7 Mistakes Writers Make With Pregnancy + How to Easily Avoid Them


& I'M HERE TO SAVE YOU FROM MAKING THESE CLICHE MISTAKES

Are you tired of the pregnant-woman trope in media? Because YES I AM.  You get two indications that a woman is pregnant and they are always

  • enormous baby-belly
  • sudden + excruciating contractions out of nowhere / the most inconvenient moment possible

That's it, people.  That's all you get.  Never fear, I am here!  As a legit mother, I am 100% qualified to bring you this material.  Buckle up.

1.  The Truth About the Timeline
GUESS WHAT.  There is more to pregnancy than a painfully obvious baby-belly, folks.  THAT doesn't show up until later in the game.  Pregnancy is divided into THREE TRIMESTERS, each consisting of THREE MONTHS.  The ginormous belly doesn't really become ginormous until the latter half of the second trimester.  Don't make the mistake of subconsciously thinking a huge belly is part + parcel of the whole nine yards months.

2.  There's No Other Way to Tell a Woman is Pregnant Besides Her Enormous Belly??
Au contraire!  A pregnant woman is NOT. NORMAL.  It is sometimes/often a fight to act like a normal, functioning, INDIVIDUAL human being WHILE GROWING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING INSIDE YOU.  Lettame break it down.

  • the first trimester is excruciatingly exhausting because you are building a baby + the baby's supporting environment. i mean SUPER TIRED. like, YOU HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED THIS LEVEL OF TIRED BEFORE.
  • the second trimester is (almost) normal; you regain functional levels of energy, your belly isn't too large to move yet.
  • the third trimester hits you like a wall. your belly is a) enormous, b) heavy; YOU ARE SICK + TIRED OF BEING PREGNANT CAN WE GET THIS OVER WITH WHY DID I AGREE TO THIS.

3.  Think GOOSE.
Despite having been pregnant, I DID NOT REALIZE THIS UNTIL I WATCHED THE SHOW "BONES".  There is more to walking as a pregnant woman than putting up with that heavy baby-belly, and the telltale signs show up LONG BEFORE THE BUMP.  The pelvic area starts to loosen so it can allow for a tiny human to exit the baby-hole, and that loosening is actually VERY noticeable, once you realize it.  I saw a woman in her early pregnancy days, and knew she was pregnant not because of a bump, but because I could tell by the way she was walking.  DUDE.  THANK YOU, BONES.

4.  The Pamphlets Are Lying, Your Stomach is Not.
Everybody knows about "morning sickness."  But GUESS WHAT.  Morning sickness is NOT relegated to morning.  Huh uh.  I hate that.  Morning sickness

  • starts (usually) between 4-6 weeks
  • peters off (hopefully) between 14-16 weeks
  • does not switch off at 12:00 pm
  • exacerbated by stress + hunger

5.  0 to 60 in Two Seconds...is Not Realistic.
You all know that IF there is a pregnant woman in a story, she WILL go into labour at the most climactic/inconvenient moment.  THIS IS NOT REALISTIC.

  • labour begins SLOWLY
  • you might not even be sure you're IN labour for the first several hours
  • you do NOT suddenly clutch your belly + wail as if your pelvic area were being torn off your body
  • labour can take hours/days to take its course

NOTE: I can't tell you what it's like to have your water break because I was under epidural/well into labour when the doctor broke my water for me.  Couldn't feel it at all.  If you HAVE experienced your water break, please describe it in the comments for others!

6.  It Isn't Over When the Fat Baby Sings.
Emotionally, you're definitely overwhelmingly joyful when the baby is born.  PHYSICALLY, you're in more pain than you ever were in the entire pregnancy.

  • you ache
  • you hurt
  • walking is stiff and slow
  • sitting down is incredibly uncomfortable
  • using the bathroom is EXTREMELY PAINFUL (thank God for stool-softeners, I'm not even kidding)

7.  The Baby Brings a Black Dog as a Pet.
Despite what the media is telling you, the joy of motherhood is not always unalloyed.  With the cataclysm of hormones and MORE physical adjustments (oh hey! milk!), you can experience depression.  This is COMMON.  So common that I find the sunshine-and-happiness shots of motherhood in films to be suspicious.

These are 7 things you need to know NOT TO DO when writing a pregnant or post-pregnancy character.  I'm sure I've missed some tropes: add them in the comments below!

Welcome to The Penslayer! Sorry for the mess. Order will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, add me to your list of blogs you love for more short + sweet, writing-related posts to help you on your way! Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, + Twitter.<3

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23 ripostes:

  1. This is so helpful, as I'm dealing with a pregnancy in my current story. I've tried to do it accurately as far as I can, but having an article by someone who actually knows, written specifically for writers, is a HUGE help. Because most people don't write pregnancy articles with writers in mind. Thank-you, Jenny!

    ~Schuyler

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    1. You are absolutely welcome! I'm so peached this article was able to help. I had no idea if there actually was anyone who followed my blog who was also writing pregnant women. So...awesome. XD

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  2. Thank you! I think if I sometime I use this in writing, it will be beneficial! I plan to bookmark it.

