I’m having a baby and yet I am not a baby.

We’re powerful, sexy women dontcha know?

It’s super nice when people are nice isn’t it? Like it’s so much better when people go around being sweet and courteous and caring and not mean and self-absorbed and shitty. I am not suggesting for a moment that that is not the case. It’s totally true. Except… except maybe when you’re pregnant. When you’re pregnant and you want to get on with 95% of your normal activities and be trusted to know your own body and its limits, it gets an eensy weensy bit annoying when the whole world has something to say about what you should and (more frustratingly) shouldn’t be doing. And my problem isn’t the seat-offerors and the ‘how you feeling?’ types and people generally appreciating the exhausting nature of the job (because it is that, I’ll admit.) It’s these two things:

The infantilsation of pregnant women

The complete desexualisation of pregnant women

I went to exchange some maternity jeans in my local H&M a few weeks back because I’m a 10 not an 8 now and I need to get that into my flippin head once and for all but anyway…  I sorted it over the phone with H&M customer services, ensuring they had the trousers in stock so I could rock up without disappointment and luckily they did and I put a pair aside for collection.

So I arrived at H&M and here’s how the chat with a member of staff went:

Hi I called and put some jeans aside to collect.

OK which jeans are they? I don’t see any here.

It’s a pair of black maternity jeans, size 10.

Aha, our children and baby store is just down the road, two doors down, they’ll be there.

Oh no it’s not baby clothes. Its adult clothes. They’re for me. Maternity jeans for me.

Yes our maternity wear is in the children and baby store.

Oh…cheers… (under breath as I walk away) well pregnant women aren’t children or babies so…

There’s the problem. Right there! Babies, children and pregnant women are all the bloody same. You get knocked up, you cease to be adult. Get on the kiddy table, lady, lest some of this wine jump out the bottle and down your throat and you end up feeling normal for five bloody minutes. Now I know the main reason they have the maternity clothes section in the kids shop is because they want to sucker you into the newborn babygrow section which is right next to it and do you know what it worked and I bought five babygrows because no matter how offended I am that H&M don’t class me as ‘adult’ anymore I am too excited and weak and easily manipulated by the idea of my first son all bound up in pistachio and cream stripes and looking just edible! So I’m angry at me as well as them. But furthermore, as my friend Soph pointed out, please don’t assume all women are pregnant and happy about it. There are hundreds of variables that lead to a woman needing to buy maternity jeans and they don’t all involve excited and beaming mums-to-be.

Also a woman in a macaroon shop in Covent Garden recently told me that I couldn’t have the coffee flavour because of my being pregnant and all that. But I think she was just really thick. And I continued to buy five macaroons from her because like I said before: I’m weak and I can’t resist pistachio.

But expectant women are also constantly told not to lift. And this really gets on my swollen, veiny tits. I think there’s just a huge amount of ignorance around what can actually harm a foetus, and so I try and keep it to myself when I’m frustrated. People are just being nice. But inside I’m bubbling (and not just because LB has the hiccups). I want to scream ‘WHY THE HECK NOT?!’ every time someone suggests that I can’t lift a heavy box. If you think heavy lifting can cause miscarriages in healthy women well then you’re dead wrong and if you (more correctly) are merely concerned about my muscles being weaker than usual well please just let me be the judge! It’s shitty enough that so many people can’t bear to see a woman lifting a heavy box but when you’re a pregnant woman people basically act like they’ve seen a six year old smoke a cigarette. In fact the six year old with the ciggie would probably get left to its own terrifying devices, but the preggo lady with a box of printing paper will get her knuckles wrapped. Naughty preggo lady!  And yes we might throw our backs out and feel like idiots the next day and regret it for weeks but that’s our right as adults and moreover that behaviour is not exclusive to pregnant women. Middle aged blokes, old ladies, teenagers – we all overdo it sometimes. We get over it.

I have a friend who is French and a mother. She told me that, unlike here in Blighty, in France nobody would dare tell you to give up blue cheese when you’re pregnant but they will tell you to pop your cat in the bin which of course we’d never think to do in the UK. Her partner also told me not to eat honey because of botulism but the internet demystified that and I was back on nature’s candy after a few weeks of going ‘I NEVER KNEW I LIKED HONEY SO MUCH!!’ Much like many first time, first trimester mums I was a right cautious Carol. I was avoiding deli meats, the slightest runny bit of egg, honey, anything more than a sip of booze and don’t come near me with that medium cooked steak you infanticidal MANIAC! But between the advice of my super chill midwife and the lovely bosom of the non-alarmist side of Antenatal Online, I’m back consuming it all within reason and to a degree that is healthy for anyone trying to grow a human in their womb.

