All around you: the not-quite pregnant

One of the many ways in which I seek to enhance the crapness of my concentration skills is to chat with friends over email when I’m meant to be working / taking care of the kids / throwing kittens into wheelie bins.* Only this morning a group of us were discussing how long we’d been in our respective jobs, and I found myself confessing that this was the longest I’d ever been in one position without either switching companies or going on maternity leave. Now this happens to worry me a great deal; it seems that in the past I’ve always managed to sneak off to do baby stuff just as the shit was about to hit the fan. Not so this time; I’m here indefinitely (or until they find out about the kittens), and next time it all goes wrong they’ll realize that it was me all along. “So”, I typed away cheerily, “I’d just better get preggers again.” Then I clicked “send” and immediately felt like a complete and utter cow.

The reason for my guilt (beyond the usual, low-level guilt I experience all the time for happening to be a bit of a tosser) is that one of my friends on the mailing list is trying to get pregnant. Or I think she is. For all I know, she’s in the early stages of pregnancy already and just not saying. I have no idea. But I do know how shitty trying to conceive can be. Witnessing someone who already has kids merrily quip about “just getting preggers again” could be the thing that makes it that bit shittier.

The trouble is, people don’t talk about trying to conceive, or all the crap that happens along the way. Or rather, they do, all the time, but rarely beyond the context of DON’T LEAVE IT TOO LATE CAREER WOMAN OR YOU’LL REGRET IT! or LOOK AT THOSE PEOPLE HAVING IVF! AREN’T THEY ALL HORRIBLY MIDDLE-CLASS! What bothers me is that on a daily basis, in your workplace and amongst your friends, you could be surrounded by people going through the monthly misery of waiting for that blue line to appear and you wouldn’t even know it. You might babble away about pregnancy and babies as though anyone who wants them can have them. But it’s obviously not true, and even if it happens for most people in the end, in the early stages it can feel like it never will. Hence the sheer presumptuousness of others – “well, I can always squeeze out another one!” – can be incredibly painful.

After my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I remember reading an article in Pregnancy and Birth about “how to talk to your friend when you’re pregnant and she wants to be”. I will admit that I was a bit, well, sensitive at the time, but even now just the memory of that piece makes me bloody furious. The “advice” essentially ran like this:

  1. Poor, poor barren friend, how sad, we’re all so sorry <yawn>
  2. You are an exceptional friend for considering her feelings, what with you having your pregnancy and your wonderful fecund self to worry about
  3. Keep your distance “until she’s ready to come round” i.e. do fuck all cos it’s hardly your fault, is it?

Got that? Now fuck off, barren woman, and stop pissing on our happy pregnancy party.

While it’s true that Pregnancy and Birth isn’t always so crass and does at times include “specials” on infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, the fact is that magazines such as this do not represent reality, and quite the level of suffering there is. A shocking percentage of wanted pregnancies do not lead to live births. And while you want pregnancy itself to be exciting – because it is – treating it as something which “ordinarily” goes well can have a devastating effect on those for whom it doesn’t.

I wish people talked about it more. Back when I first found out I was pregnant I was a right blabbermouth, not out of some wish to break the taboo, but because I’m just useless at shutting up about things like that. I broke the pregnancy law and told friends and colleagues way before the magic 12 weeks. But the strange thing is, I’m really glad I did. When it did all go wrong, people around me knew how much it had mattered to me. And while it might have been uncomfortable for them, it was hugely comforting to me, and yes, that’s selfish, but I think at those times you’re allowed to be. I’m glad I didn’t have to be the woman miscarrying in silence to spare everyone else’s blushes.

For that reason I also admire Penelope Trunk for tweeting about her (wanted) miscarriage (mind you, the way I’m getting with Twitter, it goes without saying that I’d like any woman who reveals things she shouldn’t at the mere sight of a hashtag). Miscarriage is really, really normal. Even so, it can hurt a lot, but only depending on who you are and what you want.

I don’t know if my friend is pregnant, or has miscarried, or is going through the long-drawn-out misery of checking for fertile days and finding that sex has become the grimmest task in the world.** She might not be going through any of these things. I don’t know, but it scares me that there’s so much not-knowing and so much risk of hurting people without realizing it.

Well, this is all getting a bit fucking worthy. Off to dispose of more kittens.

* Yes, that was me.

** Note to self: don’t drift into picturing friends having miserable sex.