As I sat and had lunch with some of the women from my antenatal class on Wednesday, I was struck again by how different their experience of pregnancy has been. They are all younger than me, although one is approaching my elderly status by being 38. At least 2 of them are in their 20s. Three of them have confessed to me how they got pregnant the first month they gave up birth control, and one isn't really sure when she conceived as she was still on the pill, just perhaps not taking it as regularly as she should. That doesn't mean they aren't lovely and supportive and fun to hang out with, but sometimes I feel the raging heat of jealousy come flooding through me as they tell me of their experiences, as I listen to them talk about number 2.
It also doesn't mean they haven't had some tough times being pregnant. One woman had a big bleed (onto a seat at the theatre) at 12 weeks. One woman threw up everything she ate for 4 months (including on her wedding day, see 'forgot to take the pill', above). One woman needed serious surgery in about month 3 of the pregnancy and so underwent general anaesthesia and subsequently needed a bunch of painkillers. She was assured by her caregivers that this wouldn't harm the baby, and was regularly scanned etc., but I'm wondering if there is any coincidence in the fact that she went into labour at 32 weeks, was stopped by terbutaline but then gave birth at 36 weeks to her very petite (5lb) daughter. The mum, of course, was back in her size 2 (US) jeans at our lunch yesterday. And was very sweet about it but of course I am dead jealous. Not that I've EVER made it into a pair of size 2 jeans. Her baby is very very sweet and very tiny. Funny to think that our Pob is probably already bigger than this tiny girl. Her size certainly gave pause to the two women who have been told that their babies are probably around 9.5 lbs right now...
They call me the guru of the group. Whatever someone asks about I have some kind of answer. I've talked about all of you in vague terms, "a friend of mine in the US said...", "a friend who had twins recently...", etc. They're not really that curious, they've found it easy to rely on what I say. I got an email just before H and I went to the cinema on Sunday asking me how to time contractions, which I thought I'd better respond to - turns out she was just checking. I don't mind this role but I can't help thinking they must find me annoying sometimes. But it seems to be something they genuinely like. And anyway, now that one of us has given birth, and a second is going for a c-section tomorrow, I'll no longer be the expert on some aspects, that's a relief.
The oddness I find in being part of this group is partly a social issue as well as an issue of different experiences. Most of them gave up work relatively early in pregnancy, certainly by 34 weeks. About 65% don't intend to go back to work. Their husbands are investment bankers and others of that ilk, so they don't 'need' to return, despite their obvious achievements in their careers so far. In a way I'm jealous of that, too. I love my job, most of the time, but it is very demanding. It also pays extremely well. H's job doesn't. If I stopped working, we'd have to sell our house and move somewhere smaller. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but it's a serious change. I'm also not sure it would make me happy - I've worked hard to get where I am today. But then, last week as I ate a peach, I thought about giving Pob little bits of peach next summer to mush up, and perhaps even eat, I realised that on many evenings I might not be home in time to give her supper. That doesn't feel good.
Don't worry, I'm not about to make a decision on work right now. I'm lucky to have good maternity benefits - I'll get paid for about 4 months, then I can take up to another 8 months off. The intent is to go back after about 6 months but we'll see how I'm feeling.
Anyway, back to the maternity group. The strangest part of the experience was not the different experiences of my new friends, but the behaviour of the instructor at the first class. The instructor went round the room asking us our names, any details about our pregnancies, our intended date of stopping work, what we were doing for exercise, what we were worried about. I was about 2/3rds of the way round the room. Before me came many of the women who had already given up work or would do so by about 32-34 weeks. One woman owns her own interior decoration business so she explained she'd keep going as long as she could, and the instructor barely commented. Then I went. I mentioned the fact this was my third pregnancy, that I'd had a small bleed at 13 weeks, that I was doing regular pregnancy yoga, and that I was intending to work to somewhere between 36 and 38 weeks, but would go as long as I could since I was the primary wage earner in our family.
And then the instructor launched into me. I got a diatrabe including the threat, "if you keep working you've got a much higher chance of premature labour, and if you have a preemie they'll end up in special care", and a lot of "given your age you should be taking things easier." And a "what's really important here?" It lasted about 5 minutes. At the time I wasn't upset so much as bemused. And a bit puzzled by the statistics she quoted. Turns out that the only studies which show any links between premature labour and women's occupations are for women who do heavy manual labour, and as my OB pointed out, you can't separate the effects of heavy manual labour from the low socio-economic status of those women. So he was not worried about me working. And the berating I got wasn't justified at all.
For the few weeks after that class I had regular dreams that I was in labour, giving birth to small babies, who usually got mixed up with other people's babies. I didn't feel too disturbed by the conversation, but clearly my subconscious did.
I never raised my discomfort - nay, outrage - with that conversation with the instructor. I should have done. Perhaps I'll still write her a note. It certainly made me doubt any other statistics she quoted at us. But then I was never attending the ante-natal classes for the education, I knew I could get that elsewhere. I was attending to meet a bunch of women who were sharing one part of my experience with me - albeit not the whole scenario. I was also attending because the often cited 'best breast feeding expert in the UK' teaches one class there, and I was told it was well worth learning from her and having the access to her once the baby is born.
The ante-natal classes have done their job. I have a bunch of fun women to hang out with, and, all being well, in a month all 13 of us will have babies and will be able to share the experiences of their first few months. I'm sure that as some of them get pregnant again I'll have more pangs of jealousy, but I think I can bottle it and look to this online community to give me what I need in that direction. They are lovely, kind, sensitive women who just haven't been through what I have to get this far. They appreciate my situation is a bit different and they are not insensitive to those differences (most of the time). I feel quite lucky to have them.
Part of me can't help thinking, though, that a class of pregnant infertiles might have a better time together. No need to explain why you still have morbid thoughts about still birth, even at 38 weeks pregnant. No need to explain why, at 32 weeks, you haven't even thought about what the nursery is going to look like. Plenty of opportunity to discuss worries about whether our bodies will fail us again. Lots of opportunity to discuss the latest findings of Dr Google. Or do you think we'd all wind each other up too much?