Some years ago I sat in a work meeting and, in putting a point forward, used some minor profanity. Through bravado or bad breeding, this is rather commonplace in my conversation.
I don't recall precisely what it was, but let's presume it was of a lesser order. Maybe the S word. In my innocence, I went to continue my argument but was stumbled by a colleague's horrified gasp.
"But … you're pregnant," he recoiled.
This was a fair description of my reproductive state. And being pregnant, I was to learn, meant transitioning from an ordinary human being into a beatific maker of human beings. Swear words from me were now shocking.
It is something many women encounter as soon as they begin to 'show'. It's not just smoking, drinking and feta that are off the cards. It's the whole gamut of human foibles.
Getting on to public transport, the pregnant woman is desperate for a seat. Her feet are swollen, the heat is intense and she long ago lost any sense of her actual proportions. When some gallant soul decides to offer up their seat, the correct response is not "Thank Christ".
She is to smile serenely, perhaps cock her head to the side and say in the smoothest, most grateful tone she can muster "Oh, that's very kind. Thank you. Thanks very much".
Then to take that seat, smile again at the seat offerer and the others who now realise they're free to not ignore her, she might rub her distended belly in a silent signal that it's not just herself, but the unborn who is grateful. Probably not unlike Mary did when Joseph finally offered her the donkey.
Which is not to say that seats aren't gratefully received, or rightfully thanked, but that the social expectation on pregnant women is that they bear not just their own children, but the weight of all that is soft and gentle and embracing and nurturing. That they be, not just pregnant, but perfect.
Oh, The Glow. It stalks pregnant women like a shadow. For the Glow is not just about the excess blood pumping through your body reddening your cheeks. It's about glowing. It's about emanating light and sunshine and maternal loveliness. It's about ignoring just what exhausting work it can be to cart 50 per cent extra blood through your veins and the fact that you may or may not have haemorrhoids.
Pregnancy is a special time. The building of a new life within women's bodies is both miraculous and banal. But even charmed pregnancies are, at times, hard work, requiring extraordinary levels of physical and emotional strength and resilience. And not all pregnancies are charmed.
A friend who is 30 weeks pregnant recently purged her litany of discomforts to me:
"What I hate most about pregnancy is probably the impact that it is having and will have on my body. Not just aesthetically either. I hate that because all my organs are pushed up, it takes me longer to do a poo.
"I hate that the current position of [the baby] means that I have constant pressure on my pelvis which is uncomfortable. And sleeping is so uncomfortable because I need to lie on my side to make sure that [the baby] gets enough blood flow. And turning in bed takes me forever.
"Also, I want to eat, all the time but, because my belly is so full and stretched, I can only eat tiny meals which means that I am forever hungry. And I'm just into my third trimester so waddling has only begun! It used to take me three minutes to walk to the train station, but now it takes me double the time. Mentally, I'm constantly anxious. Thinking, what if the fact that I have eaten high mercury fish results in some kind of deformity?"
There is a lot to recommend about pregnancy; but sometimes, and for some women in particular, pregnancy can kinda suck. And that doesn't account for the women who get bedridden, extended morning sickness, pre-eclampsia and so on. Not recognising that pregnancy may be disliked can make those women who do not enjoy it feel somehow like they're failing, ungrateful or unwomanly.
Putting pregnant women on this uterine pedestal is not just annoying. By placing the expectation upon pregnant women that they encompass sugar and spice and all things nice, we are dismissing what is vitally important and sometimes difficult work. To ignore what a feat of physical strength and endurance being pregnant is, is to undervalue the strength of women as a whole. It is to take away that strength.
Pregnant women have different physical and emotional dimensions and needs. Their treatment does need to differ from non-pregnant women. And, yes, those seats are welcome, but you can save the cotton wool for the baby.