Leandra and Pandora on the Realities of Pregnancy

Leandra and contributing U.K. editor Pandora Sykes e-mail about pregnancy

12.05.17

On Nov 15, 2017, at 10:21 AM, Pandora Sykes wrote:

Congratulations on your pregnancy announcement! I was so touched by the empathy your readers have for you. You wrote it so beautifully, too. Two phrases really stuck out for me: that you have not “graduated from compassion” and that life is “freckled with fangs.” Someone tagged me in the comments and said that they had wondered how my own pregnancy announcement on Instagram (which wasn’t really an announcement, more an acknowledgement that at six months pregnant I couldn’t really hide it anymore) had made you feel. And it’s true, I was really worried to tell you when I first found out. I know how painful it was for you to hear that news after your own struggles. You wrote extensively about that; I remember you got a certain amount of critique when you wrote about Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement and how it made you feel.

On Nov 15, 2017, at 2:58 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

Yeah, but you know, my current perspective makes me feel like I am just…such a baby. I wish I could have been less selfish, less caught up in my own massive upset; last year my sister-in-law and best friend were pregnant at the time that I was (supposed to be) pregnant, and I look back now and am riddled with guilt, just wishing that I could have been warmer and more supportive. I feel bad that people were afraid to tell me when they were pregnant, kind of the way you might feel embarrassed when you’re acting like a brat because your birthday is coming and no one has planned anything for you, even though your friends have actually planned a massive surprise party or something. Maybe that’s just me, but mostly these days I feel just slightly helpless because I still don’t know what to do or say to be there for women who are still going through it. I don’t believe that I recovered from my grief, you know? I just got what I wanted.
How are you feeling?

On Nov 15, 2017 at 11:37 PM, Pandora Sykes wrote:

You weren’t a baby. And you weren’t selfish. Self-centered? Maybe. But aren’t we all when we are dogged and so drenched in dismay, incapable of grasping something we always thought would be so simple? Incidentally, do you regret being so open about how you felt at that moment in time? I think it’s interesting that you say you are not post-grief; you just got what you wanted. It’s important to acknowledge that you may have more work to do, psychologically, even though physically you’re “there.” I have felt a lot of guilt around my pregnancy because my older sister has been going through chemotherapy for breast cancer at the same time, and her treatment has left her unable to have children. It feels so unfair that I got this, and she got that, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Which is why I feel bad to say how am I feeling. But, well: I’ve realized I’m just not a woman who loves pregnancy. I wish I did. I wish I was a fucking earth mother, but truly, I just see this as a conduit to having a hopefully delightful daughter. If my husband could carry it, instead of me, trust me that would be the case. I have this theory that it’s one of the last obstacles to equality.

I’m apparently in the “glow” stage but I can’t say I’m feeling very glow-y. I’ve moved on from the hideous morning sickness, but my lower back is in agony, my nipples are in agony and I haven’t slept properly in over a month.

On Nov 15, 2017, at 12:03 AM, Leandra Medine wrote:

I’m sorry your sister is going through that. How has she reacted to the pregnancy? Is she going to be okay? My doctor always says, “If you play by the rules, you don’t die from breast cancer,” and by that he means: screen regularly so you catch it early. I’m sure your mom is having a tough time with it, too. How is she handling it — I mean really handling it?

On the comment about fairness: I think “fair” is an illusion and that once we stop expecting life/the people around us to be it, we are really able to set ourselves free in a lot of ways. My parents were always so strict about fairness with us, but I think it did a disservice to my early adult perception of how life is supposed to unfold.

Feels weird switching back to pregnancy convo now, but going to address your other points: I just stopped sleeping normally earlier this week. Am still getting about five to six hours a night but it’s like every time I have to move there’s this whole commotion and the kids move with me and they kick and rumble and my stomach hurts and I stop breathing for a few seconds. I kind of like it because I can feel the babies in there, but 9 a.m. on a weekday sucks every single day. I hear you on your not being a woman who loves pregnancy. I think plenty don’t; it’s weird to watch your body change and have that happen completely out of your control. It’s weird to not know when you’ll feel energized or exhausted, and if you’re an obsessive consumer (me), it’s a bummer to not be able to shop! But I guess because of my history, I am so grateful to be in this position, so I take every symptom, setback, step forward like it is a blessing being bestowed upon me directly from God.

To be honest, it’s really helped with my negative self-talk and perception of self. I feel like because I am pregnant, I give myself a lot more permission in various areas of my life: if I don’t feel up to doing something or going somewhere, I don’t go. I don’t think about my body or body image the way I did before I was pregnant. (I am not one of those people who say “this is just my body type!” — I am super slender, but eat healthy and exercise pretty regularly to maintain that). I eat what my body is telling me to eat (sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich, often soft serve ice cream) and because I am literally developing two brand new nervous systems, I am careful about the way I talk to myself because I know that the chemical response to negativity impacts the fetuses. That might sound hokey, but it works for me, so I’m going with it.

