Pregnant women shouldn't play competitive sport. Most health professionals say so. Except that pregnancy itself has become a competitive sport. And you have no choice but to play for nine long months. There are many individual categories: Who Got Pregnant Most Easily; Most Weight Gained; Least Weight Gained; Most Unpleasant Pregnancy Symptoms; Size and Shape of Bump; Best Pregnancy Wardrobe; Sexiest Pregnancy; Least-Pregnant-Looking Pregnant Woman.
And that's before you even give birth.
Pregnant celebrities and the genuflecting glossy gossip media aren't helping. In fact, they seem to have turned pregnancy into an industry as well as a sport. Christina Aguilera and Angelina Jolie insist being pregnant made them feel sexier. Claudia Schiffer appeared nude on a Vogue cover during her recent third pregnancy and Mariah Carey, pregnant with twins, also posed nude with her husband thoughtfully holding up her breasts.
There are websites dedicated to watching celebrity baby bumps and mags promoting the ultimate pregnancy wardrobe. It's intense. Nobody explains this before you get knocked up. Foolishly, you thought pregnancy was about having a baby, not trying to look like a slightly bloated Victoria's Secret model. Now you know.
This week, I learnt that control underwear is being marketed to pregnant women. Spanx, the world's most famous fat-sucking undies brand, has a new range called Power Mama. The marketing spiel on its website states: "Spanx is here to support you, baby bump and all! Power mamas love to look great all nine months and these Power Panties® deliver!"
Looking sexy is not something that needs to be on the to-do list of any pregnant woman or new mother.
Why is there a market for products that try to make pregnant women look as if they're not pregnant?
One of the things I loved about my pregnancies was not having to suck in my stomach and being reminded of what my body could do, not just how it looked. Clearly, this is because I am lazy and not a Power Mama. Can we not have even nine months' respite from the expectation of having to look hot?
It wasn't always like this. Pregnancy used to be treated with a kind of twee, condescending reverence. Women wore shapeless smocks with childish bows, as if they worked at Darrell Lea. On the '50s TV show I Love Lucy, the word "pregnant" was banned because it was deemed too crass and Lucille Ball's "expecting" character and her husband had to sleep in twin beds. They were, however, allowed to smoke. Priorities.
Up until a few decades ago, pregnant women were treated like fragile, docile, facile creatures. There's no nostalgia for that, but at least they got a rest from the relentless pressure to be sexy that today starts pretty much at primary school.
Now, not only do you have to be sexy when you're pregnant, you also have to be thin. Not your tummy. Well, not entirely. So long as you're thin everywhere else and just look as if you have a small netball stuck under your shirt, that's okay. You must also glow and look yummy. A yummy pre-mummy.
After giving birth to your netball and peeling off your pregnancy Spanx, the real fun begins. It's time to "bounce back!" This means erasing all physical evidence that you've ever gestated a human being.
If you're famous, be sure to leave hospital in skinny jeans and industrial Spanx with pert boobs and a spray tan. Somewhere along the way, someone has confused giving birth with a holiday on the Gold Coast.
When celebrities get pregnant, they often sign four-part magazine deals. The first part is the pregnancy announcement, next is the halfway interview, then there's the birth story with newborn pictures and, finally, the inevitable "How I Got My Body Back" splash. This is a uniquely sadistic type of story where the new mother poses in a bikini with a baby under one arm soon after giving birth, insisting she's too busy to exercise and that the weight just "fell off".
When reality-TV star and former Hugh Hefner girlfriend Kendra Wilkinson had her baby last year, she signed such a deal. Problem. When she had to do the "My Hot New Baby Body!" story a few weeks after giving birth, astonishingly, her baby body was not yet hot enough. She begged the mag for more time to lose weight but they refused. Apparently the speed with which you "bounce back" has a direct correlation to magazine circulation. She who loses fastest wins. What exactly she wins is unclear. Perhaps a nervous breakdown.
Don't worry, the mag reassured Wilkinson, we'll make your weight "fall off" with a computer. The digitally altered shot of her New Baby Body ran next to Wilkinson's tips for losing weight after pregnancy, which, oddly, didn't mention a computer at all.
Being pregnant and the first year of being a new mother is an intensely vulnerable time. Huge mental, physical and emotional adjustments are required.
I've personally had a gutful of those industries that conspire to make women feel like inadequate, insecure crap during a period when they most need support, understanding and reassurance. Looking sexy is not something that needs to be on the to-do list of any pregnant woman or new mother. Getting some sleep, however ...