First Trimester Taboo – why keeping mum is a bad idea

Taken from the Catholic Universe – 25 August 2013

(Since this piece was written, I’ve lost well over half a stone in weight and my nutritional intake consists solely of sips of flat coke, water and bites of white bread, further reinforcing the original view.  At times I’ve been almost bedridden and barely able to leave the house, thank goodness for a supportive husband who is carrying the majority of the load during his holiday, whilst I languish like some gothic Victorian heroine. How women are supposed to function normally let alone make rational decisions in this condition is beyond me. Once again I am reminded why abortion must seem like an attractive option to those who may already be overburdened and find the crippling nausea and fatigue almost too much to deal with). 

First-Trimester-Symptoms
My Catherine Earnshaw moments are rather less glamourous!

Much to our delight, we discovered a few weeks ago that we are expecting our fifth child who is expected to put in an appearance some time in March.

The response, even from Catholic quarters has been interesting and is one from which lessons can be drawn. Many people have questioned whether or not I am correct to announce things at this relatively early stage in the first trimester. “Do people tend to go public before 12 weeks, I thought it had to be top secret” asked one colleague in good faith , which made me realise that a taboo pervades when it comes to the subject of early pregnancy.

I’ve therefore decided, perhaps rather foolishly, to lead by example and announce the happy news to the world at large. This pressure to keep mum about being mum, seems to me to be doing women a major disservice under a misguided notion of compassion.

There are really only three main reasons why a woman may wish to keep her pregnancy news to herself. Firstly, she is concerned about the risk of miscarriage, secondly she wants to be sure that the baby is healthy following her twelve week scan and thirdly, she might be undecided and not want to have to face the public stigma of abortion. Which goes to debunk the notion of choice, because surely if the unborn child is not really a person but a bundle of cells, if the decision is hers alone, to do whatever she likes with her body, then why the urge to keep silent? If pro-choicers are wishing to remove the stigma of abortion, to discuss it in terms of need, then why are they wishing to buy into the silence that surrounds early pregnancy?

Regardless of choice, there can be absolutely no doubt, that for most women, the first trimester is a physically and mentally exhausting time. Added to the worry about potential miscarriage, the majority of which take place in the first trimester, women, if they are anything like me, have to face the trauma of perpetual nausea and sickness, loss of appetite, food and scent aversions, (my children currently smell appalling much to my horror), crippling fatigue, periods of feeling faint, accompanying breathlessness along with headaches, with the skin and temperament of a moody adolescent as huge amounts of progesterone go crashing through your body.

In short, one is a wreck. It’s not surprising, as the first trimester is when all of the baby’s major development takes place. By 4 weeks, all of the baby’s major organs and body systems are in place and beginning to form. By 12 weeks all bodily organs and systems are fully-formed and ready to grow. It’s no wonder you’re shattered! There’s an incredible amount of building work taking place inside you, it’s only after 12 weeks that the placenta takes over in terms of supplying the baby with vital nutrients. Before then, it’s one’s body doing all the work in constructing this tiny human, which will naturally deplete your existing resources.

 It therefore seems crazy to keep this quiet when the first trimester is the time that a woman requires most support from her partner, family, friends and employer. You need people to exercise due care and understanding and even if one’s  symptoms are not all that severe, it is likely that at some point, a woman will need some leeway and understanding. To keep things quiet forces a woman to conform to the expectations and demands of others, whilst suppressing her own needs, which is not an ideal model of womanhood.

While it is understandable that a woman may not wish to publicly announce the loss of a child if she were to miscarry, it is far more likely that she will get the time off work and compassion she needs from others, if she has previously made them aware of her pregnancy. By suppressing the news, a woman inherently buys into the prevailing zeitgeist which holds that a child is only a child if it is wanted and once it has reached a certain stage in development, whereas biology tells us that a life is formed from the moment of conception.

Why should women be forced to suffer the grief, pain and loss of a child in early pregnancy alone and unsupported? Friends of mine who have experienced the tragedy of multiple  early miscarriages have testified to experiencing enormous stigma for wishing to mourn the loss of their little ones, because an abortive mentality tells us that this is not really a child or person.

