Here is a scenario, one you might even recognize: You are pregnant with a child you want and planned for. And you could not possibly be more miserable because you hate being pregnant. You can’t wait for it to be over, and it’s giving you serious pause about having another child in the future. But who can you say this to? How do you cope with hating pregnancy when it’s supposed to be such a beautiful experience and saying otherwise is taboo and deeply stigmatized?
In addition to the physical changes to be endured, there are all sorts of reasons why pregnancy could be a terrible experience for someone. For Terri, it was the unsolicited advice she got, as well as the unrelenting spotlight.
“I hated being the center of attention,” she said. “I hated being told what to do. I didn’t like talking about being pregnant like other women did. Being pregnant wasn’t the focus of my life. Yes, I was happy to be pregnant and couldn’t wait to hold my child, but I didn’t like being defined as a the ‘pregnant woman.’”
There is serious pressure to “perform” pregnancy in a way that’s socially acceptable, and talking about how awful pregnancy can be is not part of what people expect or want to hear. A, who lives with depression and anxiety, told me she didn’t talk to anyone about her dislike of pregnancy since the only person she knew who had been pregnant loved it. She experienced depression in her first and third trimesters, but also kept quiet about it. “I felt like it wasn’t OK to talk about since I was supposed to be perma-grateful or whatever. I didn’t want to explain why I wasn’t having the fetishized pregnancy experience.”
M, who has two children, was hesitant to talk about her dislike of her pregnancy experience because of the amount of conversation around her about miscarriage and infertility. “It’s totally taboo to say you hate being pregnant because some people would give anything,” she said. ”But my experience is also real and painful, and it’s isolating to not be able to be open about it.”
J is expecting her first child this fall and has been open with some people about how taxing, physically and intellectually, her pregnancy has been. It has proven difficult, though, when she tries to prevent it from being the subject of every conversation.
“People get frustrated when I say, ‘Actually I’m not really enjoying it, but I’d love to learn more about what’s new in your life.’ It’s like I’m stealing something from them, now they can’t enjoy the pregnancy by proxy.” Fortunately, being honest about her experience has also helped her find folks with similar feelings about their own pregnancies, as well as unexpected allies, including a friend who went through IVF.
“It can become extremely stressful during this time with trying to live up to all the expectations of being pregnant that you should be smiling from ear to ear,” said Lakiesha Russell, a licensed professional counselor and host of The Evolving Chair podcast. Russell emphasizes building a network of support, be it online or in person, of folks you can process with and who will listen.
Kimberly Hershenson, a clinical social worker in New York City specializing in parenting as well as motherhood issues, recommends setting boundaries with family and friends.
“You can let them know ahead of time not to make comments. Those that do not listen and comment anyway, you can let them know that the comment was hurtful and ask them to please refrain from commenting about your body any further. Set your own parameters for what you are comfortable with. It is your body and you have every right to express your comfort level with others.”
In addition to getting real with those around you and finding support, there’s another serious and important way to navigate through pregnancy when it’s making you miserable: Feel your feelings, no matter what.
“Don’t feel badly about any of these things just because you ‘think’ you’re supposed to feel a ‘certain’ way,” says Dr. Angela Jones, Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor. “An important part of pregnancy, especially with all the hormonal, bodily and emotional changes you will experience, is being free to feel however you feel and not have guilt about it.”