Growing a child is one of the most remarkable joys one can experience; but nothing that amazing is ever easy.
While it’s human nature to be curious, and widely understood that the community wants to be the village — even before the baby arrives — what’s not always discussed is how much and what kind of attention an expecting parent wants and needs.
It’s usually during the last three months of a pregnancy that a developing baby’s weight begins to increase rapidly. Once that belly pops and people start to notice, the inevitable questions follow, starting with: “How many weeks/months along are you?”
It’s usually at that point that the inquiring minds become experts, following up with observations or judgments like “Oh wow, you’re really small.” Or for those showing more: “Are you sure it’s not twins?”
While some are proud of their growing body and want to share their experience, others may have insecurities and worries that are agitated and even provoked by unsolicited advice or questions. Someone suffering from morning sickness who “appears small,” may jump to some unpleasant conclusions, while another who “looks big” may worry about the baby’s head size and the impending labour.
Those who are pregnant can feel ashamed that they aren’t living up to societal expectations; these feelings even have the potential to spiral downward into postpartum depression (PPD), which can actually start during pregnancy and continue for approximately a year after childbirth.
Up to 10 percent of new parents living in cities in economically developed countries like Canada experience clinically significant PPD. The rate in the rural U.S. and in developing countries is two to three times higher, according to the Canadian Psychological Association.
With this in mind, it’s society’s responsibility to approach dialogue with care. The reality is that pregnancy, labour, and the joys of parenthood invite new experiences and a world of unknowns. The community needs to be mindful and consider a pregnant person’s vulnerability before broaching topics with insensitive language.
It’s time to replace phrases like “you’re huge,” “you’re tiny,” or “how many are in there?” with more supportive remarks, like “pregnancy suits you,” or simply, “congratulations!”
Yet the closer someone gets to giving birth, the more others seem to feel the need to pass on so-called sage advice that has the potential to be counterproductive if delivered the wrong way.
Rather than imparting advice like “enjoy your last sleep,”’ “your body will never be the same,” or “it’s the most painful experience you’ll ever go through,” try to resist the need to over-share or lecture. Don’t recount the trials and tribulations of your own experience in a way that borders on fear-mongering; instead, reflect on the gifts that pregnancy brings, offer suggestive care plans, or recommend experts in your community.
The journey is both short and long, social and individual. From the first sound of that tiny heartbeat, the strongest bond is formed. The body surrenders to the marvel of pregnancy and a parent learns to be more adaptive, patient, and caring. Through reflection one gains strength and understanding, and readies oneself for the challenge of labour and the intensity of caring for a newborn.
The lifetime of learning a parent signs up for can be met with some doubt and guilt even in the best of scenarios; that’s why it is so important to stay positive and lift one another up.
Having and raising a child is an opportunity to see what you’re made of; it requires reaching deep inside yourself — for strength you didn’t know was there — and launching yourself into unfamiliar territory.
If we, as a society, change the way we approach discussing pregnancy to a model that’s supportive and warm-intentioned, our advice can carry expecting parents more blissfully into the challenging but rewarding realm of parenthood — and that will benefit us all.
World Maternal Mental Health Day is May 1. Mountain Midwives serves Rossland, Trail, Castlegar, Fruitvale and the surrounding areas. Your local midwife is happy to be contacted with 250-231-0656 for any questions you may have.