Pregnancyt: Nine months is never enough

The sense of loss that often comes after birth can make you want to get pregnant again right away. Carole Ann Rice is tempted
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Indy Lifestyle Online

From the delirium of seeing that thin, blue line of confirmation to the awesome moment of curtain-up, pregnancy for me was a nine-month high. What I wasn't prepared for was the comedown – the petit mort that followed my baby's exit from my body.

From the delirium of seeing that thin, blue line of confirmation to the awesome moment of curtain-up, pregnancy for me was a nine-month high. What I wasn't prepared for was the comedown – the petit mort that followed my baby's exit from my body.

This was my second and probably last pregnancy, so I was going to make sure I enjoyed every burpy, itchy, sexy powerful second of it. And it didn't let me down – I knew I would never feel so at one with my body again. Not surprising then that childbirth took away as much as it gave that day. To see my body lose half a stone in a matter of minutes, my stomach a visibly deflating balloon, was proof that the party was over. Moments after, I felt used up and bereft, my body a flabby husk of nothingness, an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

How weird, I thought, this sense of loss in the midst of new life. Junior had left the house leaving me not just alone but lonely. I missed him dreadfully. In the days that followed I became preoccupied with what I saw was the only solution. To become pregnant again.

Afterwards, talking to others, I realised that it's not uncommon to experience birth as a sort of bereavement – the loss of an intimate relationship with your unborn child. Although they're fleeting, these emotions have a profound impact on the mother at a time of major transition.

Zita West, midwife, nutritional counsellor and mother of two, has nursed women who respond to this feeling by becoming permanently pregnant. And though, like me, she didn't follow this dramatic course of action herself, she empathises with these post-birth yearnings. "I remember after the birth of my daughter," she says, "looking at her resting in her transparent cot in the twilight and thinking, 'Who are you?' I felt like I couldn't protect her any more and almost wished she was back inside me." For some women, she says, it is a feeling of grief for their lost selves as the sheer burden of responsibility they now face is made flesh before their eyes. For two months after the birth I was haunted by the need to be pregnant again. When I shared this with my midwife, she winked and said "Irish twins", the name given to siblings born in the same 12 months. Apart from going grey overnight at the prospect, my husband urged me to give it time, and wisely placated my desires with "perhaps" and "maybe" until the feelings passed. Nevertheless, I continued to sense the baby kicking weeks after the birth and it took me a long while to accept my body as anything other than abnormal because I was no longer the size of a house.

A variety of factors can trigger these bittersweet feelings, usually termed the "baby blues", and which in some cases can dip into post-natal depression. These "blues" affect between half and two thirds of women after birth. Peaking between three and five days after the delivery, they are usually attributed to hormonal fluctuations. But the birth experience itself, exposure to the new baby, and the onset of lactation all have emotional resonances that may topple over into weepiness, over-sensitivity, excitement and anti-climactic feelings. Most researchers make a distinction between these and severe depression, which affects between 10 and 15 per cent of mothers, and is expressed in feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, self-loathing, despair and possibly suicidal ideas.

With the less severe baby blues, the main thing to bear in mind is that these feelings are normal and that it's vital to talk about them. This transient sense of loss can affect any age group, at any time, no matter how many pregnancies have passed before, and can bewilder even the most focused of people.

Nina Campbell, 35, of South Kensington in London, is a successful investment banker who describes herself as "intense". She was surprised by the feelings of grief that accompanied the arrival of her second child.

"After giving birth I almost expected to feel my daughter's movements again," she says. "I hadn't felt this with my son. I had loved feeling special and enjoyed the build-up of excitement surrounding my pregnancy. It took over my every thought. So afterwards there was a definite sense of loss. I even considered having another baby to fill the void, but these feelings passed within weeks."

Joan Raphael-Leff, Professor of Psychoanalysis at University of Essex and author of Pregnancy – The Inside Story (Karnac, 2001), suggests that in some cases this sense of bereavement may have deeper roots. "The feeling of loss for the new mother can be connected to her own mother," she suggests. "During pregnancy it is inevitable that a woman thinks about the woman who was pregnant with her, and if there is no longer a sense of closeness, she may have a sense of loss."

More commonly, though, the feeling of being hollowed out is experienced by women who have cherished being pregnant. "For women who have idealised pregnancy – for whom everything seemed better while they were pregnant – there may be mourning," says Raphael-Leff. "They've lost this state of 'communion', where they felt closer to the baby than they believe they'll ever feel again. Initially, everything else feels like second best but usually the yearnings subside as the baby becomes more real. The task of looking after the baby seems rewarding and can compensate."

The turning point for me came when my son hit the three-month mark and became that noisy, demanding source of terminal exhaustion – only then did Mother Nature's siren call to pregnancy finally start to die down.

But don't let fear of this spoil your complete enjoyment of your pregnancy. Take a tip from Caroline Smith, 35, an acupuncturist and mother of two from Roehampton, who delighted in her three trimesters while she could. "I felt horribly nostalgic about being pregnant even when I was expecting my son Fergus," she says. "I didn't want it to end. I loved the enormity of it all, the self-indulgence and the private, intimate relationship I had with the baby, which you later have to share with everyone else. Even a day after giving birth I remember thinking, 'Wow, I'd like to do that again.'"

Caroline says that she wishes she had known the first time, when pregnant with her daughter Ruby, to make the most of this unique period. "Now I find myself staring at pregnant women in awe," she says. "I've become one of those people who has to suppress a desperate desire to reach out and touch them. Who knows what I'm going to be like when my children leave home?"

And me? Although I favour the colour black, I've long ago parted with those feelings of grief. My son has just had his third birthday and, now in my 40s, I know I have reached the end of my childbearing years. I won't be doing a Cherie Blair. Yet I know that I will always feel wistful when I see pregnant women and hear of friends embarking on that incredible nine-month journey. I'm glad that I may never get over that.

Zita West nutritional healthcare and supplements for pre- and post-pregnancy (0870 1668899).

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