I told my friends I was pregnant. First came the shock, then the advice. Lots of advice

Friends’ reactions to my pregnancy ranged from utter disbelief to, um, utter disbelief

Tanya Sweeney: “Whether women have children or not, they are united in their enthusiasm to immediately dispense advice; the good, the bad, the poo-related.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Tanya Sweeney: “Whether women have children or not, they are united in their enthusiasm to immediately dispense advice; the good, the bad, the poo-related.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw

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Here’s something I wasn’t expecting – one of the most entertaining things about pregnancy is telling others about it.

I can barely hold my own water, so my little ‘secret’ didn’t last too long (besides, I was starting to show very early on. It was that or leave people assume I was pure beating into the pasta).

As an aside, I’m not sure the 12-week embargo, making up tall tales about antibiotics, hiding morning sickness and secretly passing on the baked Camembert, is all that healthy a cultural imperative. After this 12-week point, of course, the risk of miscarriage drops significantly. It means women ostensibly spare themselves a situation where the disclosure of very happy news has to be followed by very sad news.

Yet, maybe if we talked more openly about pregnancy in those first three months, a lot of women who endure a miscarriage or a pregnancy that’s not so straightforward might not feel so alone.

But anyway, I was never going to be able to keep my gob shut, and that’s that.

Once you break the news, you do need to go a bit ‘performing seal’

Telling people might be fun, not that the conversation itself is remotely interesting: saying “nope, no sickness, no cravings, a bit of tiredness, but that’s about it” dozens of times is up there with the most boring exchanges you’re likely to have. Yet, once you break the news, you do need to go a bit ‘performing seal’. You are now a blessed vessel, a repository for everyone else’s joys, expectations and good intentions, and you are supposed to be damned delighted about it. As you might imagine, my stock line – “yep, I’m just going with the flow for now” – didn’t exactly pass muster.

Fine, it’s all a bunch of conversational tics borne out of social politesse, as opposed to anyone really caring whether you’ve eaten coal that day, but still.

Friends who are already parents seemed delighted, assuring me it was the best thing I’ll ever do. Though I can conceive plenty of the amount of work involved in motherhood, I can’t quite yet conceive of this love avalanche, so this was assuring to hear.

You also realise that if you are a woman announcing a pregnancy in your 40s, there is an assumption that you have been trying to make this happen for a very long time. There’s a sense of having ‘caught’ a last chance somehow.

Prone to drama

My friends are prone to drama at the best of times, and though I’m fond of confounding an expectation or two, I wasn’t expecting the following responses:

– The friend, walking down the street with me, who screamed “F*** OFF” so loudly at me that people 100 yards down the road swivelled around, expecting a full-blown domestic;

– The one who proclaimed “after this, absolutely anything in the world is possible” (um, I have ovaries and a boyfriend. This isn’t exactly a modern-day miracle);

– The pal who sat back at lunch, exhaled dramatically and declared, “I cannot believe I am walking back out into a world in which you are pregnant” (worse things are going on in the world. You’ll get over it);

– The friend who burst into emotional tears, making me feel slightly guilty that my own response wasn’t quite as ‘pregnancy test TV advert’;

– The close friend who reacted to my coy declaration about sticking on the lime and soda with a very concerned, “oh, right, okay” (did she think I was going to admit to a drinking problem? How hard have I been partying?);

– The several who gave me extreme side-eye and observed, “I thought you didn’t even like children” (yes, but even if you haven’t made repeated and sustained declarations about how much you want a child, it’s still legal to get pregnant. But we’ll get back to this in a second);

– Both my brothers, who said the exact same thing: “Can I tell (the other)?” This was hot gossip and no mistake.

Formidable and outlandish

To be fair, I felt as though I were delivering a nugget as formidable and outlandish as if it were Liberace’s pregnancy I was announcing.

Yet, the reactions of friends who have known me through my many single and child-free years gave me pause for thought. Some seemed genuinely perplexed that I was ‘switching teams’.

I’m not sure where the dividing line between women who happen to be parents and those who don’t ever came from. But it’s very much there. (Oddly, this doesn’t appear to happen with men. There’s no such thing as a ‘non-dad’.)

And I’ve long talked up the joys of a child-free life, especially in a culture that treats women without children as somehow ‘lesser’, or somehow needing figuring out. Only a few months ago, I appeared on radio to discuss a woman’s right to remain child-free, without judgement.

I still believe that a child-free life, whether by accident or design, is wonderful: in fact, a part of me is in mourning over the child-free person I thought I would always be. But changing your mind on whether or not to have children – or switch sides – is not disallowed.

I could easily have been all in my head, but there was still a sense of moving across the divide. Almost immediately, I felt others pull away, mentally ticking me off their ‘available for adventures’ list and consigning me to another more boring, unavailable group of people.

But as that one friend said, if I – who had written publicly about disastrous, disheartening dates only a couple of years ago – can announce a pregnancy, anything is indeed possible. Get me, a beacon of hope.

Yet, whether women have children or not, they are united in their enthusiasm to immediately dispense advice; the good, the bad, the poo-related.

But that’s a conversation for another day.

Tanya Sweeney is writing a weekly column about her pregnancy.
Part 1: More chance of Bosco getting pregnant
Part 2: First came the shock, then the advice
Part 3: I’m pregnant and have the odd glass of wine
Part 4: People have never seen me like this before
Part 5: Having a baby bump makes a woman so visible
Part 6: Please, no more well-meaning advice

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