Standing in line for coffee, I notice the woman’s sneakers in front of me. They’re cool — black and white, Adidas maybe, with striped laces. She’s maybe in her early thirties, wearing black leggings and an oversized sweatshirt with a messy low bun, with that effortlessly cool look I wish I had. As she approaches the counter to order, she turns a bit toward me, and I see it: she’s pregnant. And it zaps me from head to toe with emotion, like I just stuck my finger in an electrical outlet. I even feel the urge to cry. I gather myself, get my coffee, and head to my car. Once inside, I can re-group and process, but I’m still confused at my own feelings.
I’m thirty-eight and I have four amazing, healthy kids. I am so lucky. And although I feel guilty admitting this, I must: I hated being pregnant. And I feel uncomfortable even saying it because I know so many people are not afforded the luxury. I recognize that for some women, just the site of a pregnant belly is instantly tear-inducing because of their own fertility struggles, or loss. And those women would do anything to be pregnant, despite all the things that make it me hate it so much. But still, because of the relentless nausea, pelvic floor issues, back pain, and irritability I just really hate it. So why, then, when I see a pregnant person, do I feel immense sadness and jealousy?
Is it because I am meant to have one more baby? Or maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me. Revisionist history in the most primal form, where my mind forgets the reality of the situation, blocking out the negative memories, so only the fluttering kicks and late-night belly rubs shine through. From this vantage point, I would take the joy of the kicks over all the bad stuff. But I am not sure I can trust myself to see things clearly, either.
I don’t remember having this reaction until the past two years, around the time my youngest was born. Before that, I always knew I had one more baby left. When I saw someone pregnant, I did not feel like I was looking at someone doing something I would never do again. I think that is where the sadness lies.
Because despite the belly reminding me of endless nausea, heartburn, and back pain — it also reminds me of a time when I was anticipating the arrival of a new baby. A time when I knew an incomparable joy was right around the corner. Because while so many of my friends struggle with postpartum depression, I experienced something wildly different. For the first time, in those first few months with my babies, the intense anxiety that I have lived with my entire life melts away. I feel comfortable, calm, and happy. I am comforted and soothed by the attachment of my newborns in the most intense way. It is a phenomenon that I have yet to experience in any other scenario.
So while many women might appropriately pause and reflect when seeing a pregnant woman, feeling emotional for a brief moment, I am stuck working through some intense, lingering feelings as I move on to the next life phase. It’s not easy; in fact it feels terribly hard in some moments, but I think it is time I start reframing the narrative.
Moving forward, when I see a pregnant belly, I will try to focus more on my gratitude for the four amazing experiences I have had rather than dwell in the sadness of moving on. I will remind myself of future happinesses in parenting and try to get excited for those. And while I allow a little time for my new reframing techniques to start working, I will give myself grace as I move through the feelings of sadness and grief. Because sometimes you have to feel the emotions — even when they suck and don’t make total sense. And I think this is one of those times.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.