On Passively Negative Responses to my Pregnancy (or: aren't any of you happy you had children?!)

A few days ago, I read this beautiful post on Florence Finds. It is, in essence, yet another summary of 2014 but this one focuses on the things the writer, Rebecca, learned from her last six months of pregnancy and her first six months as a mother - you can see why this appealed to me, right?

(Incidentally, I'm trying to limit the pregnancy specific posts to one a week; Tuesdays feel appropriate to me because they're when I shift from one pregnancy week to the next)

Anyway, what I loved about this particular post was the focus on the positive. Rebecca doesn't pretend that she's got all this parenting stuff figured out or that it isn't challenging or that she's getting enough sleep but this post isn't about how hard being a mother is; it's about the parts she finds rewarding. And that's what I needed to read.

One of the things she mentions is the "passively negative" stories people told her when she was pregnant and that struck a chord with me. I've lost count of how many people greeted the news of my pregnancy with, "That's your life over for the next twenty years!" as though, with the birth of our child, Steve and I as people are going to cease to exist.

"Bet you hope it's not a girl," one man told Steve. "Don't you know they teach sex education to seven year olds these days?" As though primary school children are being taught the art of oral pleasure rather than what to expect from their periods.

More importantly: at this point, the kid's coming out no matter how terrified people manage to make us so why try to fill us with (ill-informed) fear?

But even when people aren't trying to be funny or frightening, all of the stories - all of the stories - we've been told have been wry warnings. People love to talk about how difficult parenting is - how little sleep they had; how traumatic the teething was; how far bodily fluids can spray; how stroppy toddlers are; how stroppy teenagers are; the cost of children's hobbies. Often the stories are hilarious - I'll be crying with laughter as they recall their disastrous first attempts to change a nappy - and I'm happy to hear them and I realise that people aren't trying to put us off at this inconveniently late stage of my pregnancy.

It's just that all the stories are about the hard stuff.

After a while, it starts to feel like we're being lectured, as though people think we're too naive to realise that it's going to be difficult - that it will test our patience and our relationship; that we will be exhausted; that we may sometimes wonder what we have done.

Or, if not that, it sounds depressingly like regret. All people tell us is how hard having children has made their lives. Nobody talks about the good bits.

But I know the good bits exist - I see them on Facebook. I see streams of them on Facebook. There are so many photos of other people's children making cupcakes.

Yet nobody seems to tell stories about the successes.

One of the reasons I didn't make any public goals for 2015 was an expectation of being shot down. I don't have big goals - I don't even have clear goals - but I do have hopes that by next Christmas we'll have a lot of the parenting basics figured out; that we'll have got through the early bits with minimal damage to our relationship; that we'll be a lot clearer about how we're going to divide up work and family commitments and bring in enough money to get by.

But I don't want to state that I will, for example, blog regularly or make an effort with my appearance or take on any freelance work or make it back to pilates because my experience of saying anything even vaguely optimistic about this coming year is being told, "You'll be too tired. You've no idea."

And perhaps I will be. I fully expect to be exhausted; I fully expect to have to set aside things which previously mattered to me; I fully expect this to be harder than I'm anticipating in so, so many ways.

But I've also seen many women go straight back to work after birth or set up businesses whilst on maternity leave or find time to maintain some sort of baby-free social life even through the early months; I may be one of those people. It's not impossible. I haven't ruled it out.

And I would love if other people would stop automatically ruling it out for me. Because, at this point, no matter what anybody else's experiences were or are, none of us really knows how this year is going to unfold in the Rooftops household. And I'd like to go into it with some degree of bright eyed, hopeful enthusiasm intact.

34 comments

  1. I am totally guilty of this, probably because Amelia's first few months were really difficult, though I try to not do it unless someone asks for the "honest" side. It's interesting that you have read all negative stories...for me, both when I was pregnant and now, all I saw was the positive stuff. How motherhood was a magical romp and how your child looking at you would fill you with so many flowery unicorns of love, how if you feel the least bit slighted or resentful or frustrated by dealing with a baby you weren't appreciating your bundle of joy enough. When I had Amelia, I felt myself wanting to tell other mothers things that happened to me that I hadn't seen coming and I feel like to have to check myself on that a LOT to make sure I'm not making it all out to be doom and gloom (and sorry if I've done it to you here!).


