Monday, October 30, 2006

picture this

You're 31 years old, in a pleasant but casual relationship with a much younger man. You share a house with your brother, have a stable job that pays OK and you have a fun and busy social life. Some people might see you as a bit of a party girl, burning the candle at both ends.

Then one morning when you get up to go to work you realise you're feeling really unwell. You can't put your finger on it but the vague feeling of queasiness you had last night has intensified and somehow your whole body feels wrong. You call in sick, make an appointment with your GP and call your boyfriend to come and take you to see the doctor. As the moments tick by you are feeling worse and worse. Waves of nausea and terrible belly ache have you lying on the couch, and even when your boyfriend arrives you find it hard to get up.

Suddenly you think that perhaps if you did a big poo you might feel a little relief before you get in the car. You feel totally constipated, you strain and wait and strain and wait, but nothing's happening. By this time your boyfriend is banging on the door, worried you've been in there too long and you are going to miss your appointment. So he comes in.

You see immediately from the look on his face as he dives across the room, swearing, that something is wrong. He reaches in under you and you realise something really strange is happening, that there's something coming out of you. You're too shocked to make sense of it, only barely register that your brother's calling for an ambulance, that you can feel something enormous, something you've never felt before.

It's not until you are sitting in the ambulance on the way to hospital a few minutes later that it sinks in.

"That was a baby, wasn't it?" You ask the paramedic.
"Yeah, it is," she says.
"Is it alive?" You don't even think to look for yourself.
"Yes, she is, she's fine."

And that's when you first realise. You've just become a mother.

Urban myth? Can you believe it? Can you picture ever being in this situation?

I've met the woman who told me this story, I interviewed her for a documentary project I was doing a while ago. Her story has been on my mind because she's just had her second child - although for her it was like a first pregnancy. I'm sure she's been doing a lot of remembering and a lot of pennys have been dropping about what happened last time.

When I talk about her story, I'll call her Sarah, I find almost universal skepticism. No one, particularly women, are prepared to believe that you could progress through an entire pregnancy and not know. How could you not know?

When you think about the massive changes you experience you think there could be no other explanation than knowing there's a baby inside you. But for Sarah, the collection of changes she experienced did not create the assumption of maternity.

For a start she continued to have periods whilst pregnant. Like most women, she believed that the presence of periodic bleeding definitively ruled out pregnancy. She'd never had a regular or predictable cycle, so if the bleeding was a little erratic, that wasn't unusual.

Similarly, she's had a history of weight gain and loss, so when she put on some weight (not much mind you), she didn't think too much about it. The wriggling in her tummy? A rich and erratic diet, too much drinking and not enough sleep. Because pregnancy wasn't in her frame of reference she sought and found alternative explanations for the things she felt.

She's not stupid, or crazy or in deep denial. She didn't not want to face up to her pregnancy, in fact she loves being a mother and her relationship has gone from strength to strength since her baby came into it. And if you had the slightest inkling you were having a baby do you think for a moment you would let it drop into a toilet bowl?

Sarah's story remains a great lesson to me in how much what we believe about a situation shapes our understanding of it, and how constrained we can be from seeing things clearly when we think our perspective is the only one possible, the right one. Sarah firmly believed she couldn't be pregnant, so firmly that in the throes of labour she couldn't think beyond a bad case of food poisoning. I firmly believed that because pregnancy was an all consuming state for me that I couldn't possibly have not known exactly what was happening to me.

When I think about it, I realise there are many many situations I am in everyday where what I see and hear and understand are based to a large degree on what I believed before I got there. Like Alison's experience of breastfeeding zealots, I also encounter a lot of people whose views of the world place limits around what they are able to see and understand and how they judge.

I try hard to get past those constraints - my own constraints and those of others. I try to challenge myself to look at things from other people's point of view, to see how a few different decisions along the way might have led me in very different directions, and to very different beliefs. Sometimes that's a real ask, and connecting to some people and their take on things is beyond me. Sometimes (most times) I am so unaware of how I'm filtering things that I don't even know that I'm being constrained.

But other times my preparedness to rethink something I once held firmly is deeply illuminating. Sometimes someone pushes me to the point where I am forced to shift my perspective. Sometimes a Sarah comes into your world and says just because something is true for some people, even the vast majority of people, it isn't necessarily true for everyone.

4 Comments:

Blogger caroline said...

I used to think the whole not knowing you were pregnant thing was a myth. A convenient way of not facing up to the truth. That was until I met a mid-wife who had a baby (not her first) without realising she was pregnant. The great thing about life is there are always things to challenge your views.

7:52 am  
Anonymous carolyn said...

FYI my mom literally did not know she was pregnant with me until she was a full three months gone. because she had always had an erratic period and at 1.5 months she had what she thought was a super bad period, what she was later told was probably a near-miscarriage. (plus it was 1968 you know, not modern times, there were no easily available pregnancy tests, etc.)

so she had this heavy period. waited another 1.5. thought hmmm, where is my period now? and eventually found out she was preggers. it was quite the shock!

7:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not even people who know they are pregnant always recognise labour: I didn't. That wasn't from lack of education - I'd done two antenatal courses, read massively, it was the early hours of my due date, and I still didn't realise the nausea and period-like pain was labour.

In my defense, I was expecting a much longer labour, which began slowly: instead, I slept through the first stage, and within three hours of waking up, I had had the baby.

12:55 am  
Anonymous Adele said...

Like Caroline, I had my doubts about women who claimed not to know about their pregnancy. But a close friend recently told me she was 30 weeks before she found out she was pregnant - she has irregular periods, gained little weight, and put the tiredness down to narcolepsy.

6:10 pm  

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