It’s hard to be pregnant. And I think I was totally unprepared for how hard it would be. Most days, I do not feel like myself. Sometimes I think I will never be myself again.
This feeling started almost from the minute I discovered I was having a baby. There was no elated, over-the-moon moment when I saw the pregnancy test was positive; the first eight weeks were fraught. I had a miscarriage last winter, and I worried about having another one. I fretted over every stomach pang and the dark discharge that stained my underwear (blood? something else?). I did what I never do and fell down a rabbit hole of reading everything I could find on the internet in hopes that it would reveal that what I was going through was normal. The internet will never make you feel normal.
I battled morning sickness that lasted all day, walking around the office with a sleeve of Saltines, turning down happy hour offers by saying that I had extended Dry January into February, trying to play it cool while burdened by this secret. But maybe worse than the constant nausea and exhaustion and worry was the feeling that I was doing a terrible job at work. It felt like all my good ideas were gone.
But the baby stuck, as they say, and thrived. Every ultrasound seemed to reveal something new and amazing. Nausea gave way to sore breasts and a growing stomach, and while everyone raved about the second-trimester energy surge, I still felt tired. Was I tired because I’m pregnant, or because my career is demanding? Do I feel like I’m going to cry because I have a legitimate reason to be upset or because of pregnancy hormones? Why am I suddenly so unsure of myself?
I don’t feel like I have a pregnancy glow. Most of the time, I hate my big, huge stomach. It’s not popular to say, but I feel unattractive. I’m as vain as the next person, and, for the most part, I’ve always liked what I see in the mirror. Not lately though. I’ll startle sometimes when I catch myself in profile. Who is that pregnant woman? My body is heavy and cumbersome, and some mornings when even the walk to the subway seems too much, I’ll turn to my husband and ask him to wear the pregnancy suit today. If only.
Worse than my changing body image is how everyone treats me like I’m breakable. I’m not allowed to lift heavy boxes (or even empty boxes, according to a well-meaning but rather intrusive U-Haul employee). I haven’t been able to run since around week 12, when round ligament pain left me hobbling after a short jog. I miss the cardio in a way that I never expected. I might be slight, but I’ve always prided myself in being pretty strong. Now I’m reduced to relying on others, and I hate it.
These days, I feel like all I am is a pregnant woman. It’s all anyone wants to talk about. I was out to dinner with two close friends, and for most of the evening, we talked about their careers. One is interviewing for a super high-profile job; the other is putting together a book proposal. It’s amazing stuff, and I’m so excited for them. But when the conversation turned to me, we didn’t talk about my work; we talked about my pregnancy. I know they didn’t do it on purpose, but it’s as if my career doesn’t matter now that I’m with child.
"How are you feeling?" everyone asks. "Pregnant," I respond, because where do you even begin? Right now, I feel like I am terrible at everything. I go to work and struggle to feel engaged and ambitious. I go to birthing class and feel underread and underprepared. It seems like all the other pregnant women I know have read all the books and want to talk about all the details. Knowing the details just makes me feel more stressed. And I spend all my time worrying about something: the health of my baby, the health of my relationships, the health of my career. I hang out with friends and I feel like my mind constantly wanders in a million different directions and no one is getting the attention they need.
And the worst part is, this is how I feel before the baby has even arrived. What will happen when I have a wailing newborn in my arms?
I don’t think I can do it.
When I peel away all these silly layers of worry, at the core, my biggest concern is giving birth to a healthy baby. Because I might hate being pregnant, but I really want this child. I’ve totally and completely fallen in love. And if I give myself a little pep talk, I have to recognize I’m not the first woman to give birth. I’m not the first woman to be a mom and have a career. And I have an amazing support system that will be by my side on this insane adventure. I am not alone. And I won’t be pregnant forever.
I have always prided myself in doing things my own way. And I will do this whole work-and-parenting thing my own way, too. I don’t need to feel a glow or feel empowered for (or afraid of) labor. The baby doesn’t have to ruin my life or my marriage or my body. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to hate being pregnant.
And the next time some well-meaning friend or colleague asks me how I’m feeling, don’t be surprised if I really let them know. I’m an anxious, exhausted wreck. I don’t even recognize myself these days. My back hurts, and the baby kicks constantly, and I haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in months. If I’m being totally honest, I’d rather talk about something else. After all, I’m not just a pregnant woman. Under this pregnancy suit is regular old me.