    I can't imagine you wanted more stories on here, but like an annoying mom I'll share anyway, haha - aside from the predictable dips of lots of screaming and little sleep, having a baby for me has been shockingly...normal. Some days it feels really overwhelming and terrifying, but it's balanced by Amelia learning a new skill, reaching for me and holding on to my neck, and giving me a big goofy gummy smile in the middle of the night. I don't feel like my marriage has changed in the slightest - we now just have to share our lives with a really needy, loud roommate that looks like us and that we'd run into a burning building for. :) It's just added a new dimension, like putting on 3D glasses.

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  2. And in case I am totally "that guy" that does this, here is a post I wrote about happy things to balance out all the "real" stuff. :) http://agoodenoughmother.blogspot.com/2014/12/some-positivity.html

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  3. Over the last few years, almost all of my friends have had babies, and this was one of the things that really jumped out at me, too. I'd see my friends post a scan photo, or some other upbeat status on Facebook, only to be flooded with comments about how they should sleep while they still had the chance, because pretty soon they'd never get to sleep again, and how HARD their lives were going to be, etc etc. I know it was all well-intentioned, but I found it frustrating just to observe it, so I can only imagine how annoying it must be to be on the receiving end of that much negativity, and be told over and over again that your life is effectively "over"! I'm not saying parenthood isn't hard, because it obviously is, but my friends were all so happy and excited about it, and it was quite depressing seeing people try to ruin that by doing the "just you wait!" thing, and constantly telling them how awful their lives were going to be.


    (And for the record, no one I know had their lives ruined by parenthood: quite the opposite, in fact :) )

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  4. I probably won't word this very well, but I think people find it easier to talk about negativity - maybe it's just me but I could think of far more stories with a negative theme than a positive one! Plus negative stories seem to have more impact in a conversation - when I think of how many complaints we dealt with every week in the cinema versus the very very occasional compliments we were sent, it's true that people just love to complain but expect nice happenings as a given! So....it could be they're just naturally remembering the bad stories and trying to let you learn from their mistakes. It's good intentions in disguise! :)

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  5. Oh and also, comments like 'next 20 years are over' etc have been around as long as I can remember so folk probably say it as a reflex - I know when I'm, ahem, not really listening to someone blethering on, I just say what fits best in the topic of conversation ;)

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  6. I'm with Caitlin on a lot of this which is why I am replying to her comment. I am possibly a bit too open about how difficult I found H's early babyhood. This is because at the time I felt like I was failing and that I didn't have the feelings and instincts that other mothers had, so I tell a bit about this side so that women who are hiding their struggle do not feel alone. (The shock was like nothing I have ever experienced. HOWEVER with the benefit of hindsight, I'm pretty sure I had PND. My experiences do not seem to be typical.) Generally, I try not to tell pregnant women about it though because it is entirely unhelpful at that stage. Except right now, clearly... but you did ask, kind of...!

    However what I was originally going to write is that I think the thing with everyone chorusing "You'll never sleep again" and such like is because when you reveal you are pregnant, it is like you have been inducted into a secret club that means you can talk about the 'bad' bits. You will see this when your baby arrives, although when H was tiny the babies of the same age all seemed to be second children, so it took a while for this to start. A shame in my case because I could have done with a bit more honesty! However, I now have a circle of 'mum friends', we have great fun and talk about all sorts but we can also talk about what nappies are good, and what to do when your kid bites another at nursery (horrendous). All the stuff that you don't put on Facebook with the cupcakes and stuff. So I think with these comments - it's almost like these people are giving you permission in advance to do this.

