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When I was carrying my twin girls, I bonded with friendly strangers over bizarre food cravings, unprecedented spousal solicitousness, and even descriptions of potentially worrisome cervical discharge. How could I not? As soon as women see your titanic belly ready to burst forth with imminent adorableness, they simply must comment on your radiance and relay their own pregnancy tales. This compulsion, of course, comes from a good place: the desire to share in your presumed joy. But I always felt a bit outside the club when someone would inevitably say, "Pregnancy was the most wonderful time of my life. Especially after the first trimester, I felt great, physically and emotionally. I wanted to have sex, like, all the time, and the orgasms were off the charts! I felt like I could do anything! Don't you?"
Somehow, "Nope, I actually feel like complete and utter crap!" didn't seem appropriate. Nor did "I haven't slept well in months, I am exhausted and anxious, and I can't keep anything down except Popsicles -- specifically, orange ones -- and it might be my imagination, but I think even my face is getting wider!" Admitting that I irrationally resented my husband for knocking me up also didn't seem right, especially since we had undergone infertility treatments. Clearly, I had asked for this! I had no sex drive and was so big that even if I had wanted to have an orgasm, I'm not sure anyone could have found the key parts.
When talking to a close friend in those early months, I'd admit that I wished I could go to sleep and wake up on my due date with two clean, pink little sweeties who were no longer occupying my body like antigovernment protesters. Aside from being totally thrilled with the strongest, longest fingernails I've ever had, I'd never felt worse. I knew I'd love my girls; that wasn't the issue. The issue was that I wanted my body back, like, yesterday.
Thanks to the nausea, heartburn, and near immobility in the later weeks, I didn't get to enjoy many of the things I had been looking forward to, like eating doctor-sanctioned extra calories, calmly shopping for the ideal city stroller, or taking prenatal yoga classes, for instance. I tried yoga once, early in my second trimester, and accidentally invented a new position: hyperventilating cow. I wound up lying on the mat, panting and marveling at what the other women's bodies were able to do. I didn't feel beautiful; I felt huge and ungainly.
I read about moms who played their fetuses Spanish language tapes, exercised, and ate perfectly to produce healthy, brilliant babies. I worried that I wasn't able to give mine even the bare minimum in utero: sustenance and a stress-free environment in which to thrive.
And it wasn't just the physical discomfort. I was pretty freaked out about the fact that I was having twins. When you've had a hard time getting pregnant, you really don't imagine that you'll end up with multiples, even though you've been told the odds. It took me the entire pregnancy to wrap my brain around the fact that I was going to need lots of help, probably more than I was comfortable accepting. My irritability didn't exactly help my relationship with my husband, either. He tried to be supportive, but it's pretty hard to support a two-ton cauldron of hormones with constipation.
I knew I wasn't the only one who wasn't having a "good" pregnancy. I couldn't be, or that term wouldn't even exist. By midway through my 37 weeks, I'd openly admit to anyone who'd listen that, no, this wasn't the best time of my life, and in fact I couldn't wait for it to be over. A few others acknowledged that while they, too, considered themselves blessed, being pregnant basically sucked. After a while, I stopped feeling bad about feeling bad and just went with it, which made me feel better.
Courtesy of Stephanie Dolgoff
Still, I was surprised that so few women alluded to anything but rosy memories. Maybe this is because they so love the result of their pregnancies -- their children -- that they've let the unpleasant parts fade from their psyches. Perhaps it felt like a betrayal of their babies to admit that their pregnancies were not so wonderful. I know my own initial hesitation in being more candid came from the pressure I felt to act as if everything was perfect. You have to believe you can do this motherhood thing. It's too late to back out! So you choose to fake it until you make it.
Eventually, of course, the babies came out, and I was finally able to begin the real business of motherhood. In retrospect, I see that pregnancy is to parenting as planning a wedding is to marriage. We have so many expectations of what the experience will be like, and we work so hard to make it perfect, when the truth is, what really matters is the lifelong relationship that follows.
If you're like me and pregnancy isn't the glowy, glorious experience you expected, rest assured that's fine. Take it from the mother of now 10-year-old daughters: You have a lot to look forward to. I promise you, having them outside your body is a whole lot more fun than inside, where you can't even hug them.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.