I expected the morning sickness, the cravings for strange food (even chalk), the tiredness and the bursting into tears at Panadol ads. What I didn’t expect was guilt. The over whelming, gut-wrenching guilt caught me by complete surprise.
I was about 14 weeks into my first pregnancy and all was going well. My palate changed as I adjusted to the nausea and the cravings, and I watched as my waist steadily expanded, utterly destroying my wardrobe range along with it. I needed more sleep than I’d ever needed before and I suddenly had a bladder the size of a walnut.
All as expected.
Then one day at work, I went to the toilet and there was blood.
It’s hard to describe how I felt.
I remember cradling my stomach and sobbing, broken hearted and feeling utterly helpless as I stood in the cubicle. I remember talking to my little bean and asking him to hang on. Please, please, please be okay! I remember silently praying. Then I grabbed my sunglasses, grabbed my bag and left work. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could.
Twenty four hours later the bleeding had stopped and an ultrasound indicated that all was well. There was nothing wrong with the baby or the placenta. They couldn’t tell me why there had been bleeding but it could have been for any number of reasons.
That’s when the guilt started.
Shortly thereafter, overwhelming, gut-wrenching guilt would suddenly and sporadically surface for no apparent reason. I’d be sitting down to a nice dinner with my husband and, suddenly, I would be nearly paralysed by guilt. And the worst part of it all? I was in the grip of a strange compulsion to keep it to myself, to tell no one.
In hindsight, it began shortly after the bleeding episode. Subconsciously, I blamed myself.
At the time, however, I didn’t put it together. It was confronting and disorientating. It went on for months and I didn’t say a word to anyone. I distracted myself or ignored it entirely, neither of which helped.
Then one day, I reluctantly mentioned the guilt to my husband. We talked. He suggested I needed to contact a support group of some sort, perhaps, for advice. He collected pamphlets, information and contact numbers from the web on various topics. At the time, it had taken significant effort just to speak to my husband about it. The thought of mentioning it to a stranger was just not an option.
I did notice, though, later that week that since I’d spoken to him about it, I felt better. The guilt still surfaced, but I was able to be a bit more objective about it all.
So when a friend I was lunching with asked me how the whole pregnancy thing was going, I drew in a deep breath and told her all about it ….and wow! It helped!
So that’s what I did. Every time I felt the waves of guilt building, I drew in a deep breath and talked about it, and the waves subsided.
The guilt didn’t subside entirely until after my gorgeous and healthy little boy was born on 8 September 2003, but it was manageable.
I am now 18 weeks into my second pregnancy. I am just past the nausea, have felt the first faint flutters of movement, seen a blob on an ultrasound and heard the little one’s heart beat at the doctor’s. So far, there has been no guilt whatsoever.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem