therapy, but the only antidote that really worked was time—hanging on until the sixth month, when the nausea finally subsided.
And if the illness itself weren’t enough to endure, listening to other people’s medical theories put this unpleasant experience over the top. Half of these self-professed authorities were certain that my morning sickness meant that I was carrying a boy, while the other half, of course, were confident it was a girl. One person informed me that the sicker the mom, the hairier the baby. And I’ll never forget the man who explained that this was one of God’s ways of helping women shed those stubborn extra pounds.
The '5 Percent' Rule of Pregnancy
While pondering my situation during one of my moments of lucidity, I came up with the “5 percent rule of pregnancy.” That is, as far as I could tell, the odds of having a perfect pregnancy are probably around 5 percent, and the odds of experiencing something unusual are more like 95 percent. Recalling conversations with friends, I realized that everyone I knew fit into at least one obscure pregnancy-related category. Elizabeth was one of the few women who are put on full bed rest for the last two months. Rachel was unusual because her baby refused to drop into the birth canal. For Maggie, the pregnancy apparently caused her thyroid to malfunction. Is the fact that all these friends of mine had gestational problems a mere coincidence?
Sure, there are women who conceive easily, glide through the entire nine months, deliver without much fuss, and take home healthy, happy, contented babies. But I don’t know anyone like that. It seems to me that the assurances medical professionals gave me—that I was in a rare category—are the same guarantees they give everybody about their unusual circumstances.
Difficult Pregnancy? You Are Not Alone.
If I’m right—and my 5 percent rule is closer to the truth—why not say so? If women knew, really understood, right from the start, how difficult childbearing can be, would we suddenly witness a slowdown in population growth? I think not. No, something much more profound would happen if we weren’t led to believe that pregnancy brings a woman to the pinnacle of well-being: We’d simply feel better about ourselves. You see, the real tragedy of difficult pregnancies is that those of us who experience them often end up feeling like outcasts and medical freaks, like rare specimens whose survival, in a more Darwinian age, would be unlikely.
Women who feel vibrant, vital, and fulfilled during their pregnancies are lucky, but I do not believe they’re the majority. So let’s break the myth of the media-perfect pregnancy. There is no reason for so many women to believe that their pain is unique and that they’re struggling alone.