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  3. First: thank you so much for this post.
    Second: I have refused to write about pregnant women simply because I have no experience with being pregnant, and every show/story I've seen with a pregnant lady seemed unrealistic and so an unreliable source. If I ever try to write about a pregnancy before I am pregnant (a very good possibility at this point) I will be sure to consult the experts, i.e. Moms. Thanks again for this!

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    1. Hey, I can totally appreciate NOT writing pregnancy/motherhood when not having the experience. That's one of the reasons I put a halt on writing "Gingerune;" I just wasn't ready to write a mother/daughter situation. NOW PERHAPS I AM!

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  4. HOT DIGGITY DOG, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. My mother has had 12 kids, 5 of which pregnancies I can remember pretty well. It drives me NUTS when people don't even do some BASIC RESEARCH to try to figure this stuff out. I have been known to freely insult books who don't get it even close to right... dear stars above, writers, WE HAVE AN INTERNET NOW. THIS KIND OF RESEARCH TAKES A FEW CLICKS AND TYPED WORDS AND A FEW MINUTES OF READING, NOT MORE THAN AN HOUR UNLESS YOU ARE A SUPER SLOW READER OR ARE INTENDING TO HAVE COMPLICATIONS OCCUR.

    Thanks once again, Jenny, for telling it like it is.

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    1. YOU ARE WELCOME! <3

      I really don't understand how anyone can get away with not researching when practically everyone has some kind of access to the internet, which is the pooled data of the entire human race since forever and ever amen. Ye-e-e-e-s, I have been guilty of this, but usually just because it was something I thought I knew just fine and it didn't even occur to me to look it up. I kinda don't understand how you think you know all about pregnancy when you've never been pregnant, but maybe other people think the same as I do sometimes?? EH I dunno. ANYWAY. INTERNET, PEOPLE. AT THE VERY LEAST JUST ASK TUMBLR YOU'RE SURE TO GET SOMETHING.

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  5. This was SO entirely helpful. XD I have only written on pregnant mother...ohhh, maybe in a book like 5 years ago?! LEAST TO SAY, CLICHES = MY HORRIFIC STORY. I'm so ashamed. XD Now I delightfully skip. (Although I've got a conglomeration of sisters who keep having children so I hear their complaints a lot. ahem. #research #helpful)
    But seriously, mothers are amazing. 0_0

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    1. SPOILER: I AM NOT IMMUNE TO HAVING USED CLICHES, NO JUDGMENT FROM ME. XD

      P.S. I never realized how amazing mothers truly were until I became one, and then it's like oh I'm the real superhero of the world now okay but can superheroes take a nap too sometimes please??

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  6. Also - no two pregnancies are identical - not even for the same woman. Subsequent pregnancies tend to have milder morning sickness because your body is still adjusted to the hormones. My mother had bad morning sickness with me (the eldest), and my brother (there was a nearly eight-year gap between him and his next-eldest sibling), but it wasn't nearly as bad with the sisters who had gaps of two and four years. My aunt had it bad with her first kid, but with her other three - all of whom followed in the next six years - it wasn't nearly as bad.

    Also, Morning Sickness doesn't always end with the first trimester, or so I've been told.

    I've never attempted really portraying a pregnancy in my writing, although I've had expectancy announcements in ... three of my books now, though only one has really gotten into the symptoms. I've never been pregnant myself, though I've watched pregnant women, and I, uh, read those "what to expect when you're expecting" sort of books. A lot. (I also read marriage counseling books, and I don't even have a man on my horizon. I'm weird like that.) I just don't feel confident yet to tackle the concept, although the third volume of my Rizkaland Legends might change that, as one of the MC's mom would like to add to the drama of that story.

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    1. I think only reality-tv stars get pregnant because they want to add to the drama of the story. XD

      Did I not add that morning sickness doesn't always end with the first trimester? I meant to. The "(usually) between 4-6 weeks" and "(hopefully) between 14-16 weeks" was supposed to imply that and OBVIOUSLY DID NOT DO A GOOD ENOUGH JOB. My bad.

      I used to have "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and CHUCKED IT because it's basically a thinly-veiled fear-mongering tome. Seriously, it will tell you absolutely everything that could go wrong (don't be lulled by their attempts to soothe you, it's just a plot to keep you reading until the next terror). I went into my pregnancy largely ignorant AND I'M REALLY GLAD because it saved me a lot of fretting. But for the sake of writing, the above post is a guideline for how to actually portray a pregnant/post-partum woman. Ta da!

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    2. Well, my character's mom was the woman who wanted a ton of kids, but managed to have a ton of miscarriages instead. That sort of drama.

      It wasn't the actual "What to Expect When You're Expecting," just a couple books in the genre. They focused more on the general symptoms and the baby's growth, and I chose to avoid horror stories when there was one. (Because, for some odd reason, I was terrified as a kid that I'd die giving birth. It had to do with the fact that I was a C-section baby, and I had this weird idea that your first pregnancy would be punishment for your own birth. Don't ask me why. I've grown out of it now, but ... yeah.)

