Pregnancy may not be an illness, and yet…

I’m pregnant for my first time at the age of 40. I’ve been exposed to pregnant women my whole life but never understood how hard it really can be. But now that I go around complaining about how I feel all the time, I hear things like, “Pregnancy is the hardest,” and I wonder, how did I miss the memo?

There are some popular lines that I’ve heard people say to/about pregnant women over the years and now that I’m experiencing it for myself, what seemed insensitive now seems downright wrong.

You’re not eating for two

I remember as a dietician learning that a pregnant woman only needs an extra 200 kcals or so per day and that really surprised me. I mean, that’s like an extra piece of bread with cheese. It’s nothing.

But now I know that whether or not it’s “just” an extra 200 calories, it’s my entire relationship to food that has changed. I feel sick if I don’t eat in time and I depend on food in a way I never did before. I worry about what I’m going to eat next – will I have available to me something that I can stomach? Will I feel up to preparing something? Will I be able to eat enough? Will I feel nauseous from eating it?

Food used to be something that was anywhere from an annoying necessity to a fun and delicious experience. Now it’s a need that weighs heavily on me from morning to night; sometimes even in the middle of the night I wake up hungry or nauseous. It’s something I’m constantly trying to figure out, to crack: How can I eat foods that will nourish me and fill me up, at a very high frequency throughout the day (often when I finish one meal, I feel like I’m going to be hungry so soon that I need to start thinking about my next meal), without being constrained to my home/kitchen and keeping in mind that I can only stand preparing food for so long because of back and leg pain?

I know that what I’m experiencing is nothing compared to diabetics but over the last few months I have often thought of people with diabetes who have a strained relationship with food 24/7. I cannot fathom how they continue to have the strength to deal with their condition with no break and no end in sight.

And so, to say, “You aren’t eating for two,” assumes frivolity and completely disregards the complex relationship I, as a pregnant woman, have to deal with with food.

Pregnancy is not an illness

This statement might be true (just as the first one might be) and yet it misses the point. Creating a new human being inside your body might not be considered an illness but it can definitely be as strenuous as one. And normalizing pregnancy to such a large extent means that people look at pregnant women and don’t get that they could be in as much pain or feel as much strain as someone who is ill. Laws allowing women to cut ahead in line are not just a nicety – they are a necessity. And that is what should be normalized – treating pregnant women with the sensitivity that we should be treating the elderly and those who aren’t well.

Being pregnant while out of the house makes me think about people with “invisible disabilities.” There has been a lot of content on Facebook lately about people with invisible disabilities and I admit it’s hard for me to look at someone who looks 100% OK and to understand that they need to be given special treatment.

But I have scoliosis. I’ve pretty much always had back pain but in the last few weeks, as I get heavier, as my center of gravity shifts and as my internal organs reorganize, I have been experiencing progressively more back, hip and leg pain. So much so that after just a few minutes of standing or walking I need to rest or else the pain really gets out of control.

Yesterday I landed back in Israel after a short flight. For the first time, I felt the need to push through to get off the plane first. And I rushed through the stream of passengers, hoping I wouldn’t get stuck standing in a line. I didn’t know if I was coming across as rude or impatient, I was too inside my own body, needing to keep moving, to really be able to tell. And thankfully I got through in time to sit by the luggage carousel before the pain really started.

So should I have been proud of myself for taking care of myself in the way I needed? Or should I have felt badly for being pushy and impolite? Should I have explained on repeat throughout this saga, “Sorry, I’m pregnant, I can’t walk/stand for long so I need to keep moving”? Would people have then been able to understand better?

It almost feels like there’s no great solution for people with invisible disabilities. They don’t want to tattoo “I’m disabled” on their foreheads, and yet people just don’t get the severity of what they’re dealing with, without the tattoo.

Of course we all hope to live in a sensitive and inclusive society, but after yesterday, and feeling like I was in a lose-lose situation (push through and be rude or don’t push through and be in pain), I could understand why so many people with disabilities stay home. Because it takes so much strength to take care of yourself and get what you need while out there in the world. And it’s so much easier to stay home in your cocoon.

What do you hate when people say to/about pregnant women?

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