Dear mama: don't listen to the stories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Warning: rant pending.

This is a little pep talk for everyone expecting (or one day hoping to expect, or friends with someone who is expecting) their first baby. It is called DON'T LISTEN TO THE STORIES.

You know the stories I’m talking about. The “You Will Never Sleep Again” stories. The “Your Breasts Will Sag Forever” stories. The stretch-mark stories and the projectile vomit stories and the no-sleep stories and the nappy-contents stories and the traumatic birth stories. Especially the traumatic birth stories.

My advice is this: stop listening to them! These stories will not help you but they will probably scare you. And there is so much GOOD about having a baby, and so much practical stuff that you NEED to know, why would you bother with the scary, unhelpful stuff?

It’s like a trigger flips inside grandmothers and mothers and aunties and sisters and cousins and friends and complete strangers that makes them want to spill their most intimate and, in many cases, their worst labour experiences to expectant mothers.

I don't get it! Are they thinking expecting mothers need to be taken down a peg or something? I imagine their inner monologue goes something like this: “Hey pregnant woman, you are clearly expecting everything to be soft and gentle and loving like a baby powder commercial, and I am here to tell you the hard truth.”

Whereas in reality, the pregnant woman is probably already plagued by nerves and fear and the unknown, alongside her excitement and anticipation, not to mention exhaustion and sleep difficulties and professional and financial nerves and a to-do-list that is getting out of hand. The last thing she needs is your doomsday prophesy.

I remember when I was a good eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my first child and we had gone out for a quiet dinner at the pub after work. There I was sipping my mineral water and eyeing other people’s glasses of sav blanc with longing when the waitress, quite a young woman, approached our table and began regaling me with the story of her sister’s recent labour.

If even half of that story was true, someone will be making a mini-series about it some time soon. It seemed to last for days (both the labour and the story). At one point I swear there were spy-thriller spotlights pinning the poor woman to her hospital bed. At another, some kind of water-jet that suggested they were trying to pressure-hose that baby out like old paint off a brick wall.

Mr B kept walking away from the table, ostensibly to warm himself by the open fire but really to get away from the Labour From Hell story. I could see his shoulders shaking with silent laughter even though his back was turned. Then he would return, realise the story was STILL GOING, and head back to the fire. Unfortunately I was trapped, both by the near-impossibility of maneuvering my enormous belly away from the table and between the tightly-packed bistro chairs, and by the deep-seated social constraints that made me smile and nod politely even when she got up to the bloody bits and the screaming bits and the frankly anatomically-impossible bits (“the baby was coming out sideways”).

Later in the car on the way home, we roared with laughter. “What about the bit with the water torture?” Mr B gasped, red faced and wiping away tears. “How could you have left me there alone!” I shrieked. “She just wouldn’t stop!”

Recently I was at the zoo with a friend who was expecting her second child. Another woman overheard us talking about it, and began to share the stories of her recent miscarriages. It was so sad. That poor woman. We both realised how raw and heartbreaking those experiences were for her, and how clearly she just needed to get them off her chest, to share her sadness and anger at the universe. Neither of us begrudged her this need, because neither of us could imagine how difficult such a situation must be.

But of all the strangers with whom to share her sad, sad story, did she really have to pick the pregnant one? A rounded belly, it seems, is as much an invitation for uninvited stories as it is for uninvited touching.

So, the point of my rant is this: don’t listen to the stories. You don't need them. Deflect the conversation away, if you can. Sometimes, I point-blank told people, “Don’t tell me that, it’s not helping.”

Because this is your pregnancy, not theirs.

And your baby, not theirs.

It will be what it will be and the one thing that is within your control is freeing yourself up to enjoy it. Let's face it, it’s a lot easier to anticipate happy things if your mind isn’t full of tales of woe.

ps. That belly? That's Madeleine, at eight and a half months.

ps2. Here's another resource: the handy "pregnancy food card" I made when I was pregnant, if you're that way inclined