As your bump grows it can sometimes feel that it is creating a barrier between you and those around you. While some will watch in awe and excitement as the life within you becomes increasingly visible, you may notice that others become distant as the life change you are embarking upon becomes too difficult to ignore.
For you, whether you like it or not, you have begun to exist as a duo. Literally holding another person, the boundary of what it means to be a ‘self’ becomes blurred. Your body and mind are both deeply affected by your baby, with this little being already impacting on every area of your life – from your ability to stay out late, to your inability to stay dry-eyed at PG Tips adverts. Just as our babies affect us, there is also increasing evidence of how we affect our babies as they grow. I’ve mentioned previously that attention has been turned to the way that diet during pregnancy can have long term effects on a child’s own health, but there is a growing body of research to show the many ways that our mood and behaviour during pregnancy can alter the way our baby actually grows. The work of Professor Vivette Glover at Imperial College London is showing the different ways in which stress during pregnancy can have a lasting impact on our children, leading to emotional and behavioural problems in later childhood. We might assume that a woman who is stressed during pregnancy may be more likely to be stressed later on and that this may affect her child. In actual fact, Prof Glover’s team indicate that there is a direct effect of mum’s mood during pregnancy on foetal brain development. Of course, this makes sense when you consider that a baby needs to adapt to his or her environment before birth so that they are prepared – to enter into a world of feast or famine, war or peace. Other research, described in ‘Origins’ by Annie Murphy Paul, has linked high or chronic prenatal stress to factors as diverse as poorer cognitive and language skills in toddlerhood, smaller babies and schizophrenia in young adulthood. While such research can feel like yet another thing to worry about during pregnancy, the mild stress experienced by the vast majority of us may actually enhance foetal development (according to Janet DiPietro of John Hopkins University). In any case, it is becoming clear that the two of you are influencing each other practically from the moment of conception. This may be both through hormones transmitted through the blood stream, and also the sounds filtering through from the world outside. Those little ears pick up on everything – as demonstrated in a study conducted in the early 90’s which showed that newborns whose mothers had watched ‘Neighbours’ during pregnancy stopped moving and became alert when the theme tune was played!
While the influence you already have on your developing baby may feel a little intimidating to you, it also reflects just how important you are. From a single woman, you are becoming a mother – a role revered throughout history. While it may not always seem that way now, when the role of a mother has become both devalued and idealised, you are joining the ranks of the matriarchs. Being a mother brings ideas of an awesome force, unbreakable bonds and fierce protection. There’s a reason it’s not Father Nature.
It’s not surprising, then, that this can sometimes feel threatening to others. You may become not a pregnant woman in your own right but the vessel for a child, someone either to ignore or treat as a celebrity but not to see as an individual. Why? It may be that there is a part of all of us which longs to be back in that merged state again. We can spend our lives seeking such a perfect symbiosis, in our friendships and certainly in romantic relationships. Just as you may begin to fantasise about the baby within you, others may have their own fantasies of what that baby means to them – the distance or closeness it may create with you, and their own wish to be or fear of becoming merged.
Of course, you are still two selves but you and your bump may find yourself representing much more. Soon you will become two separated selves and then begins the process of working out what that new little self will want and need from you. For the time being, enjoy the fact that your body alone is meeting your baby’s every need.