The best thing about be­ing preg­nant? Telling peo­ple:

My friends’ re­ac­tions to my preg­nancy an­nounce­ment ranged from ut­ter dis­be­lief to, um, ut­ter dis­be­lief

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Tanya Sweeney

Here’s some­thing I wasn’t ex­pect­ing – one of the most en­ter­tain­ing things about preg­nancy is telling oth­ers about it.

I can barely hold my own wa­ter, so my lit­tle ‘se­cret’ didn’t last too long (be­sides, I was start­ing to show very early on. It was that or leave peo­ple as­sume I was pure beat­ing into the pasta).

As an aside, I’m not sure the 12-week em­bargo, mak­ing up tall tales about an­tibi­otics, hid­ing morn­ing sick­ness and se­cretly pass­ing on the baked Camem­bert, is all that healthy a cul­tural im­per­a­tive. Af­ter this 12-week point, of course, the risk of mis­car­riage drops sig­nif­i­cantly. It means women os­ten­si­bly spare them­selves a sit­u­a­tion where the dis­clo­sure of very happy news has to be fol­lowed by very sad news.

Yet, maybe if we talked more openly about preg­nancy in those first three months, a lot of women who en­dure a mis­car­riage or a preg­nancy that’s not so straight­for­ward might not feel so alone.

But any­way, I was never go­ing to be able to keep my gob shut, and that’s that.

Telling peo­ple might be fun, not that the con­ver­sa­tion it­self is re­motely in­ter­est­ing: say­ing “nope, no sick­ness, no crav­ings, a bit of tired­ness, but that’s about it” dozens of times is up there with the most bor­ing ex­changes you’re likely to have. Yet, once you break the news, you do need to go a bit ‘per­form­ing seal’. You are now a blessed ves­sel, a repos­i­tory for ev­ery­one else’s joys, ex­pec­ta­tions and good in­ten­tions, and you are sup­posed to be damned de­lighted about it. As you might imag­ine, my stock line – “yep, I’m just go­ing with the flow for now” – didn’t ex­actly pass muster.

Fine, it’s all a bunch of con­ver­sa­tional tics borne out of so­cial po­litesse, as op­posed to any­one re­ally car­ing whether you’ve eaten coal that day, but still.

Friends who are al­ready par­ents seemed de­lighted, as­sur­ing me it was the best thing I’ll ever do. Though I can con­ceive plenty of the amount of work in­volved in moth­er­hood, I can’t quite yet con­ceive of this love avalanche, so this was as­sur­ing to hear.

You also re­alise that if you are a woman an­nounc­ing a preg­nancy in your 40s, there is an as­sump­tion that you have been try­ing to make this hap­pen for a very long time. There’s a sense of hav­ing ‘caught’ a last chance some­how.

Prone to drama

My friends are prone to drama at the best of times, and though I’m fond of con­found­ing an ex­pec­ta­tion or two, I wasn’t ex­pect­ing the fol­low­ing re­sponses:

– The friend, walk­ing down the street with me, who screamed “F*** OFF” so loudly at me that peo­ple 100 yards down the road swiv­elled around, ex­pect­ing a full-blown do­mes­tic;

– The one who pro­claimed “af­ter this, ab­so­lutely any­thing in the world is pos­si­ble” (um, I have ovaries and a boyfriend. This isn’t ex­actly a mod­ern-day mir­a­cle);

– The pal who sat back at lunch, ex­haled

dra­mat­i­cally and de­clared, “I can­not be­lieve I am walk­ing back out into a world in which you are preg­nant” (worse things are go­ing on in the world. You’ll get over it);

– The friend who burst into emo­tional tears, mak­ing me feel slightly guilty that my own re­sponse wasn’t quite as ‘preg­nancy test TV ad­vert’;

– The close friend who re­acted to my coy dec­la­ra­tion about stick­ing on the lime and soda with a very con­cerned, “oh, right, okay” (did she think I was go­ing to ad­mit to a drink­ing prob­lem? How hard have I been par­ty­ing?);

– The sev­eral who gave me ex­treme side-eye and ob­served, “I thought you didn’t even like chil­dren” (yes, but even if you haven’t made re­peated and sus­tained dec­la­ra­tions about how much you want a child, it’s still le­gal to get preg­nant. But we’ll get back to this in a sec­ond);

– Both my broth­ers, who said the ex­act same thing: “Can I tell (the other)?” This was hot gos­sip and no mis­take.

For­mi­da­ble and out­landish

To be fair, I felt as though I were de­liv­er­ing a nugget as for­mi­da­ble and out­landish as if it were Lib­er­ace’s preg­nancy I was an­nounc­ing. Yet, the re­ac­tions of friends who have known me through my many sin­gle and child-free years gave me pause for thought. Some seemed gen­uinely per­plexed that I was ‘switch­ing teams’.

I’m not sure where the di­vid­ing line be­tween women who hap­pen to be par­ents and those who don’t ever came from. But it’s

very much there. (Oddly, this doesn’t ap­pear to hap­pen with men. There’s no such thing as a ‘non-dad’.)

And I’ve long talked up the joys of a child-free life, es­pe­cially in a cul­ture that treats women with­out chil­dren as some­how ‘lesser’, or some­how need­ing fig­ur­ing out. Only a few months ago, I ap­peared on ra­dio to dis­cuss a woman’s right to re­main child-free, with­out judge­ment.

I still be­lieve that a child-free life, whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, is won­der­ful: in fact, a part of me is in mourn­ing over the child-free per­son I thought I would al­ways be. But chang­ing your mind on whether or not to have chil­dren – or switch sides – is not dis­al­lowed.

I could eas­ily have been all in my head, but there was still a sense of mov­ing across the di­vide. Al­most im­me­di­ately, I felt oth­ers pull away, men­tally tick­ing me off their ‘avail­able for ad­ven­tures’ list and con­sign­ing me to an­other more bor­ing, un­avail­able group of peo­ple.

But as that one friend said, if I – who had writ­ten pub­licly about dis­as­trous, dis­heart­en­ing dates only a cou­ple of years ago – can an­nounce a preg­nancy, any­thing is in­deed pos­si­ble. Get me, a bea­con of hope.

Yet, whether women have chil­dren or not, they are united in their en­thu­si­asm to im­me­di­ately dis­pense ad­vice; the good, the bad, the poo-re­lated.

But that’s a con­ver­sa­tion for an­other day.

Tanya Sweeney is writ­ing a weekly col­umn about her preg­nancy.


“Whether women have chil­dren or not, they are united in their en­thu­si­asm to im­me­di­ately dis­pense ad­vice; the good, the bad, the poo-re­lated.”

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