    Having said that I think the phenomenon is unhelpful and if you see me doing it please feel free to slap me round the head. Also FYI even with the aforementioned difficulties that I experienced, I did manage to shower every day, have a cup of tea while it was still warm (sometimes) and developed a habit of really crap TV. And also for the record, H is the joy of my life!

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  7. Totally agree, Erin, and really liked hearing your perspective on this...from one postpartum depressed mother to another :) I think part of it, too, is that once people know you're pregnant they start treating you like the kid is already here. If I meet someone who has a kid my age the first things we talk about are the obvious--eating, sleeping, colic, milestones, etc., and those sort of lend themselves to "dishing" or venting. It's often easier to relate to other people's experience by sharing the difficulties, I guess. At least here in the States, people tend to sugarcoat things or feel like they'll be judged if they're too honest or too negative, so it's nice to get that "permission" to bitch a little bit as you put it. I do the same thing with someone who is going through, say, the house-buying process. The problem with doing this with a pregnant lady is that she hasn't experienced any of it yet and it just makes it terrifying.

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  8. When the first people in my social circle to have babies talked about it, maybe 8 years ago, they'd all moan and say "no-one tells you how hard it is!" Now I hear this complaint more often - that people do nothing but tell you how hard it is! It's very weird how people love to go with a negative response to positive news (also, if anyone said that to me about having a girl I'd punch them in the face while shouting "smash the patriarchy").

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  9. I like that analogy. :)


    Perhaps the moaning is a cultural thing - so much British culture is still embedded in not getting your hopes up and in making sure people don't get too big for their boots; it's almost a reflex for certain parts of our society to respond with, "Oh, you've got something you're looking forward to? Bet it's not as good as you expect."

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  10. Exactly this. I'm hoping to have other parents around who I can talk to about the tough stuff (incidentally, you're on my mental "local voice of experience and reason" list) but it's like any topic - not EVERYONE will want to hear about it and I think people forget that pregnancy's supposed to be an exciting time rather than one completely filled with dread!

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  11. Right. If people ask about house buying, I'll tell them which bits are tricky but also why it's worth it in the long run; if they're not looking to buy, I assume the subject won't be of interest to them. Same logic.

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  12. Exactly. To be fair, most of our friends have greeted the news with nothing but excitement - it's just that the people who want to *continue* the conversation all seem to take such a negative slant on it. I think a lot of them are trying to be funny but it's not really the right time to play comedian.

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  13. Ugh, I know, but that's why I hate them so much. It's like the "last days of freedom... old ball and chain..." comments when somebody's getting married. The jokes are outdated. Gaaaaaaaaah!

    (I totally fall back on stock phrases, too, mind you - it's just the needlessly negative ones which annoy me)

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  14. Ha ha - yeah, people like to moan; it's also not considered good form to "brag". But still...!

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  15. Right?! I think Steve regretted telling me - WHAT a rant I went off on!

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  16. Oh yeah I hate all the marriage related ones, they do all seem crazy negative!

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  17. It's funny, recently on a phone catch up an old friend regaled me with her horror story of childbirth and beyond, but she made it so hysterically comical I was weeping with laughter,and she clearly gets so much joy out of motherhood, that it didn't have that air of doom and gloom (I've heard plenty of those too, usually oddly when people are trying to sell me on kids). I think maybe parents feel undervalued and want credit for all that selfless suffering and devotion. You are right though, it's not particularly helpful! Don't believe the hype - I for instance apparently was a perfectly behaved infant who slept through the night and rarely cried - they do exist! And if not, you guys are more than capable of handling it.

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  18. Someone said that to Steve?? Woah!! I have many reasons for making the decision to (probably) not have children but I must admit that the many negative stories I've heard over the years have helped put me off. I know there are good sides to it aswell, and as Elise said, negative stories are easier to tell plus they're less like bragging. The funny thing is, when I tell people I don't think I want children, they tell me I don't know what I'm missing out on, despite having regaled me with tales of the horrors of parenting.


