How Pregnancy Turned Me Into a Compulsive Liar*
Never in my life have I told so many lies, to so many people.
The lies started as soon as I came off the pill. When you’re actively trying to get pregnant, you quickly discover that you can no longer plan ANYTHING at all more than a couple of weeks in advance: and this is tricky, because, all of a sudden, people will start lining up with invitations to events and meet-ups in couple of months time, but which they need an answer for RIGHTTHISVERYSECOND.
How can you give them an answer, though, when you don’t know what your body will be up to by the time that event rolls around? You might be pregnant by then: and, if you are, you might be ill with morning sickness, or just a plain ol’ emotional wreck, thanks to all of the hormones flying around. Even an invitation to meet up with a friend for coffee becomes fraught with difficulty, because if you check your calendar, you’ll almost certainly find that the date they’re suggesting is the day your period is due that month: and do you really trust yourself to act totally normally if you’re meeting up with someone just an hour after getting that positive/disappointingly negative pregnancy test? Probably not. (Unless, of course, you actually ARE an actress, in which case, congratulations: this must all have been so much easier for you!)
Then there are all of the lifestyle changes you’re forced to make. In every cycle, there’s a two week wait, during which you might be pregnant, but it’s too early to find out yet. This will inevitably coincide with a two week social frenzy, during which your friends and family will issue invitation after invitation, all to events involving copious amounts of alcohol, PLUS a menu made up almost entirely of all of the foods pregnant women can’t eat. Of course, even although you don’t actually know whether you’re pregnant or not at this point, you’re obviously going to want to avoid doing anything to risk it if you are, so you’ll have to lie your way through all of these occasions, too, making up excuse after excuse as to why you’re stone-cold-sober when no one even knows what you look like without a glass of wine, or why you’re not eating any of your favourite foods.
All of this, of course, gets even harder when you actually ARE pregnant.
In my case, I quickly discovered that it’s easy enough to find excuses for avoiding alcohol, but it’s much, much harder to explain why you’re not eating certain foods – especially when those foods are ones you normally love, and which you’re forced to refuse more than once. With my first pregnancy, my parents ended up finding out much earlier than we’d planned, purely because every single time I saw them, they tried to make me eat one of the Forbidden Foods – of which there are many. The first few times, I managed to find ways around it, but I couldn’t keep refusing to eat without them starting to worry, and when we turned up at their house one weekend, just in time to find them pulling a nice Camembert cheese out of the fridge, which they said they’d bought especially for me (I LOVE Camembert, but it’s on the “banned” list for pregnancy…), the sheer stress of the constant lying was just too much, and Terry and I both burst into totally hysterical, uncontrollable laughter, after which we’d no option but to explain ourselves.
Meanwhile, my best friend somehow managed to develop an uncanny instinct for detecting early pregnancy, and, with all three of my pregnancies she has, without fail, contacted me either a few days before I found out, or a few days after, asking if she can come and stay for a few days. Now, as much as I’d have loved to see her, my friend lives in the south of England, and I really didn’t want her to spend money on a train/plane ticket, only to find me totally incapacitated by morning sickness or something, so, each time, I was forced to lie through my teeth to try to put her off, before finally coming clean, much earlier than I wanted to.
I felt like such a bad friend for doing this: honestly, it really quite upset me to have to keep lying to someone who I knew really wanted to see me at the time, but it turned out to be a good call, because, the first time she planned to come to stay, she’d have arrived on the same day my miscarriage started; the second time she’d have arrived while I was in hospital being diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, and the third time – a.k.a. this time? Well, this time I really WOULD have been incapacitated with morning sickness. So, putting off the visit was the right decision, but, the third time it happened, I honestly started to worry that she’d think I was some kind of twisted, psychopathic liar, who kept inventing pregnancies, just to get out of seeing her. Which would be WILD, no?
Once you find out that you definitely are pregnant, though, the lies intensify. Now you have medical appointments to work around, the constant worry of miscarriage to deal with, plus a wide-range of potentially debilitating symptoms to try to hide. This is tricky, because this is also the time when all of those social invitations – plus work-related ones – will suddenly ramp up again, and people will want to see you AAAALLL the damn time. What you find, too, is that you’re no longer being invited round for a quick coffee and catch-up: no, NOW your friends are going to want you to drive two hours, and take part in some kind of extreme sport – which would be inadvisable in pregnancy, even if you WEREN’T too busy throwing up to even consider it.
Terry and I told so many lies in those first few weeks that it honestly become hard to remember which lies we’d told to who, and when. I felt absolutely awful for doing this, but, at the same, I just felt… well, absolutely awful, really: physically, I mean. With this pregnancy, my main symptoms have been nausea and exhaustion, and there have been lots of days when I literally couldn’t leave the house – and sometimes even the bed – because I just felt so incredibly ill. Most of the time, even just getting out of bed and having a shower felt like a herculean task to me, and the idea of putting on makeup, doing my hair, and then going to some kind of social event, where I’d have to stand around for hours on end, pretending to be feeling absolutely fine, was just unthinkable. During this time, even innocuous questions like, “What have you been up to this week?” were minefields: I couldn’t very well say, “Actually, I’ve had my head down the toilet all week: you?” so I’d stutter and stammer, and not be able to come up with a single thing I’d done all week that wasn’t somehow pregnancy-related.
