There is room to improve when it comes to pregnancy reactions in Ireland, writes Jason Osborne
Crisis pregnancy organisation Gianna Care is looking to raise awareness about positive pregnancy reactions with a new campaign, after Director Carolyn O’Meara noticed an overwhelming tendency towards negativity in today’s Ireland.
“This is something that’s actually come to my mind a lot over the last number of years,” Ms O’Meara told The Irish Catholic.
“It’s come about mainly because of the interactions with the clients that we’ve had, and also my own personal experience too. And talking to women that I know, friends and family regarding pregnancy, and how people reacted to their pregnancy.”
Ms O’Meara says many of Gianna Care’s clients are met with off-putting and derogatory remarks upon revealing their pregnancy, which often makes them question the pregnancy itself.
“So, for our clients, when they come in, they’ll often say to us that they dread telling certain people or they dread the reactions and the negative comments from certain people. That can be just in passing and then they’ll move on,” she said.
“But then we’ll have the other extreme of women being so distressed at the thoughts of the negative reactions they say they’ll receive that they contemplate abortion, some having even aborted because of that reason.”
Pregnant women, particularly those who find themselves in an unexpected, unplanned, and sometimes unwanted, situation can be “extremely vulnerable”, according to Ms O’Meara.
“Some of these women couldn’t face the negative reactions. Particularly in early pregnancy, women can feel very, very vulnerable. The positive pregnancy test can come completely out of the blue, so they’re totally shocked.
“They’re in an unplanned situation. Emotions can be very high in early pregnancy due to hormone changes, they can have mood swings, crying spells, be really irritable, have anxiety and then they have to face the negative reactions of others,” she explained.
Aware of the effect that a hostile reaction to the news of someone’s pregnancy can have, Ms O’Meara realised a positive pregnancy reaction campaign was something that would have to feature as part of Gianna Care’s work.
“If you look at Ireland, I think we’ve made great strides with the mental health awareness, and I was just thinking about that, that we’re much more open to talking about mental health and the importance of maintaining our mental wellbeing, but then I was thinking about pregnant mothers, and there’s not an awful lot done to protect mothers who are in a very unique and vulnerable position,” Ms O’Meara said.
“I think that even just starting the conversation can have a huge impact – just making people aware that their reaction is actually really important, and not only to the pregnant mother who’s in the situation now, but that mother who’s going to be in that situation is hearing how you’re talking about other people right now.”
With this in mind, Ms O’Meara and Gianna Care are beginning a “public awareness campaign” in an effort to get people thinking about just the scenarios she described.
“We shared this last week [through social media] just to try to get the conversation started and so many women resonated with this straight away. So many said in private messages to us that they felt a lot of judgment.
“It caused them huge anxiety before announcing their pregnancy. Often women will put it [announcing the pregnancy] off for as long as they possibly can – we’re talking months, until they’re halfway through their pregnancy, to tell people.”
Sharing some of the reactions with this paper, one woman said she “always” dreads telling her family as “it’s always negative”.
She said she almost considered abortion for her first daughter, but “there was a prolife grandad speaking on the radio about how life was beautiful, how children are such a joy…thanks to this guy, my seven year old is here, beautiful, alive, she changed my life.
“Positive reaction to pregnancy announcement is so important,” she concluded.
Another woman said she understands the need for the campaign completely. Despite being in a “very stable and happy marriage and have a very loving and supportive husband”, people still “gasp” when she reveals their number of children.
“The smart comments become more smart with each pregnancy. As a result, we hide pregnancy from most people. Those that say ‘you’re mad’ or ‘have ye not enough already’ or ‘how can you afford another one’ or ‘where are you going to put this baby, you’re already squashed in that house’, it goes on and on and on,” she said.
Ms O’Meara said that many women were quick to highlight the support they received from friends and family, but said that the “wider social circle”, such as work colleagues, was where they felt the negative pressure.
“Sometimes women feel that it’s a conversation, even for myself, that it’s a free-for-all, that anyone can pass comment. When you walk by with the bump in work, they can say, ‘Oh, how many is this now?’ and ‘You only have a baby that’s how old?’
“Women often say that they feel really judged, like they’re stupid or looked down upon. There’s this real negativity unless there’s the perfect space in between your children, they come at the perfect time, with the right financial circumstances or whatever it might be, people can pass judgment on that and it causes huge strain and anxiety and I think that people just don’t realise that. I think that by starting the conversation, it can hopefully make a wider societal change.”