The weight of expectation - How I coped with an unexpected pregnancy
When I found out I was pregnant with our first child, it caught me completely off guard. My husband, Bryant, had just gotten back from his second tour of Afghanistan and we were celebrating, partying and enjoying our life back together. Having kids wasn’t something Bryant and I had discussed until we had no choice but to…not to say either of us felt like we didn’t want kids, it had just never come up.
We were enjoying life moving around the country following Bryant’s career in the army and seeing some of our beautiful Australian cities.
I remember, Bryant joked that I was pregnant for weeks before it was confirmed but it wasn’t even a consideration for me. I had been brought up being told not to have kids “too early” and being the first in my immediate family and first in my friend group to fall pregnant – it still felt way too early.
But in reality, I was 27, engaged and we were about to buy our first home. It wasn’t too early at all. I just wasn’t ready….
I cried….for weeks. I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed with the decision facing me…because yes, there was a decision to be made. I am 100% pro-choice.
You see, when you reach a certain age and you’ve ticked certain boxes like a good job, a stable relationship, maybe you’ve kept a pet or a good house plant alive for a solid amount of time, you’ve got a good family car etc. you are expected to be stoked at this life changing news. Except, not everyone is. I wasn’t.
I wasn’t ashamed of how I was feeling but I didn’t feel like I could be honest about my ambivalence either. I felt that people would think there was something wrong with me, not being maternal is frowned upon at this stage in your life, after all, that’s not how white middle aged women act when they find out they’re pregnant is it?
You don’t fit the societal norm, sorry there must be something wrong with you. This one’s faulty.
It’s no wonder there is a huge prevalence of perinatal, antenatal and postnatal depression in our country. The pressure and weight of expectation that is applied to women during this time in their lives is extreme – and that’s not even taking into account the actual stress of taking care of your baby…
Thinking back now, it wasn’t so much that I was staunchly opposed to keeping the baby, it was moreso that I didn’t feel like I had a choice.
Everyone I spoke to congratulated me and met me with sheer excitement. It actually shocked me, I was expected to be happy and if I wasn’t happy about the news, I was expected to not share it with anyone. What a fucked up hole to be put in.
“Your life is about to change forever. Yesterday you had no idea this change was coming but here you are. Now, put a smile on your dial and screech with glee OR keep quiet and don’t tell a soul about what you’re going through.”
Really. That’s how I felt.
People would say things like, “You’re happy right? I mean this is a good thing!” where does that leave me? Can I say no…what will they think of me if I do. Rock and a hard place. These sorts of interactions exacerbated my feelings of guilt because no, I wasn’t happy…I was drowning in a sea of emotions with no one to relate to.
With every person we told I sunk deeper and deeper into my hole.
Bryant was ecstatic, and through no fault of his, that made me feel worse. I felt guilty for not being innately happy to have this little life inside of me. I didn’t even want to talk to him about it, he didn’t feel like he had anyone to be excited with or even if he could yet be excited! I really felt for him during this time but I was in the throes of a huge mental battle and I didn’t have any capacity for helping others…
My hesitation on not knowing whether I wanted to continue with the pregnancy or not was starting to affect our relationship. I tried to reassure Bryant that my feelings on the pregnancy were in no way a reflection of my feelings for him, he said he understood – but did he really?
He said he would support me in whatever decision I felt was best and I have no doubt that he meant that, however I couldn’t help but feel like my decision would have a profound impact on our relationship. I didn’t want that. I was happy. I had only just got him back in my life after 6 months overseas. I didn’t want to jeopardise that.
In the end, this is the main reason why I decided to keep the baby. I felt that if I made the choice to terminate the pregnancy that our relationship would not survive. Maybe it wouldn’t implode immediately but I had a gut feeling that it would raise its ugly head later down the track and undermine us. I want to clarify here that Bryant never gave any indication that this would be the case, but I felt so strongly that it would. How could he forgive me for terminating the pregnancy of what could have been his first child? At the time, I didn’t think any relationship could survive that.
To think that there are other women in the world who feel backed into a corner like this upsets me immensely. And for what and why?
Because choosing your career over having babies is frowned upon. Because once you’re married that’s naturally what comes next. Because the man next door said so. Because you need to have one for Mum, one for Dad and one for your country…. The list goes on and they’re all bullshit reasons if the mother doesn’t want the baby.
Once we agreed that we would continue with the pregnancy it was like I was then expected to immediately come up to speed with everyone’s happiness and excitement around me. Like suddenly all of my turmoil and hesitation was gone.
The battle didn’t end the second I decided to keep the baby. Once we knew we were going ahead with this new life of ours, I noticed things around me shift…
Conversations changed. People cared less about me and more about my unborn child, with whom I was not even feeling connected to.
Suddenly the fact that I was pregnant became everyone’s business. People would stare at me on the street, I was restricted from doing things that I loved and eating things that I loved. I started being called “cute” rather than “sexy”, my GP appointments turned into lectures “do this, don’t do that…push this twist that” I felt like a number in the matrix. Not a human being. Just a mere vessel.
YOU DO YOU…
Already struggling to come to terms with the fact that I was pregnant, none of this sat well with me and I decided to give myself a break and rebel against all of this shit.
Yes, I’m pregnant, you’re a bloody genius. No it is none of your business. Fuck off I will eat this brie if I want to and re heat my meals to only luke-warm if it bloody well pleases me. There’s the door, don’t let it hit you on the way out, but would you mind passing my wine glass first?
I gave myself permission to be open and honest with everyone and to stay true to myself, I cut myself some slack and I felt so much better for it.
I didn’t want being pregnant or being a new mum to define me because it doesn’t. I was and am still me and my baby would be an addition to that, not the whole.
It is OKAY to be devastated that you’re pregnant.
It is OKAY to feel dread and be scared shitless.
It is OKAY to hate being pregnant!
It is OKAY to admit that you are struggling as a new mum…
Shake off the weight of expectation and DO YOU.
Big life changes also sometimes bring pain, fear of what is ahead and grief for what you are leaving behind. Our society would do good to be mindful of this and not constantly point people to look ahead at the shiny light at the end of the tunnel.
We need to do more to let people go through the motions rather than gas-lighting them and making them feel like they are wrong for feeling a way other than what is expected for their situation. We need to stop downplaying people’s fears and reservations and belittling them in the process.
It is more important for us to honour people’s feelings when it comes to big life changes rather than focusing solely on what lies ahead, we all deal with change differently and we aren’t all cut from the same cloth…
As for putting this out into the ether, I’ve had people ask me how I would feel if this said baby, my first daughter Wren, found out that at one stage I had considered terminating my pregnancy with her.
That is my preference. I want her to know because I want her to grow up in a world where she knows and has had experience with women making choices for themselves and about their bodies. I want her to know that she has options and I want her to feel confident in expressing her opinions on those options, wherever her thoughts may lie with the issue.