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    3. Well, this is not going to be popular/fun to hear, but I'm going to say it anyway.

      It's very possible that it was just a poor use of phrase, but typically when people say "so-and-so MANAGED to do something," it's derogatory, like: "so-and-so was trying to do X good thing, but (is so inept), he MANAGED to do Y instead."

      For the most part, women don't MANAGE to have miscarriages. Miscarriages, for whatever obscure reason, happen to them. Words don't even begin to describe how terrible it is. I have not had a miscarriage, but while I was carrying my daughter I had multiple, vivid, terrifying nightmares of miscarrying. I know a number of women who HAVE miscarried. It is AWFUL. It destroys a world. Immense joy, expectation, fulfillment, is removed. There is a cataclysm of personal guilt, wondering if somehow you did something wrong. As the mother, it was your responsibility to care for that child, and now it's gone. It isn't your fault, but YOU FEEL THAT IT IS. Your child has died. Your. child. has. died. Listen to those words. This is every parent's nightmare.

      As a writer, I STRONGLY discourage messing around with this. This is not a drama point. Years ago, I may very well have considered using this in a novel, but now - NO. Now I've come to realize just what it means to lose a child simply by HAVING one, but enduring the depression-fueled terrors of someone killing my child. Personally, I don't think I would now use this in a story, not only because of these reasons, but also, from a writing point of view, miscarriage is its own story. The immense loss, the depression, the guilt, the emotional spiralling, the physical confusion of a body which no longer has a baby but still thinks it does - that is entirely too much to put into a novel whose plot is something different.

      That is my opinion. I say this for other mothers, I say this for mothers who have endured this tragedy. Miscarriage is NOT a drama point for a novel. Miscarriage is a tragedy. Miscarriage is the death of a beloved child.

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    4. I was not trying to make light of the situation. The reason there's an eight-year gap between two of my siblings is because my own mother suffered ... at least four miscarriages during that time. She had another between me and my next youngest sister, and two between my brother and baby sister. I KNOW the pain it causes a woman. I watched my mother go through the deepest depression following the last one. It's an issue VERY close to my heart, it really is, and never for a moment will I make light of it in the actual story.

      I'm doing it because my MC needs something to distract her from the heavy losses she herself just went through. It's a sensitive issue that I take VERY seriously. I'm sorry if it came across as otherwise. To be honest, I haven't decided if this particular pregnancy will end in a miscarriage, or if she'll actually get to keep this child. But believe me when I say that I take miscarriage VERY seriously.

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    5. That is very good to know. I am very sorry your mother dealt with this not just once, but on numerous occasions. I am glad that you take this seriously, and perhaps, in that sense, it is something you could shed light on through a story. I think miscarriage is something that needs to be talked of and dealt with, just like post-partum depression, so that those who are going through the pain feel like they can open up and receive what comfort others are able to give.

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  7. I haven't had a baby myself so I can't give you the same first-hand, from-the-inside account that Jenny can. But I have attended about 160+ births. So I've seen a few and can tell you first-hand what it looks like from the outside. And, since Jenny asked about water-breaking sensations, here's what I've seen:

    Water-breaking gets described in many different ways. Usually, it's a gush of water. Some women think they peed themselves. One woman told me she thought she just gave birth to a jelly fish (literally, it felt like a jellyfish just flopped out, according to her). When it happens in active labor, at the peak of a contraction, usually the mother startles or gasps, even though sometimes she has no idea what just happened.
    For some mommies, the labor feels more intense after the water breaks because the baby's head settles deeper into the pelvis. For others, the intensity doesn't change, or the breaking of the water provides a short reprive from the feeling of pressure.
    Water can break before labor starts, at the start of labor, at any point during the labor, or during pushing, or the baby can come out in the bag (very rare).
    Once the water breaks, it will continue to leak until the baby is born because the body continues to produce more amniotic fluid throughout the labor.
    How much water comes out depends on a variety of factors such as how high the hole is and how securely the baby's head is corking the pelvis.

    Also, just as a side note for the writers out there, the overwhelming rush of hormones and joy DOES happen. One of the things you learn about birth is that there is a wide range of normal. Some parts that are incredibly hard in one birth may be easy in another, and vice versa.

    Awesome post, Jenny!

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    1. Thank you, Esther!

      I had the opportunity to chat with my assisting nurses and favourite doctor during the delivery, and I just loved them so much. They were an awesome team, so encouraging, they coached me beautifully along the way. There were the few fears of, what if the baby should go into trauma during labour, what if she should have her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck (because /I/ came out that way) - you know, FEARS. But for the most part my team was so calm, and my pregnancy had been so textbook, that I was excited!

      ONE TROPE I MISSED. When the midwife/maid/matron in charge says to get hot water and towels, they fail to imply that you are going to need a) a pressure washer, and b) a hotel's worth of towels 'cause it's about to look like a murder went off in here. XD

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Hey! I'm really glad I've been able to pull this blog out of the shadows and make it useful for you! Welcome to the family! <3

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  9. You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about half an hour. I am a newbie and your post is valuable for me.
    Pregnancy - Official Trailer HD

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