Expectations: Part 1 – Managing Pregnancy Expectations
I have to be honest, I love that some of my friends are getting pregnant. It feels like an experience that can create a stronger bond between us. After all, becoming a mother does catapult you into a different category of being. Our whole society makes sure to remind us of that every chance it gets. And our society brings on a lot of expectations for us as future moms. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts during pregnancy, often times conflicting. And they paint a very fuzzy and confusing picture for us. It also skews our perception of what pregnancy expectations are actually normal.
Take your social media feeds for example. I will venture a guess that if you are an expectant mother, you have started following “Mommy Blogs” on Facebook and various pregnant mamas on Instagram. And you are beginning to form an opinion (mostly from Instagram) that pregnancy is beautiful, easy, and totally Insta worthy. All these women flaunting their perfectly shaped bellies and working out in exotic locales. They don’t show the everyday struggles pregnancy often brings, and it makes us believe that when we struggle we’re somehow the exception.
What shapes our pregnancy expectations?
I’ve heard other moms talk about how pregnancy has proven to be a difficult ordeal for them, and that they are not like most moms. Most moms, in their eyes, have these super easy, super enjoyable pregnancies where they ride unicorns in fields of daisies, and get served tea by the fairies from the forest. And the reason why they think that is Social Media!
I can understand why. People don’t like taking unflattering pictures of themselves, let alone post them for the world to see. I know, I don’t. Pictures showcasing my struggles simply don’t exist. Society pressed hard the expectation that I am supposed to be no less than perfect and beautiful, in order to deserve being photographed. And thus we create an environment where future moms come to expect that pregnancy and motherhood is easy.
What’s worse, is that even if the Insta mommies wanted to share their pain, it can’t always come across in pictures. Most pain we experience is internal and can’t be shown. Maybe that’s why most moms’ complaints get dismissed, their pain is invisible. It’s not the same as walking with a gaping bloody wound on your head for everyone to see.
Then there is the flip side to the perfect Insta pregnancies. It’s the horror story pregnancies. The ones that make expectant moms lose precious sleep over every little baby movement or lack thereof. The ones that make them question whether their bodies can actually go through this and carry the baby to term without causing permanent damage to them. This doesn’t set up realistic expectations either. But what’s worse, it doesn’t open the conversation up for anything. Because now the expectant mother is afraid to speak up about anything because how can her pain compare.
What Changes Happen in the Woman’s Body During Pregnancy
Pregnancy not only affects women physically, but also mentally. The act of growing a baby inside your body is a marvelous one. But it can leave one feeling insecure about their bodies. After all, we live in a society obsessed with losing weight and being thin. And pregnancy is the opposite of that. It’s a time in a woman’s life where she rapidly gains weight, grows and stretches her belly, and ends up with permanent changes to her body.
It’s not uncommon for women to feel alien in their new pregnant bodies. The body not only looks different, but it also feels different. Things that used to feel good, no longer do. Simple acts of sitting, walking or getting out of bed become heroic acts, especially in the 3rd trimester. So, it makes sense that many women suffer silently through these every day occurrences.
In addition, anxiety can be a constant companion in pregnancy. Whether it’s your first or 5th child, you always worry about their development. You can feel this little being inside you but you can’t see them. So you have to rely on what your doctor tells you and your mother’s intuition about whether everything is ok.
All of this is normal. But because we can’t see it in pictures and not many women share about this, many expectant mothers are left with their thoughts completely on their own. And they end up feeling like an island. Like they’re the only ones going through this struggle, when, in reality, pretty much every pregnant woman is going through this.
If you can’t see it, can you, at least, talk about it?
But don’t you dare talk about your motherhood struggles!!! The expectation is for you to perpetuate the stereotype of a happy and selfless mother. As long as the baby is doing well, you don’t matter. There are many moms who will spread this message without realizing the damage they are doing to themselves and others. And so the truth is not shared.
That’s why many pregnant women are taken aback by the fact that pregnancy hurts all over. And unless they are friends with some very honest women, their struggles won’t be normalized. They’ll go on thinking that their rough and less than enjoyable pregnancy is the exception, when in reality, it’s the rule. Now, there are actually women who have easy and enjoyable pregnancies, and we should not invalidate them. Every experience deserves a voice.
How can we change pregnancy expectations?
So what can we do to help future moms tailor their expectations to the reality of pregnancy? For starters, we (veteran moms) should be honest with our friends about our experiences. We should openly talk about struggles with weight, muscle and joint pain, back pain, gestational diabetes, blood pressure issues, etc. We don’t need to scare the other women, but it is helpful to talk about our experiences. So when others come upon hurdles they know how normal those are.
The truth is, when you are not experiencing the issue, you can just listen to someone else’s struggle and move on because it’s not relevant to you. But when you are experiencing an issue, it’s so important to know you are not alone. That’s why people go to therapists. They want their experiences validated and normalized. Otherwise, you start to feel crazy. And that is never a good feeling.
It’s up to us (moms) to normalize the conversation about motherhood. Our doctors simply don’t have the time to go into all the nitty gritty that is pregnancy related discomforts and issues. Plus, something may be very uncomfortable and not be medically relevant or dangerous. And hearing about an issue from your doc may not resonate the same way as if it came from your mama friends.
So let’s work on being open and honest about pregnancy and help other women understand that while it may be a wanted and beautiful experience, it can simultaneously be the hardest and most uncomfortable one they’ve endured.
For all the future moms out there, just remember: What you see on Instagram is not at all what the person experiences in real life!
Don’t forget to read about the other expectations that come with motherhood. Expectations: Part 2 – Labor and Delivery, Expectations: Part 3 – The 4th Trimester, Expectations: Part 4 – Your Growing Baby.
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