Early pregnancy: Like the X-Factor, and not in a good way

Post written on 8th January 2015

At the time of writing this I am 5 weeks pregnant – so not very pregnant at all. My period is late, my breasts are sore and the blue line on the test leaves no doubt, but it is early days and I am 39. I don’t know what the risk of miscarriage is but I know it will be much higher than when I lost a pregnancy at 31. I have not looked it up. What good would it do? But I am worrying, all the time.

I cannot stand the worry of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that time when you know something is inside you and that that something could be everything or nothing. The alternatives could not be more extreme. I could have a baby before the year is out or I could be empty-handed. There is no consolation prize – perhaps a niece or nephew, or a cute kitten. Nothing could replace the loss, and the risk of losing is so high.

I have developed various psychological ruses to try to make early pregnancy more bearable. I am not yet “mummy” to this thing inside me (currently the size of a sesame seed). I pretend it’s like the X-Factor. I am not “having a baby”; I have merely entered a competition that involves many, many stages. A positive pregnancy test is just getting through the judges’ auditions (trying to conceive being the producer trial run). Right now I’m nearing the stage where the heartbeat may or may not start; I look at my stomach and hope for a spark that I’ll be unable to see or feel. Getting that spark is being chosen for boot camp, then a positive 12-week scan is a trip to a judge’s house. Only after 24 weeks do you make it to the live final. I am exaggerating the odds deliberately. There is far more chance of me having a baby than there is of me winning the X-Factor. Yet pregnancy is unknowable and capricious. Like Simon Cowell.

And so the worry continues, with every twinge being a sign that it’s all gone wrong. That said, my miscarriage at 10 weeks was not heralded by stomach cramps (at first); it was the loss of hardness and sensitivity in my breasts. I simply no longer “felt” pregnant.

“But you’ve never been pregnant before!” said my partner, trying to be reassuring. “How would you know?”

But I just knew. Then again, I’ve “just known” it had all gone wrong during what turned out to be perfectly healthy pregnancies. Right now, for reassurance, I spend a lot of time prodding my breasts, hoping no colleagues on neighbouring desks notice. Then I worry that my breasts are only sore now because of all the prodding. Plus I don’t yet feel sick and I want to feel sick, just a bit (nothing too dramatic, obviously, but just so I know).

Sometimes I am afraid to move. I need to keep reminding myself that the following things do not, in all probability, lead to pregnancy loss:

  • Sneezing / coughing / “over-exertion”(which could of course mean anything)
  • Decaffeinated coffee which your body “thinks” is caffeinated
  • Tempting fate by feeling happy about being pregnant
  • Tempting fate by telling people that you’re pregnant
  • Tempting fate by telling yourself “no, it’s nothing” every time you feel one of those “pains” which, a week ago, you wouldn’t have noticed at all

I tell myself that if it was that easy to end a pregnancy, women wouldn’t still be fighting and dying for basic reproductive rights. An unwanted pregnancy could be solved by downing a couple of espressos and jumping up and down on a trampoline while eating brie and yelling “I’M PREGGGGNAAAAANNNNT!” (in much the way Noddy Holder yells “It’s CHRISSSSTMAAAASSS!”). It is more difficult than that. When an embryo wants to stay put, it does (unfortunately you cannot persuade a reluctant one to remain in place by double-bluffing fate by pretending you don’t want to be pregnant at all; yes, I have tried).

There are of course some things which do cause miscarriage: chromosome abnormalities; placenta defects; sheep (I think – I vaguely remember something to do with sheep, but I am too scared to check and just remain thankful I don’t live in Cumbria any more). And there are things which increase the probability of having one: being over 35 (can’t do anything about that); having had a previous miscarriage (ditto); caffeine consumption (I’ve given up my daily dose, but what if the embryo doesn’t realise that Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Decaffeinated Columbian Fairtrade Ground Coffee isn’t the real thing? What if it “thinks” I’m not showing it sufficient respect and decides to sod off anyway?). The thing is, I just want you to stay, invisible sesame seed thing! And I don’t know what to do to make it happen! Please?

I do not want to feel this way. I want to feel like an all-powerful fertility goddess, brazenly creating new life, not some fear-filled failure, just waiting for it to all go wrong. Since I already know that pessimism does not lessen the pain of miscarriage, why not just cherish the hope while it lasts? Somehow I just can’t. Instead I’m counting down the days till I reach the judge’s house, hopefully not alone.

Postscript: I’m now at 20 weeks which, for some reason, feels like a psychological triumph, as though somehow the foetus and I have got here together by virtue of me thinking the “right” thoughts. The first trimester, which is always so grim, has finally come to an end (it is so much longer than 12 weeks!). I know that in truth I’m just lucky yet it always feels like more than luck – a moral test of sorts. I do think if we could find different, better ways of talking about this it might feel different.

Well, here’s hoping that publishing this doesn’t mess things up …

Advertisements

Plastic Woman, Cardboard Man, or, Can you have a feminism which doesn’t expect men to change?

In her masculinity-in-crisis moananthon The End of Men, Hanna Rosin introduces us to two characters: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Their purpose is to help us understand why today’s men are losing out to their female counterparts. It’s not that women are better than men, nor even that this whole “losing out” thing is a myth. It’s because women are adaptable and men aren’t. Lucky women. Poor men.

According to Rosin, Plastic Woman has “throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility” while Cardboard Man “hardly changes at all.” On the face of it, this sounds rather flattering to women. Men just plod along, being man-like, whereas we get to transform ourselves, Mr Benn-like, depending on whatever the circumstances (i.e. men) require. How cool is that? It’s in line with a lot of recent commentary on gender difference, which seeks to celebrate supposedly “feminine” characteristics – flexibility, patience, empathy – at the expense of supposedly “masculine” ones – rationality, stability, individualism. Women are, we are told, the new winners, both in the home and in the newly “feminised” workplace (it’s just unfortunate that those who live with us and those who decide on our salaries haven’t quite cottoned on to this. But never mind, the future’s female – it’s only the present that never is). Continue reading