Pregnancy story for International Women's Day by Tanya
If you’re a woman, you know what day it is today. For some time, I’ve been pondering writing about one of the highlights of my pregnancy, and today seems a fitting time to put it out there.
Before I start, this post isn’t about negating the important role men play in pregnancy. I can’t think about the support I’ve had from my partner, male friends and relatives etc. without sniffling, because that’s what I do now when a positive emotion springs up. As the person who served me a delicious decaf coffee then had to get me tissues to dry my eyes will tell you (…it’s just so *sniff* good *sniff*…). Yes, the men in my life are compassionate and patient and involved.
But the first time a woman I don’t know terribly well described the routine of their perineal massage to me it hit me like a brick to the forehead. Women will share anything. And they share it because they want to help. Not because they’re being didactic, or preachy, or showing off. But because they’ve been there, they know it’s like a grenade went off in your brain – your life – and their instinct is to ease you through it.
It’s not that women who are mothers are any better at this than those who aren’t. It’s more that conception and pregnancy has been the most concentrated period of time in my life where I’ve needed high levels of support and where I’ve felt more comfortable asking for it. I’m also thousands of miles away from my family and most of my close friends. When you meet with a friend and they talk you through difficulties over coffee you come away thanking the stars for your amazing friends. When you feel alone and isolated in a strange place and a colleague of your husband’s who’s just given birth seeks you out and goes out of their way to nurture you through the early stages of pregnancy, you come away thanking the stars for womankind (and new found friends).
When we were trying for children for months and nothing was really happening, I didn’t talk about it loads. Where was the use? We either could, or we couldn’t. What could anyone do to change that? But one friend in particular recognised I might need looking after, despite not having tried for children or been a mother herself. She checked on me from a different continent. She sent me blogs other women had written, she sent encouragement and she helped. She helped more than she realises I’m sure. But what struck me more than anything was that she was thinking of me, and her behaviour highlights this kind of feminine community spirit that has come to permeate my existence.
I felt, and I feel, humbled by the propensity of all the mothers I’ve encountered to give. It’s made me reflect on myself. I’m ashamed of a previous perception I’d had that pregnancy turned the attention inwards, to a single priority excluding others. I am seeing something entirely different. Yes, mothers value their children above all else. But their compulsion to nurture other mothers is striking. I am seeing the web of human connection working as perfectly as it possibly can. My perception of social media has changed utterly. I’ve gone from being disgusted with the way people communicate online – comment sections packed with stereotypes and personal insults – to seeking it out fervently when I’m in need. In the Facebook group for mothers in the city I live in, women are open with their questions and anxieties, and there is no single post that goes unanswered with a comment of advice and support. Rarely, if ever, do I see posters being attacked as I have done in so many other online spaces.
I know there’s a flip side to this. Women, mothers, judge each other just like anyone else – particularly from the safe anonymity of the internet. There are forums where this side to it is visible too. But I can’t say I’ve inhabited those spaces much. And in day to day life it just hasn’t been my experience. I’ve asked online where I can get so-and-so and been flooded with advice and responses. I’ve seen women panicking on baby forums receive a deluge of reassurance and shared experiences. I’ve cried in the presence of women I never met before and they comforted me with well-considered advice, without hesitation. Coconut sellers, waitresses and street vendors show an interest in me. How many months? Boy or girl? Be careful on that step! You look beautiful (words which are manna from heaven to a woman who sees a perspiring walrus in the mirror). When you feel like you’ve disappeared into a well of antenatal anxiety and confusion, to be bought to life and made special in this way is restorative and energising: a pure act of generosity on the part of the person (almost exclusively female) who has reached out.
My mother has been a beacon of positivity through the most testing times of my pregnancy, sharing experiences we’ve never discussed before (to my shame). One friend, not a mother herself, sent me the most thoughtful package imaginable, full of treats for me and the baby, but most important of all, full of resources to keep me writing. Again, I’m not sure she quite gets how much this meant. But for her to be acknowledging and encouraging my pre-pregnancy life and talents at a time where it’s easy to forget who I am, was quite simply a beam of light shone into my consciousness. Thoughtful, considerate, loving, selfless.
Today there are important discussions to be had about how women are treated around the world. Of course there’s debate and battle and negativity to be fought.
But it’s also a day to be thankful for all that makes us women. Take some time to consider the love and kindness the women in your life have proffered – family, friends and strangers. And to acknowledge the power your femininity brings to you. We’re not afraid to need each other, and we’re certainly not reluctant to be there when we’re needed. Mums or not, we are solidarity and strength. I’m thankful for my growing baby every day, and one of the main reasons is that they’ve helped me to recognise this like never before.