To keep news of a pregnancy silent until one finds out whether or not the baby may have any abnormalities, heaps further pressure on the disabled who live in our society and upon the parents who may be faced with some very difficult news. The silence serving as a shroud with many parents not feeling able to discuss their news with anyone who might be able to give them a more positive vision than a gloomy clinical prognosis, which talks only in terms of pathologies.

A woman who is undecided needs even more compassion in a society which endorses abortion as an acceptable and even responsible option. If she is struggling with a terrible dilemma whilst in the throes of feeling absolutely dire, how does a conspiracy of silence help her to be able to talk through her options with someone other than the worker at the abortion clinic, who will in all probability consolidate her doubts and offer a swift concrete solution.

 In 2012, 91% of abortions were carried out in first trimester, compared to 57% in 2002. It’s no wonder the abortion industry want to keep early pregnancy hidden and behind closed doors. Pregnant women should not feel silenced.

Pregnancy Crisis

When I last wrote about what it was like to face an unplanned pregnancy, a commenter angrily wrote that they could not believe my cheek in asserting that I could now look a pregnant woman facing a crisis pregnancy in the face, that I was comparing myself to someone who had been raped when clearly there was no equivalence, I could never know how it could feel to be pregnant as a result of a rape.

Assuming that statement is correct, it must be remembered that trauma caused by an unplanned pregnancy is no less serious and distressing for a woman, regardless of how she came to be in that particular situation. Being avowedly pro-life does not somehow lessen the emotional or physical impact of an unwanted pregnancy. As a Catholic I feel under additional pressure to serenely grin and bear it, to plaster on a saintly smile and offer up every bout of retching for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, whilst declaring to the world how wonderful it is to be bringing another beautiful baby and human soul in the world.

Now whilst there is some truth in the latter part of that sentence, I know that once the baby is here, I will adore him/her, I will proudly post photographs of him/her on social media and proclaim “look, my baby is so beautiful, here is proof of the evils of abortion”, the reality of being pregnant and pro-life is somewhat different. The reason that I look at my babies and feel filled with horror at the idea of abortion is because I know quite how tempting that prospect is. I experience it on a daily basis. Looking at my babies once born, is an affirmation, not that one is needed, that I have undoubtedly done the right thing and if we’re going to psychoanalyse, is probably as much about assuaging my guilt for entertaining such abhorrent feelings whilst pregnant. One of my more unpleasant detractors said “if I see one more photo which says my baby is cute and abortion is wrong, I’ll throw up”, further consolidating that she had absolutely no idea what it is like to experience a pregnancy, let alone an unwanted or unplanned one.

Here’s the reality, warts and all. I will attempt to remain as dispassionate as possible and not whinge, but I think pro-lifers need to get a feel for what it is like when a woman is desperate, something that the pro-choice lobby, understand only too well.

I feel constantly nauseous. Not mildly nauseous, but full-on, I’m on the verge of throwing up big time here. Everywhere I go, a bucket or some sort of receptacle has to come too. I emerged from around the back of a shrubbery on campus yesterday, wiping tears from my eyes, mucous from my nose and surreptitiously dumping a plastic bag full of vomit in the nearest bin. Being British I cannot bring myself to face the mortification of using the campus toilets and bumping into someone I might know, or indeed that anyone might hear. If I’m not throwing up, I’m feeling that I’m on the verge of it at any second. Everything and everyone smells of cheese, even me. I disgust myself with my smell. Even my beloved children absolutely stink to high heaven. My beautiful baby is repellant, I can’t bear to have her anywhere near me, because she literally makes me sick, one whiff of her head and bleurgh I’m off. This is something of a problem, given that she refuses to drink anything other than breast milk and the odd bit of water. Every time she latches on to the breast, the surge of hormones as the milk is released causes another heave. Another issue is that she is, at not yet 9 months, going through separation anxiety. Put her down for more than 5 nano seconds and the million decibel screaming as if she is being tortured starts, thus setting off the toddler.