    I do think its very inappropriate to make comments like that to a pregnant woman though. I'm sure most are well meant but you have enough on your plate as it is without being told that your life is now screwed for the next twenty years! It may be funny, but seriously....you're about to give birth and then become responsible for every millisecond of a tiny persons life. All stressful enough without being reminded just how difficult it will be. Yes it will be hard at times, but there will be many brilliant moments aswell :)

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  19. Of course we are! People do this parenting thing all the time; I expect Steve to give me credit when I do it well (and vice versa) but not (currently) anybody else.

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  20. I do think parents can be worst the adverts for having children. Nothing else is sold to you by going, "Yeah, I find it really tiring and stressful and expensive most of the time. Your life's basically over. But: cute...?"


    I actually mind the genuine-if-badly-timed complaints less than the tired old jokes about what a bad idea it is - as I said in another comment, people do the same thing with weddings ("last day of freedom" etc) and I don't understand this impulse to dampen somebody else's excitement (or rather: I do; but why can't people learn to control themselves?).

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  21. Take no notice of the moaners! Every baby is different, and you'll take a bit of time (and some tears) getting used to one another, but it'll be great! Such an adventure - I remember waking up in labour and thinking "my life transforms forever today - by the time I go to bed tonight, I will be a mother". Just blew me away, and still does. My 'girl' is now 32, so I have the benefit of considerable perspective :)!
    Enjoy this time - it is the start of something quite wonderful.
    Jane

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  22. Thanks Jane! I've started reading up on birth plans now and, rather than getting scared about the pain (because I don't see any point in that: it's happening now, whether it's pleasant or not), I'm feeling blown away thinking, "My body is going to do THAT? We're going to produce one of THOSE?! That's INCREDIBLE!"

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  23. Good for you! Oh, and don't bother listening if people start with the 'my dreadful agony' stories about labour, either...

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  24. I think every person's experience of parenting is different and it's a continual growing process (literally and metaphorically), all those people who moan about the difficulties usually have no idea how hard you've fought to get to that stage! Of course it's hard (life ain't easy all the time) but I imagine it'll also be magical, beautiful and a chance to learn something new each and every day. I have every faith you and Steve will be awesome parents in your own individual way :-) xx

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  25. This is a great post, and I really agree that people can be so quick to say negative things, while their Facebook feed says the opposite (just a good reminder about how fake Facebook is, for one!). When I was pregnant, the best thing someone said to me was just a story in passing about how when they had their 2nd baby they were in a bit of disarray because nothing that worked with the first baby worked on this one. It was not intended as advice but it struck a chord with me because it is a reminder that all babies are different and all the stuff I was hearing from people with one baby who were spouting advice like experts, was rubbish.
    You will definitely find your own way and it is helpful of course to connect with other people with kids because they will often have advice that might help with some various thing you are experiencing. But at the same time, you will both work out what is best for you as a family. You seems to have an open-minded approach to what the next few months will bring, which I am sure will be very beneficial.
    Good luck!

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  26. Thanks Kerry! The people I know with two (or more) kids all say the same - what worked with one child didn't often work with the second. They usually follow that up by saying that the second child was easier to cope with because they were less fixated on getting everything *right* - that's the one piece of advice I'm trying to hold in my mind!

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  27. I've just found your lovely blog through Twitter, and firstly, it's wonderful! Secondly, a huge congratulations on your pregnancy, and thirdly, enjoy every moment. I don't have children of my own (just yet, hopefully one day in the not too distant future), and I am well aware that it might be hard, and that I might be tired, but at the same time, I suspect it will be completely wonderful. Can't wait to read more of your blog! x

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  28. I thought of this post again recently as I've been watching the show Catastrophe and the main character is a pregnant woman dealing with negativity everywhere she goes, but it's also very funny and I think you would maybe relate to it - have you seen it? (I know you had aerial issues...it's on 4on demand if you fancy it anyway! http://www.channel4.com/programmes/catastrophe/on-demand ) :-)

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  29. Oh, I might give it a look - sounds interesting. :)

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