I told so many lies in those first few weeks that it honestly become hard to remember which lies I’d told to who, and when.
(Also, just to complicate things further, our hospital does ultrasound scans in the x-ray department, rather than in the maternity ward or Early Pregnancy Unit, so you have to walk through the busy hospital, and then sit in a large waiting room filled with dozens of other people. I was so paranoid that I’d bump into someone I knew that every time I went for a scan/blood test, I had to prepare a convincing lie to explain why I was there: and then, after all of that, one day I was sitting in the hospital pharmacy, clutching a printout of my latest ultrasound scan, encased in a brightly-coloured folder with the words, “HELLO BABY!” emblazoned on the front, when in walked two of my mother-in-law’s friends, their gaze going directly to the photo in my hand: D’OH!)
We could have just told people, obviously: that’s the most obvious solution to this particular problem, and there were times, particularly when people were most insistent about wanting to see us, when I seriously considered it. Ultimately, though, after two pregnancy losses, I just didn’t want to share the news at such an early stage. I know it would have taken all of the pressure of lying/acting off us both, and that people would have understood, but I just couldn’t face having to tell every single person we knew that I’d had another miscarriage or ectopic, if that was what ended up happening – and I was sure it would be.
When I had my ectopic pregnancy, I made the decision to tell everyone right away – and, a few days later, I also opened up about my earlier miscarriage. There’s absolutely no doubt in mind that this was the right decision at the time: everyone was so lovely about it all, and I got so much support from family, friends, and blog readers that I honestly don’t know how I’d have gotten through that time if I hadn’t talked about it. I firmly believe that these things SHOULD be talked about: more than ever, I really wish that early pregnancy didn’t have to be shrouded in such secrecy, and didn’t require me to put on an Oscar-worthy acting performance for weeks on end. Honestly, it’s really stressful having to constantly lie to people all that time, and there’s more than enough stress in early pregnancy without adding the pressure of absolute secrecy into the mix.
At the same time, though, while I know all of that is true, I just… couldn’t bring myself to do it. Yes, I really valued the support I got through my ectopic, but I didn’t want to put my friends and family through that again. I didn’t want to become ‘Ectopic Amber’, say, or the woman who just kept on losing babies, and who had to spend the rest of her life being pitied by everyone – the source of endless awkward moments as they were forced to navigate the troubled waters of someone else’s tragedy YET AGAIN.
Because, the fact is, it’s award, isn’t it? I know no one would ever admit to this, but I also know that people probably worried about what to say to me the first time they saw me after the ectopic, or after Rubin died, even, and I really hated feeling like I’d suddenly become difficult to be around for some people: the woman who always seemed to be getting over some tragedy, and who no-one really knew how to approach.
So I lied… and lied, and lied, and lied. In a way, I feel like even the blog posts I published during that time were a kind of lying: they tell a story of sunny days and brightly coloured clothes, and when I tell people now that I’ve spent most of the last two months lying on my bed, trying desperately not to throw up, I can practically feel them thinking, “Well, that’s not what I’ve been seeing on your blog, so it can’t have been THAT bad, can it?”
Of course, what those people DON’T know is that although I DID manage to keep on churning out outfit photos on a semi-regular basis, the days I took those photos, it would be pretty much ALL I managed to do, and I’d have to go home and instantly collapse into bed again afterwards. They don’t know that I’m sitting on a wall in these photos, for instance, because, a few minutes into the shoot, I started feeling so sick I couldn’t stand up any more, and Terry had to help me back to the car, with me stopping every few steps, convinced I was about to throw up in public. In these ones, meanwhile, my hair hadn’t been washed in three days (Yeah, I know it shows…), and I’m wearing dark glasses even although it wasn’t sunny, purely to hide the fact that the lipstick I’m wearing was the ONLY makeup I was had on at the time – anything else just felt like way too much effort.
The thing is, too, I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the kind of job where I can get away with this kind of thing. (Well, sort of – my blog traffic dropped dramatically during the two months I was suffering from morning sickness, and I’ve had to turn down most of the sponsorships I’ve been offered. So while I’ve managed to keep things ticking over – just – that’s really all I’ve managed to do, and the stress over the falling traffic and loss of income is at least one thing I guess people in “normal” jobs don’t have to worry about so much…) A job I can (mostly) do from bed, and work around the nausea and hospital appointments. I honestly have NO idea how women in more traditional jobs cope with the first trimester: I mean, I know it’s not like this for everyone, and that some people don’t experience nausea etc to the same extent, but I also know that if I was still in traditional employment, I wouldn’t have coped with any of this, and would have had to be signed off work weeks ago. Working women, I salute you: you’re like real-life superheroes to me, seriously.
So, for me, one of the best things about making the announcement, as much as I worried about it, has been the freedom to stop lying, and the luxury of telling the truth. Being able to tell people that the reason I’m quieter than usual isn’t that I’m bored, or rude – it’s just that I’m absolutely exhausted, and just can’t keep up the “perky” act for one more second. I really hope that this too will pass, and that soon I really WILL feel able to do all of the things I used to do – and with a smile on my face, too – but for now I’m just relieved to not have to pretend any more…
(*Not really, though.)
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