After I first read Rebecca Frech’s crisis pregnancy post, I shared it on Facebook with some reflections that eventually became my own contribution to the conversation. One of my friends agreed with the main point of the post, but said she didn’t think it was a good idea to speak to unmarried or newly pregnant women about the potential trials of pregnancy. She said she liked to “just focus on the positive” and “shield young ([especially] non mothers or unmarried) girls from too much talk of how hard it could be.”
I understand where she’s coming from. After all, plenty of women are already afraid of pregnancy and parenthood, without us adding to it. But if women are surrounded by messages that pregnancy is supposed to make you feel natural and empowered and joyful and radiant, what’s going to happen when they get pregnant unexpectedly? In addition to the surprise, (and the heartburn, and the nausea, and the sciatica, and the weight gain, and the carpal tunnel, and the varicose veins, and the insomnia…) they are going to feel horribly guilty about their mixed emotions. They will feel alone, because everyone else seems to be handling pregnancy just fine. And this fear and guilt and loneliness will push them a little closer towards abortion.
I am not recommending that we just focus on the negative; I’m talking about giving women the whole picture. We need to be giving women a three-part message: (1) pregnancy can be horrible, and that’s normal; (2) you are not alone, and we will support you; and (3) pregnancy is worth it. Shielding them is not going to help them deal with the inevitable trials of pregnancy; but because we’re also letting them know that the baby is worth the suffering, we’re giving them the tools they need to get through it.
My friend explained that the other reason she believed in “focusing on the positive” was that “attitude is huge in determining whether [pregnant women] will have a good time or a hard time of it.” Now, as far as I understand, this has some psychological truth behind it; being positive really does help us with deal with rough times. But when it comes to the experience of pregnancy, which is so emotional and life-changing, and varies so much from woman to woman, I think this is an extremely dangerous idea. If someone had told me that I should try to have a more positive attitude during my last pregnancy, I would have been very angry, because it sounds unsympathetic: “if you weren’t so negative, you would feel better!” And I would have felt guilty. Inside me, a little voice would repeat that advice over and over again, whispering, “this is all your fault. If you weren’t such a wimp, and if you were more open to life, you wouldn’t be complaining.” Now let me tell you: this pregnancy was so bad that at one point this thought entered my mind: “if this was torture, I would have given in long ago and done everything they wanted me to.” No amount of good attitude is going to help with that. Now imagine a woman who has it much worse than me: maybe she has hyperemesis gravidarum, maybe she’s homeless, maybe she’s being abused by her boyfriend; do you think we did her a favor by telling her that pregnancy would be fine if she had a good attitude?
There’s more to say, but I think I’m in enough trouble for today. Tomorrow or the day after I’d like to talk a little bit about the effects of sheltering people when it comes to sex education and preparing for childbirth.
EDITED TO ADD:
I don’t mean to criticize my friend who suggested focusing on the positive. I know she has our best interests in mind, and would never come out and say “if you’re having a hard time, it’s your fault.” However, the insidious voice inside my head hears it that way. Even when we mean well, we need to be very careful what we say to pregnant women–guilt and shame are always waiting in the wings.