Belly Bump is a series where we compare the pregnancy experiences of two women: Delsie, a prevention advocate and UNC student who became a mom at age 17, and Mary, APPCNC’s Community Programs Manager who decided to have a baby with her husband Anthony. See previous Belly Bump entries.
There are some secrets that are easy to keep hidden but a pregnancy is not one of them. Entering into the 7 month of my pregnancy, this soon became quite clear. Discretion about my pregnancy was imperative during the first few months of my pregnancy. With so many thoughts and emotions running through my head I wanted to be certain about my situation before I decided to let anyone in on it. After relaying the news to my parents, I realized that a cloud of discretion still hovered over my life. I was 17 and pregnant and this was not something that I was proud of. So with loose fitting outfits and large hoodies, I concealed the belly bump that was forming. I was bent on keeping the number of people that knew about my pregnancy to a minimum, but as I soon found out, this was a huge undertaking. There are many secrets that are easy to keep hidden, but my pregnancy was not one of them.
Entering into my 7 month of pregnancy, the belly that I strove so hard to conceal seemed to come back with a vengeance. I blew up! The hoodies and loose clothing no longer could hide the bundle of joy that steadily grew inside me. And the secret that I fought so hard to keep hidden became common knowledge to all. High school in itself has its own pressures and obstacles. Take the need to achieve and the need to be accepted and add a baby to the mix, and you would have a slight glimpse as to what my life consisted of. For everyone in school that didn’t know about my pregnancy, the 7th month was the tell tail sign. Walking up and down the halls of my high school now was filled with the typical high school apprehensions as well as the anxiety about what other people thought about me. Let’s face it, 17 and pregnant isn’t the ideal situation, especially when you had once previously held yourself to very high standards. And while other people may have thought my moral standards had fallen, it was my academic standards that concerned me the most.
Senior year of high school was the year that I had anticipated greatly. It was the year for college applications, AP classes, and the time to leave my mark on my beloved high school. With a baby on the way, these things included an additional level of difficulty. For once, I had to work for my grades. An AP course load coupled with the constant fatigue made for a difficult semester. Staying awake in class soon became a challenge and completing my homework was a task in itself. There were many nights when my mother would find me asleep amongst a bed full of books and homework. For the first time in my high school career not only had I come across material that was challenging, but coupled with my constant need for sleep; I had met my match. And whether or not my mom had noticed, scattered amongst the opened books and the unfinished homework were the tears of a girl that had simply felt defeated.
But, there was a silver lining to it all; I was only two months away from meeting the face of my angel. My anticipation grew with every passing day and with every kick and movement, I longed for the day that I would finally hold her in my arms. After 7 months, complete with all the ups and downs, I had developed a strong bond to the baby that lay nestled in my womb. I began to wonder about how she would look, what her personality would be like, and most of all, how my life would change when she finally made her appearance. With the conception of my daughter, life as I had known it was already flipped completely upside down. My plans were altered, new goals were made, and new realties were faced but despite it all, I already loved her with everything that was within me.
There are some secrets that are easy to keep hidden, sadly for me; a pregnancy was not one of them. I eventually had to face the music and embrace my pregnancy despite the stares and the judgments that it would bring. I often found myself struggling with how I should feel about my pregnancy. While the actions leading up to my pregnancy is not something that most people would condone, I couldn’t help but be excited about the main consequence. Sure there was a lot of difficulties, frustrations, and disappointments that came with my being pregnant, but there was also a bundle of joy that I simply could not wait to meet. There are so many things that I feel that I missed out on as a result of an unplanned teen pregnancy. I missed the joy of receiving a positive pregnancy test, the thrill of planning and preparing for a new life, the companionship of a spouse at doctor’s visits and checkups, and often times the glow that I felt about my child was often masked by the disappointment and stigma that usually comes with a teen pregnancy. But despite the fact that my belly bump hindered my ability to keep my pregnancy a secret and there was an uncertainty about how I should feel or react, there was one thing that I was able to keep all to myself–the pure joy I felt every time I felt my child.
At 7 months pregnant I am feeling enormous. I’ve been lucky so far and have pretty much only gained weight in my belly, but at only 5 foot 2 inches, sometimes just standing upright is challenging and any movement at all is downright exhausting with an 18 pound basketball throwing off my center of gravity. I’ve reached the point where hiding my pregnancy is no longer an option, a distressing time for a woman who hates being the center of attention, or noticed generally ever. Strangers often stop me, asking me how far along I am, what hospital I’m using, how I’m feeling. I know that they are well-meaning, but being a very private person (yes, I do see the irony…being a very private person, and blogging….), I can think of no more uncomfortable situation. I am not the woman who loves being pregnant. I find it awkward, uncomfortable, annoying and for some reason simultaneously disempowering, yet also a bit empowering at the same time, depending on the day. Women often find this horrifying if I share this with them, these women are usually the ones that LOVE being pregnant and cannot imagine why a woman wouldn’t love to sacrifice her body and mind for a new little life….which typically only fuels my dislike for being pregnant. Regardless, it is not a situation I like talking about with anyone but my partner and a few close friends. I’d like nothing better than to hibernate for the duration of my pregnancy simply to avoid the well-meaning inquiries and approving smiles of strangers.
Making choices about birth has become exhausting, I constantly feel as though I am going against the grain. Many of the choices we have made, though the best for my partner and I, are not conventional (Using a birth center instead of a hospital, not having my partner at midwife visits, not having a partner in the delivery room for birth, not wanting visitors immediately after birth, requesting gender neutral clothing, using cloth diapers). My partner and I often feel as though we’re being punished for making the choices that are best for us. Being pregnant has been such a journey, both for me and my partner. I can’t speak for him, but for myself I can say that being pregnant has forced me to openly and unapologetically be myself, for the first time in my life, to make choices that others don’t like, but that I know are the best for me, my partner, and my baby. Something about being responsible for a new life has made me more willing and able to stand up for myself and my family.
I often say that the more pregnant I become, the more my verbal filter disintegrates, meaning that I say exactly what is on my mind sans edits. At first it was simply funny saying exactly how I felt at somewhat awkward moments, mentioning that I could use a snack in the middle of a business meeting or that I needed to find a bathroom right that minute. Now, I find my lack of filter is actually really just honesty disguised. My brain without filter no longer hesitates to veer towards honesty. I find myself being honest about all kinds of things that I never would have been in the past: why I make choices, being protective of time for myself and my family, not letting others make choices for me, giving honest feedback. I’ve realized I no longer hesitate to be honest, and I expect more honesty from others. It’s a startling transition for a gal who in the past would often rearrange her schedule to accommodate other’s plans, and tell people often what I knew they wanted to hear.
Being pregnant has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Though I detest almost everything about pregnancy, I will always be grateful for this 9 month incubation period that has allowed me to find this place of truthfulness, both about who I am and how I navigate the world I live in. I think it will make me a better person, and ultimately a better parent. I can’t hide my belly bump, and I can’t hide who I am anymore.