I’m exhausted. Not just a little bit tired, but as though my arms and legs are weighted down with lead. I feel constantly wiped out and struggling to keep my eyes open. When I’m at home with the children, I’m fighting sleep, but with a lively and boisterous 2 year old and the baby, it’s obviously not an option. What is exacerbating this is that due to a shortage of space in the house, there is nowhere to put a cot. Thus bunk-beds have been ordered, toddler will be evicted from her cot bed and the baby will then have a cot to sleep in. Until that time she is still in the bed with us and cannot get to sleep unless she is breast-feeding. She has now grown three teeth, so there is lots of biting, nights consist of being used as a giant human comfort blanket, my nipples made ultra sensitive via pregnancy hormones, spend the night being bitten or twisted, handfuls of flesh are grabbed, kneaded, scratched, pulled and pushed in order that the baby can slumber peacefully. As soon as the bunk-beds arrive, I anticipate a double dose of sleep trauma, toddler will be none too happy being evicted from her cosy cot, 7 year old will be getting frightfully stressed and coming to tell us every 5 minutes that toddler is talking, crying, whimpering etc (this happened on holiday when they shared a room) and baby will be apoplectic at having to sleep in a cot in a different room. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used in torture techniques. It makes you desperate. What I have been doing, because I am a shocking, neglectful, lazy mother, is taking advantage of when my children are in University nursery to nip back home and catch a couple of hours of sleep.

The house is an absolute state and I am behind with my university work. I went to the much advertised Student Life building to get some advice about support, given I have a few late essays. I was told how to submit mitigating evidence but also told that there was no guarantee that my claim will be accepted. The highest I can achieve in my essays, if my claim is not accepted is 40%. This will do, it will get me a pass, but is more than a little frustrating.

So, to recap, I’m snowed under with university work, the house is its usual pigsty, I have three young children, I am utterly exhausted, my family live hundreds of miles away and I’ve no close friends nearby either. The parish we worship at is 10 miles away from our house, we started worshipping there before we moved, when Robin was still a vicar, have built a close relationship with the priest and have some friendships, but are still slight outsiders.

The thought of having another baby fills me with absolute dread. As soon as the nine month old reaches a vaguely manageable stage, yet another screaming newborn will be here. I have been pregnant and breastfeeding since February 2009. I have had 2 cesarians in two years, one in November 2009, one in April 2011. Neither of them have gone well. I have a phobia, a genuine dread and terror of childbirth. I feel sick, ill and rotten. I cannot believe that this is happening to me yet again, no sooner does my life begin to come together, then bang, I’m pregnant again. I also feel extraordinarily foolish for being pregnant, like I’ve done something wrong and incredibly stupid in my use of NFP; some would say its my fault for trusting in it, others would point out my deficiencies in not being able to use it properly. Either way it is my fault. In short I am not floating about in a state of pious tranquility that the Lord’s work is being fulfilled. I am miserable. I am letting just about everybody down, my husband, my family and my friends because I am finding it so difficult to function.

My husband is working really long hours, if I defer my degree again, then I’ll be liable for the higher £9,000 a year fees, if I give up, then I’ll never be able to get a job. This getting a job business is actually quite important. If for some reason my husband is not ordained, then instead of spending these few years training for a career, he’s been working in, what can be, a pretty back breaking job paying £5.90 a hour. He’ll need to do something else, as will I. Even if he is ordained, then it is not fair to expect the Catholic Church to pay for my upkeep. So the degree is important.

As an aside, perhaps people can understand why I may be just a tad short-tempered at the moment. Perhaps they can also understand why, given we gave up everything in order that my husband could cross the Tiber, and given that I have received unprecedented amounts of abuse for defending Catholic social teaching, it is more than a little galling to be called “liberal, pro-life lite, misleading the faithful and reinventing Church teaching” and had the fact that we are not cradle catholics thrown back at us by some of the traditionalist Catholics. It’s why I’m having a twitter break for a short while. Anyone looking through some of the early comments on this blog can see some of the abuse that I’ve had to put up with, being called a fundamentalist, extremist and other such names. It is just laughable to have my faith called into doubt this way. There has been absolutely no understanding that I might be feeling extremely vulnerable at present – name calling of the most un-Christian kind and aggression has been de rigour. It has been worse than anything previously faced, not simply because of the spiteful derision, but because this has come from brethren in Christ. Although I am to blame for perhaps overreacting, I think bloggers who devoted two consecutive blog posts to me and tweeters who embarked on consecutive twitter rants, need to ask themselves how they feel they might be coming across?Twitter does not allow for nuance, nor does it allow pause for thought. When faced with tweet after tweet after tweet, the blood starts pumping, the breathing quickens, hackles rise at the invective writ large in front of you and the emotional temperature is raised. This is not good for anyone and certainly not righteous. I would urge all Catholic tweeters, just to stop, pause and think. Things might not be meant aggressively, but that is certainly how they come across.