This is not at all to detract from your experience, though. The fact of the matter is, you ARE a conduit to having a hopefully delightful daughter! Our bodies don’t really belong to us right now. But for what it’s worth, you look fab in the story that ran on Man Repeller!

On Nov 16, 2017, at 11:08 AM, Pandora Sykes wrote:

My sister got the ALL CLEAR this week! So that’s pretty awesome. She’s been incredible, given what she’s going through. I think it’s tremendously hard for her. Ditto for my mum. I’ve tried to offload my pregnancy anxieties on my friends because my family has enough going on.

I find your comments about your body so interesting because of how diametrically opposed we are. I eat crap and I don’t work to have the body I have. In fact, I’ve always taken my body for granted and, I now realize, have taken my slimness for granted. I’ve been the same exact weight since I was 15 years old. Unlike most women I haven’t fluctuated an iota. And seeing my body change, over my pregnancy, has caused an identity crisis I actually never foresaw. I have found getting dressed so difficult, to the point where I strip as soon as I walk through my door.

Being totally candid — because what good is this conversation to the MR community, if I am not? — that piece that you reference me looking fab in took me longer to shoot/write than anything I’ve ever created for Man Repeller. I shot it twice because the first time I did I was like, “That’s a terrible outfit. That’s not a flattering look for a pregnant woman, or a pregnant me.” I felt so vulnerable taking the pictures and writing the copy.

I have become incredibly protective of my body, which may be why I Instagram pictures of myself much less. Although that could also be because I want to be less present on Instagram. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found about pregnancy is that everyone takes it as license to comment on your body. “Wow, your bump’s so big!” People keep saying this to me now that I’ve hit six months and the bump “popped,” and I have to bite my tongue not to retort, “My daughter is longer than a wine bottle right now! Of course the bump is big!”

I feel like my body is not my own. I’ve found my boobs growing so much really crushing. I had a boob reduction when I was 20 and I’ve watched them swell back to the size they once were. It’s like that whole navigation and re-navigating of myself didn’t even happen.

I could feel guilty about feeling like this. I feel guilty about most things (I’m Catholic) but I don’t actually feel guilty about wishing my boobs were smaller. I know they are getting bigger to benefit my daughter: they are swelling to the size my body thinks they should be, to produce milk, to feed her. But I’m still one woman, in one body, struggling with my increased visibility. And that, I think, raises a really interesting point about society: thin women are revered because they do not take up space. Misogyny dictates that women do not occupy too much space (Roxane Gay writes very lyrically on the subject in Hunger.) As I take up more and more physical space, I have noticed that I struggle. I’ve found this both interesting and a little difficult.

But listen, physicality aside, how candid are we getting? Are we allowed to talk about CONSTIPATION? I have turned into The Woman Who Never Craps, Leandra. And yes, you may change my name in your phone to that.

On Nov 16, 2017, at 9:59 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

Ah, so relieved to hear about your sister! That’s excellent news.

Question re: body image — It’s all so temporary, which is so easy to forget, but this isn’t the end-all-be-all for you and your body and your career and the way you express yourself. It’s funny because someone asked me today if I am excited about maternity dressing and my response was, “No, I’m not thinking about my person as a vessel for creative self expression right now, and more (to steal your phrase) as a conduit for new, healthy life.”

I keep thinking about something Amy Poehler said when she was pregnant: “I’m just going to have to just enjoy how big I am and how much space I take up.” We are taught to take up as little space as possible, and the manifestation of this indoctrination is painted heavily on the walls given the stereotypical bodily standards we have adhered to, especially in fashion. When you’re pregnant, there’s no escaping the fact that you will get much larger than you’re used to. You will have to take up space, you will not be able to count yourself as invisible.

I really “popped” this week, and it’s the first time I’ve felt physically uncomfortable since the beginning of the pregnancy (save for the entirety of the first trimester when I was throwing up everywhere) and believe me when I say, clothing is not great fun for me either, but it is easier. I fit into like, three pairs of pants which I’ve put on rotation with a couple of striped t-shirts and some jackets. There is so little thought that goes into getting dressed now because there are so few options!

Re: your comment on bowel movements or a lack thereof, progesterone slows down digestion like mad, so it’s a pretty common side effect, which I’m okay with as long as I don’t get shooting cramps, which happens every few weeks. First I think I’m dying, then I think I’m going into pre-term labor, and then I realize what’s happening and lay down until it goes away.

Interestingly, these bouts of pain are always timed with stomach growth, which the internet keeps telling me is called “round ligament pain.” But here’s a question for you: what do you like, if anything, about pregnancy?

On Nov 17, 2017, at 6:03 AM, Pandora Sykes wrote:

Ha! I want to take note of how delicate and prim you are in talking about the scatological, vs. me. You’re all like “bowel movements or lack thereof” and I’m all, “THE WOMAN WHO NEVER SHITS.” I’ve struggled with my digestive system since I was about seven years old; I was taken out of school at 10 years old because I didn’t “pass a stool” for three weeks.Three weeks! That surely gets to go on my epitaph?

