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Birth envy: ‘I’m jealous of women with perfect pregnancies and easy births’

“Feelings of resentment and jealousy don’t mean that we are a bad person or a terrible friend, they just mean that we are all human.”

My stomach twists with the all too familiar mixture of resentment, jealousy and bitterness. I am shocked by the extent of these feelings, directed towards people I love.

My girlfriends are comparing and complaining about the pain and difficulties of the third trimester and birth. The intricacies of birth are discussed and stories of labour exchanged. Hardships like heartburn, stretchmarks and swollen feet are met with exaggerated empathy.

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Phoebe with her eldest child. Image: supplied.

I want to scream in frustration

I want them to realise that I would give anything to have had these experiences and yet, here they are, taking them for granted.

My journey through pregnancy and birth has been marred with losses and missed experiences. After enduring rounds of IVF and recurrent miscarriages, the birth of my first child occurred prematurely via a traumatic emergency caesarean.

The bitterness and jealousy I feel threatens to overwhelm me as I fight the urge to tell everyone to be grateful for their picture-perfect pregnancies and births. Instead, I bite back my tears and mumble quietly “I wouldn’t know, I never experienced that.” I fall into silence and let the conversation carry on without me.

“I hate this version of myself”

I am filled with shame for the ugly emotions I am feeling. I hate this version of myself; this crazy, irrational woman. But lately, this version of myself seems to be surfacing more than I would like.

When I fell pregnant at the same time as one of my best friends I was initially overjoyed. I was so excited to embark on this journey together. We both already had toddlers that were born within weeks of each other and now we were both pregnant again, due within three months of one another.

And yet, as time progressed the differences in our pregnancies only served to highlight the gulf that existed between our journeys.

Want more stories like this? This mum says birth trauma doesn’t mean she’s not grateful for her healthy child, here’s everything you need to know about birth trauma and how to overcome it, and how to come to terms with a traumatic birth.

Phoebe after the birth of her second baby. Image: supplied.

“It was a journey marked with anxiety and fear”

My pregnancy commenced with preconception counselling and a barrage of statistics about risk factors and likely complications. From the first moment it was a journey marked with anxiety and fear. Deemed a high-risk pregnancy, I spent hours upon hours undergoing regular scans under the intense scrutiny of specialist obstetricians. I was told that I would never make it to full term and that a vaginal delivery would not be possible. Monitoring fetal movements became a necessary obsession and I was constantly on edge, fearing the worst at every turn.

And all the while my friend’s pregnancy progressed like clockwork; the ideal pregnancy interjected only by the occasional visit to a local holistic midwife. Her second pregnancy was destined to follow the path of her first; a quick, natural, unmedicated, vaginal birth, resulting in a perfectly healthy full-term baby.

“I tried to suppress my resentment”

I tried desperately to suppress my resentment of her perfect pregnancy and birth, but as time wore on, the unfairness of it began to eat away at me. At times the feeling was so strong it was almost palpable, like a poison flowing through my veins.

Logically, I was acutely aware that while pregnancy and birth are a blessing, they are also an unbelievably arduous and difficult journey no matter what the circumstances. My friend had every right to be open and honest about the personal hardships of her pregnancy and birth. Like everyone, she too had her own private demons to overcome. But the gulf between knowing something and feeling it can, at times, be vast.

Phoebe and Sal were pregnant together. Image: supplied.

“I do not own the monopoly on suffering”

We all carry our own emotional burdens, permanently scarred by personal experiences and losses. Whose pain is the worst and whose feelings are justified? The mother who struggled to conceive and her resentment towards those who fall pregnant seemingly without any effort at all? The single mother struggling to do it all on her own and her annoyance at all those couples tackling parenting as a united team? The mother whose young child is seriously ill, who spends her days and nights having to worry about infection risks and recurrence rates, all the while beseechingly asking herself the question, why me, why my child?

The truth is that there is no hierarchy of pain. I do not own the monopoly on suffering. Yes, I had a traumatic birth and am experiencing a difficult pregnancy. But one person’s experience of pain does not negate someone else’s right to feel whatever they feel.

For my sanity (and for the sake of my friendships), I needed to find a way to cope with my feelings of resentment and bitterness. The first step towards this was to let go of the guilt and shame that were associated with these emotions. Instead, when I felt these feelings rising within me, instead of spiralling into shame, I simply acknowledged to myself that this was an understandable response considering my circumstances. I needed to stop minimising my feelings and realise that what I was feeling was valid.

“My feelings were grief”

In time, I also came to realise that a large proportion of my feelings of resentment and bitterness were, in fact, grief. It was far easier for me to feel angry and jealous than it was to acknowledge the deep emotional sorrow that I felt in relation to the loss of a ‘normal’ pregnancy and birth.

In the end, I forgave myself for my birth envy, recognising that it was simply an expression of my lived experiences. Feelings of resentment and jealousy don’t mean that we are a bad person or a terrible friend, they just mean that we are all human.

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