It’s fair to say that I am not Mrs Duggar, floating about in euphoric bliss about the Lord’s will being done, having conceived baby number 21. If only I were. This pregnancy is proving to be a huge spiritual test. I feel like asking “Lord, why me, again”, but am focusing upon Romans 8.

Why am I spilling like this – firstly, its to let people know in no uncertain terms that I am having a hard time. It’s to let pro-lifers know that pregnancy is often a terrible physical and emotional ordeal. I am effectively being forced to give birth, as the pro-choicers would put it, because for me there is no other choice. What I have to do, in the words of Mama Odie, from Disney’s Princess and the Frog (currently showing 24/7 in these parts) is to dig a little deeper. What we want and what we need are not always the same things, doing what is right, is not the same as doing what is easy. There are times when I feel that I would literally do anything to not be pregnant right now, I would make some kind of Faustian pact that didn’t actually involve taking the life of my chid or indeed selling my soul. If someone would offer me a solution to take away the pregnancy and the sickness, I would be mightily tempted.

This is what pregnant women face and this is what is on offer at Marie Stopes and BPAS. I know that were I to visit, they would not sit in judgement, but would validate my feelings of despair and negativity whilst offering a way out. This is the reality that anyone dealing with a pregnant woman has to face. I wrote a lot this summer about non directional counselling, my feeling was that women must not be bullied and hectored. I still stand by that, but my opinion has changed slightly. The only thing that is stopping me from not aborting this baby, is the fact that I know that it would be the killing of a child. I am 9 weeks pregnant. That’s definitely a baby, not a potential life, but a real live one. Abortion providers make moral judgements for women, they tell women that aborting children is acceptable and understandable. It might be the latter, but whichever way you look at it, when an abortion counsellor recommends a woman for an abortion procedure, they are making a moral judgement.

Pro-choice people understand only too well how difficult it is for a woman, which is why they hate us pro-lifers piling on what they believe is unnecessary guilt and pressure. But where I have changed my mind, is that actually, a woman needs to know that if she aborts her baby, she is killing her unborn child. There can be no getting around that fact. Women need to see ultrasounds and understand the choice that they are making. Someone needs to put the reality to them that abortion is the ending of a life. It’s an uncomfortable truth and it is what has people so up in arms, because they feel that women don’t need to know that, it’s easier to put the whole idea out of their minds, in a separate box to be dealt with later. This does not necessitate religious reference or hectoring, but simple facts. Here is your baby – here is what it looks like – the decision is still yours, but it is precisely because of the nature of abortion, that you may well feel some emotional trauma afterwards, particularly if you are already vulnerable.

I know that Marie Stopes and BPAS would offer me the solution that I wanted, but it would be a decision entirely centred around me, my feelings and my life as it stands now. The unborn baby would not feature at all, and thus spurious arguments would be used as qualification such as “its not really alive, it’s not viable”. That’s why this so emotive, desperate women take decisions to make their lives better, decisions that seem understandable, but decisions that are ultimately morally right or wrong. Either abortion is right, or it is wrong. What pro-lifers have to do is understand this desperation and fight to offer decent alternatives for women in these situations, as well as helping women to see the reality of their actions. What would help me? Someone to advocate at University, not only for the late penalty to be taken off my essays, but also to allow me to bring a newborn baby to lectures and seminars next year. Someone to help fight so that if I do defer, I don’t have to pay the higher fees. Ultimately we need people to fight for better conditions for pregnant women in terms of careers, so that they are not forced to put them on hold, or their prospects aren’t damaged by career breaks. That would get down abortions no end and would be a far more productive use of time than philosophically debating same sex marriage. Pro-life groups have to make it easier for women. I don’t need baby clothes, I need practical and career help.

No doubt aborting this baby would improve my short term health no end. It wouldn’t do much for the baby’s. No doubt I shall be filled with grace and blessings. But understand this – it is far from easy. I feel forced to set a shining example, when really all I want to do is to collapse into a hormonal mess. Faced with no alternative I just have to cope and dig a little deeper, I think it’s what most do when they are up against it. But I need people to be gentle. I needed a break from pregnancy. Desperately.

And now here’s the Disney. Enjoy