I’ve noticed a lot of odd assumptions and confusion around pregnancy since I’ve started showing. People look at my bump when I’m cycling my single-speed through central London like I’m levitating to work or something. I get asked when I think I’ll start my maternity leave all the time. Er… when the baby is on the outside of me, probably?? (It might well be sooner, I know. I’m not exactly Miranda Hobbes.) I feel like a lot of these rules and assumptions about what pregnant women can and can’t do and what they can and can’t have were probably not written by women who are or have been pregnant (or any women for that matter) but quite possibly by the bearers of the keys to female anatomy and all knowledge thereof: men. The sudden treatment of women like they’re merely glass incubators has got to have something to do with further controlling women.

And that leads me onto my second issue with society’s attitude to pregnancy. We are still sexual! We may feel less like having sex when we’re gassy, exhausted and 20lbs heavier than we’re used to, but again, that’s not for you to decide. I recently went to see the actor, stand-up and living fucking dreamboat Rob Delaney at the Southbank Centre. He was exquisite and filthy and loving and horrendous and hilarious and all the things I adore about him. But he also did a good five minutes on how when his wife is pregnant and horny he drops the earth to satisfy the situation immediately and not just because the moment might be fleeting but because he also just finds pregnant women so fucking sexy. GASPS! MONOCLES DROPPING INTO TEA CUPS! FAINTING! But they have babies in their bodies! Yes we do, thanks, dummies. But, as I’ve mentioned, we ourselves are not babies. We’re adults. Adults who still like sex. Even if we’re mostly just privately wanking when we’ve gone to sleep on the sofa-bed because we’re too hot and windy to share a mattress. We don’t need to be cast into some sort of ‘completed’ pile like a finished computer game.  Procreating isn’t the same as defeating Bowser. Don’t put me on EBay yet! You might want to play me again! This analogy is a bit weak but you get the idea. And it’s perfectly OK and normal to fancy women who are pregnant. It’s not weird or perverted and it doesn’t require special mention that you’re finding them attractive in spite of the fact they’re pregnant like ‘she’s fit in spite of being a massive racist’ because unlike being a massive racist, pregnancy isn’t awful and gross, it’s just normal nature being normal. You were perfectly happy to accept sex being the way women get pregnant so please accept that it’s normal throughout. If not a little bit more scarce.

So the next time a big retailer plans their next year’s maternity range it’d be great not to see any babydoll dresses, dungarees or polka dots. I mean I’ll be buying all of these things; obviously, I’m not going to go nudey for the next 18 weeks and besides dungarees just don’t really have a wrong place. But it’d be so nice if there was a range that could encourage the bizarre notion that pregnant women are capable, powerful, sexual and stylish adults. And please for all pregnant women’s self-esteem’s [and my pistachio vulnerability’s] sake put them with all the other adult clothing! Thank you.

This Is Me

The taboo surrounding post-natal depression has been all but smashed to pieces in the last 15 years or so. We’ve made very fast but long-awaited progress in a lot of areas of mental health, if not in treatment then at least in attitudes. It might not feel to sufferers like the stigma surrounding their condition has lifted but from the outside looking in we know there’s been huge growth in what we’re talking about, what we’re bringing to light and how we normalise conditions that were previously ‘other.’ I have very much felt like I’m back on the inside, recently, unable to connect with ‘normal’ and feeling totally and utterly other. But I don’t think that feeling has been entirely without reason, because we’re still not talking about antenatal depression.

This week has been a really, really tough one. I think it’s been the first week where my inability to cope has completely ruined Dan too. And when he breaks I break double. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of our home life and how miserable we’ve both been. But let’s just say that unhappiness has had the majority rule, and we’re usually a very cheery household.

Yesterday, however, we had a bit of breakthrough. We talked. And we’ve talked before, we’re not ones to repress. But yesterday we really talked, and it was brutal. The trouble with antenatal (much like post-natal) depression is that it comes with all these other knock-on emotions, as a result of the issue but also exacerbating it. At my lowest, recently, I feel worthless, completely demotivated and unable to care. I have sat for an hour or more, staring at the same spot, unaware of time passing because I don’t want anything. Not even the banality of nothingness can touch me, I am numb. Then there’s the sadness, which is possibly worse, a crippling undone feeling that I convince myself won’t ever go away because it feels so completely everything. I’ve had depression before, I recognise these feelings, but in that moment when I’m so engulfed in the black cloud, I don’t remember feeling better again. And then there’s the guilt, the shame and, worst of all, the self-hatred. Everything about being pregnant is new and surprising and alien, but nothing feels more alien to me than not being a nice person. I know I’ve been unkind recently. I am just not me at times. I’ve never been a jealous, resentful or bitter person, I’ve never coveted things or even felt like I’ve been dealt a raw deal. In fact most of the time I consider myself pretty lucky. Mentally I’ve just lost my way the past few weeks, and I don’t like this me; it isn’t me.

