We might all be cut from the same mould, but does this mean our experiences are all identical? Whether it be reading a book or feeling the first flush of love, we infuse ourselves in everything we do – emotions, past experiences, preferences, prejudices, expectations all colour the lens through which we view our lives. So, our experiences can never be a carbon copy of anyone else’s.
During pregnancy I have been utterly swamped with statistics and well-meaning comments from others about how things should be. From the experience of morning sickness to weight gain, baby’s first movements, labour, birth and beyond, everyone seems to have something to say. What this advice doesn’t tend to come with is an appropriate disclosure: ‘it’s not gospel – your experience will be unique‘.
I have a pile of pregnancy and birth books beside the bed. Add to that the countless personal stories I’ve heard and that amounts to a lot of information. But it doesn’t matter what I’ve read or what I’ve been told – nothing could compare to the experiences themselves.
I had heard that feeling the baby move for the first time was like the flutter of butterfly wings or popcorn popping. When I felt the first kicks, words were not enough. Sure, maybe popcorn was a good approximation, but how could anyone adequately explain the feeling of your own spawn squirming and kicking inside you?
Likewise, I knew other women who struggled with fatigue throughout their pregnancy. But it wasn’t until it hit me that I understood the overpowering urge to take a nap. I’ve heard again and again that the second trimester should see a return of the energy that was so thoroughly depleted in the first three months – sure, I’ve got some energy back, but I’m hardly super-woman.
We tend to create a textbook description of pregnancy, often forgetting that while this will roughly describe some women’s experience, it doesn’t fit them all.
Now I recognise that whatever I’m thinking and feeling is my experience alone. Yes, countless other women have been there before and countless more will follow. But each and every one of our experiences is unique; for anyone to suggest that every pregnancy should be the same is simply not true.
Certainly this doesn’t apply only to pregnancy. On the yoga mat you might be told that a backbend should feel invigorating. What if it simply feels scary? Or, you sit and practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) and are told you should feel calm, yet you feel nothing at all.
Perhaps you’ve just gotten a big promotion at work and everyone says ‘you must be so happy’, yet you feel empty inside. Or the movie you saw because someone told you ‘you’ll love it’ left you wanting your money back.
In any of these instances, does feeling something ‘different’ make the experience wrong? Of course not. There can be no such thing as a ‘wrong’ experience, only the experience itself.
For me, pregnancy has offered a neatly packaged lesson: take things as they come, don’t be attached to specific outcomes. No one can tell you how to feel, and what you feel simply is. Of course, I’m not using this as an excuse to ignore warning signals. If something seems ‘wrong’ I get it checked out.
Despite all this, I’m not about to throw away the books and reject the advice that’s given to me. This information is valuable. I will simply filter it through the realisation that different doesn’t necessarily equal wrong. Just unique.