Sorry, I’ll move on now.

I popped at five and a half months, around the same time as you, although I wasn’t carrying two little donuts so it will perhaps be different. It’s astounding the rate at which I am growing now. I love that Amy Poehler reference. It’s totally about taking up space, societally as well as physically.

I like that you wove in the positive, there: I don’t want to come across like a Negative Nelly, as I am, to stress, very lucky to be having a baby. Things I love: my husband feeling her dance inside of me (sometimes he wakes up when I am still asleep and he feels her moving inside of me). It’s weird already loving something more than I love him. Do you find that? I also like the feeling of calm I have when I am in my home. “Nesting,” as I said in my maternity style piece, is a real thing, and I adore being home and reading copious books and watching Louis Theroux on iPlayer.

Pregnancy also connects you on a human level to so many strangers. I don’t just mean fellow pregnant women, I mean the guy in my corner shop who went, “How long?” with a massive smile on his face, when he clocked my “baby on board” badge (that pregnant women wear in the UK when taking the tube); or last week, when three pregnant women, including me, were sitting in a row on the train and a young man goes “Three all at once! That must be luck!” I could give you myriad examples of the generosity of strangers. It brings solace to me when I am being an Angry Pregnant Women. I hate female stereotypes, but fuck, Angry Pregnant Woman is one for a reason.

Can I tell you one thing that also bought me a lot of joy? It’s a picture of us at NYFW.

Before she ate me @leandramcohen 📸 by @stylelovelyweb

A post shared by P A N D O R A S Y K E S (@pandorasykes) on

I put it on my Instagram with a comment about you looking like you wanted to eat me, but really I liked the idea of preserving it for posterity as there are ostensibly two women in that picture, but what no one looking at the picture would realize is that there are, in fact, five women in that picture. Will the Jewish New Yorkers come visit their Christian British cousin and teach her cool transatlantic shit? I can only hope.

On Nov 20, 2017, at 6:45 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

What good timing to riff on the things you’re grateful for what with the holiday season under our toes and all. Didn’t that feel good? Here’s a pic from yesterday, in case you’re wondering what I look like now:

Question: What’s maternity leave like in the U.K.?

On Nov 20, 2017, at 8:14 PM, Pandora Sykes wrote:

The all-white look works very well. Good flats, incidentally. I just got the derbies from Maje I spoke of in my last piece for MR, and they’ve changed my hobble to a gait, which is marvelous.

Your maternity leave in the US is famously appalling compared to Europe. The U.K. is no Scandinavia, but most employers pay between 3 and 6 months at 90% full pay and many women I know take a full year. What with me being freelance, that doesn’t apply, but as a self-employed person I’m entitled to £140 a week from the government for the weeks I’m not working. That will probably only be six weeks, though. We can’t take more than six weeks off The High Low as we have partners now (like Google, our godmother) who need us to keep momentum. But I’ll avoid events for at least three months and commit to a three-day working week from when she is about three months old.

You?

If you need me, by the way, I’ll be in Starbucks eating waffles.

On Nov 28, 2017, at 2:51 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:

Do you think six weeks is enough? I have no idea what to expect but can imagine (given the “recoveries” I have observed) myself becoming a g-dang mess. Just like, crying and not knowing what to do or how to feed. Feed. Not feel. Sometimes I feel like as a rule, I am great at preparation: having good ideas, energizing a room, getting everything (and one) in order, perhaps, too, housing double babies (Amelia calls them my “tenants”), but when it comes time for execution, I fall flat. The preparation process is much more fun for me. Maybe because it’s all ideation and there’s no doing involved? I’ve actually never articulated that before but it seems true. Can’t be true of pregnancy VS. actual children though, right?

Re: Mat Leave, I’ll take the standard three months but don’t take a salary out of the company — my living is funneled through my “influencer” projects which obviously don’t exist if I’m not working, but I’ve been hustling through most of this trimester to make sure I’m set for those three months. Very much looking forward to it; sometimes I feel like the reason I wanted to get pregnant so badly when I started trying three years ago is because I was looking for an excuse to slow down but couldn’t find one. I maintain that in spite of my being a fairly restless person who is certainly ambitious, even if it runs counter to what I THINK is best for me, slowing down and quieting down is exactly what heals me.

Did what I just say make any sense? Gosh, the other thing that is not a myth is pregnancy brain! I’m more or less a dead fish 15 hours a day — for one hour I am not thanks to the wonder that is a caffeinated beverage and the other 8 hours I’m sleeping. (As an example of this dead fish-ness, I just had to count on my fingers to 24 to determine how many hours were leftover in a day following the 15 + 1).

Now, excuse moi while I shut up. Ta ta.

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