Although it is easy enough to say that’s just not me, I think an important part of mine and Dan’s breakthrough this week was being able to admit, This Is Me. This is who I am right now, it might not be pleasant and it might not be true to myself, but it’s what’s happening and it isn’t permanent. Never forget that this isn’t permanent – it’s so easy to forget that. So I told Dan the frightening and unreal thoughts I’d been having, in this here brain that isn’t me but really is me. I told him that I have felt unable to care about him at times, and sometimes felt like I simply don’t, or can’t love him. I’ve told him that I‘ve wanted to disappear and just not exist just to make it easier for him. I’ve told him about the times I delay coming home in the evening just to save him from being around me. I explained that I wanted him to suffer too, I resented him not having to change, physically and chemically to the extreme that I had and would. None of the feelings I’ve been experiencing are fair or just; and the guilt and shame of having those thoughts, and the constant fear that I won’t love my baby isn’t needed. I’m not doing this because I’m a bad person and I know I’m going to love my baby, I know that. Dan listened to me, and he told me how he’s been feeling, and that made me break with sadness, because I never, ever want to hurt him, but to be honest I’ve not been thinking about him.

More than anything he made it clear that he understands – and I don’t think he meant for a second that he knows what it’s like, he’s not pregnant and can’t be and it’d be gross if he pretended he’s got the first idea – but he made me feel totally normal for having what are, frankly, bat-shit thoughts. I know he’s been suffering too, I just didn’t want to think about it, or anything for that matter. We’re a week away from our 20 weeks scan and I truly believe this will be a turning point, but I am still going to talk to my midwife about counselling. I think it’s easy to ignore the extreme lows when you’re not in one, hoping that the last one was just that. Sadly it’s never that easy with mental health issues and I’m old enough and ugly enough to know better. I spoke to my midwife in my first appointment about feeling low and I feel confident about speaking up again. I am determined not to take this condition with me through the next 20 weeks and if I can get on top of it now I think I have a much better chance of dodging, or at least dealing with, post-natal depression.

Is anything helping?

Today I went for my third swim of the long weekend, and so gave in and bought myself swimming membership. It’s been so nice to be swimming again, I used to do a lot of training as a kid and have always found it incredibly comforting as well as being a good workout. It’s also a great place to be alone with your thoughts, free from any other distractions, even music or podcasts. Just the splashing of the other swimmers around you and occasional shrieks of kids in the training pool if you swim during the day! The ritualistic element helps me focus, and even the water itself feels very cleansing, you leave something behind in that pool. Metaphorically, I mean – I never pee in the pool. I would really recommend swimming for anyone who is finding their pregnancy difficult mentally. I fell out of love with the gym when I first fell pregnant, my hormones were too raging and my self-esteem was too low to be around other women all bendy and stretchy and looking like a bunch of goddesses out to humiliate me with their non-pregnant bodies. (Yes mental I know shut up.) Running is a bust because I can’t get further than a few metres without needing a piss and I already cycle for 90 minutes a day commuting so it doesn’t really feel like extra exercise. But swimming is my saviour and I will keep this cheap, healthy and meditative therapy up for as long as I can because I think it really is making a difference.

Being honest with people. And anyone who makes you feel like you can’t be needs to take a good, hard look at themselves. Talking is vital, it’s been really hard for me to do, I just want to be better and say no more about it, but you have to talk first and it has to be honest. Writing has also helped me a lot. I’ve never felt like I could write a blog, I wanted things I authored to be more profound and exceptional than what is essentially a bit of an online diary, but now I don’t care about being the next Margaret Atwood. I just want to vent a bit and hopefully help a few people along the way.

Just remember people aren’t talking about depression in pregnancy like they are PND, so you’re going to have to be brave and speak up if you’re suffering. I know I’m bigger and better than depression, but I know I’m only human and that’s why it’s been so important for me to admit I’m part of this. Until you own your role in your mental health, you can’t make it any better. So this is me.

Love and strength to you.