I’ll never forget the woman who told me the only childbirth and motherhood tip I truly needed.
Pregnancy is supposed to be a wondrous and magical time. You are growing a brand-new person and planning lovingly for their arrival. You get to buy tiny clothes and paint a nursery in powdery, whimsical colours. Evenings are spent cuddling on the couch with your partner and caressing your growing belly. You can eat for two.
Unfortunately, anyone who is currently pregnant or who has ever been pregnant knows that this is not the full story. Not only can it feel like a nine-month hangover, but it is a constant firestorm of people telling you horror stories of their own pregnancies and labours.
When I was pregnant for the first time I was ambushed constantly. Not being much of a sharer myself, these stories made me feel very uncomfortable, and they always seemed to happen when I had no escape – in a business meeting, in line at the grocery store, on an elevator. For months and months, it felt like all I heard about was how hard everything was going to be. Things were going to rip and tear, my husband was never going to see me the same way again, labour was going to be more painful than dental surgery and being shot all at the same time. As someone who really, really hates dental surgery, I was growing more and more worried about the actual birth. Just the word “tear” still makes me feel like thousands of bugs are crawling all over my skin.
But that’s not all! People also tell you that things don’t get better after childbirth. Once the baby arrives you will never sleep again. Your social life will dry up. No one will want to hang out with you because your life will be so incredibly dull and you will turn into one of those people who talks about their baby all. The. Time. Your career? Ha! That’s over, too. You won’t have the same time to dedicate to work, so all the exciting projects and promotions will go to other people. Plus, you have to take all that time off for maternity leave, and then there’s mommy brain…
It was endless. There was no escaping the barrage of unwelcome information about everything from swelling to wetting to leaking. All the negativity was weighing heavily on my already significantly heavier shoulders. After a few months of these conversations I avoided all eye contact with people and started driving to work rather than risk getting cornered on a crowded subway platform. It was months before the baby would arrive and I was already convinced I had ruined my looks, my marriage, my social life, and my career. After all, these people must know what they were talking about. They had already lived through it.
Then one day the clouds unexpectedly parted. I was wrapping up a meeting with a new client who was so elegant, I spent whole meetings consciously trying not to get lost in thoughts of her perfectly pinned hair. As I was packing up my things she turned to me and said, “You know, it’s not that bad.” “Pardon me?” I was confused because a moment earlier we were discussing a new product launch and rapid topic shifts were not my forte while pregnant (or, admittedly, while not pregnant). “Having a baby,” she said while motioning unamusedly to my belly as though it were some dirty laundry I had brought to the meeting. “Everyone makes a big deal about it, but when I had my son it wasn’t that bad. You just do it and it’s fine.”
I nearly fell over. Not that bad? It was as though she had just told me Santa Claus was a real man living at the North Pole. This was so different from all the other things I had heard. I wanted to kiss her and her perfect hair. Thankfully, I didn’t, but her comment made me realize something incredibly important. Everyone has their own experience. All the people who had been telling me their stories were telling me their stories. Not my story. My story could be something different. My story didn’t have to be something awful. My story could be not-that-bad. It could even, maybe, possibly, be something good.
Linsey Nogueira Flannery is a public relations executive turned stay-at-home mom. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children. This is an excerpt from her first book, Unfudge Yourself: A Parent’s Guide to Happiness, copyright 2020.