I am pregnant. I think I’m supposed to say we’re pregnant but it feels more like I’m the pregnant one. He is just reading about being pregnant. Aloud. From a tediously saccharine baby manual, while I mutter things such as, “What? No brie? That’s bullshit,” under my breath.
I was going to announce it on Instagram by posing in my bra and wearing a veil in front of a wall of roses, but then I remembered I’m not Beyoncé, so I just texted all my mates: “Guess what?” and a baby emoji. Many replied saying they had guessed. Apparently, the fact that I wasn’t drinking on any given evening was so out of character that they knew I was pregnant before I could even utter the words “lubricated vaginal ultrasound wand”.
The first trimester of pregnancy has felt almost exactly like a hangover: a 12-week-long hangover (or indeed perhaps a detox, though I wouldn’t know). I may be sober now, living without any of the relaxing, entertaining benefits of the delicious alcohol I held so dear, but what I have observed is that almost nothing has changed since my heavy-drinking days.
First, there are the physical similarities. Most days I am queasy, irritable and have a banging headache. I wake, parched, at 4am in the recovery position (my body’s reflex response to a presumed drinking crisis). I stumble around my flat desperately seeking hydration and searching for some memory of last night’s correlating bad behaviour (karaoke? A lock-in? Did dinner get out of hand again?) until I remember I fell asleep on the sofa watching the News at Ten before my husband put me to bed. This is me now. I spend each night in a cycle of waking, rehydrating and urinating. The reward? Managing an infant doing the exact same thing, I imagine.
For the first 12 weeks, the advice is not to tell anyone you are pregnant. Push it down, bottle it up, just … be British about it. A big reason for this, I learn, is because the chance of losing your baby in the first 12 weeks is higher than you might think, and you might not want to have to explain to everyone where your baby has gone while you are suffering the trauma of a miscarriage. I can’t help thinking this is advice designed to protect everyone from having an awkward conversation, rather than to protect the pregnant woman who might want to talk about her feelings. However, keeping it to yourself does also afford you the opportunity to come to terms with the fact that your life is about to change irreversibly and in inconceivable ways – in what is by all accounts a miraculous nightmare – before all the unsolicited advice and opinions start pouring in.
So I decided to button it, which is hell for a professional over-sharer like me. Then again, I am an actor so I should be able to lie convincingly. It turns out it wasn’t my acting skills that prepared me for what I am now referring to as “the performance of a lifetime”. No. It was being a drunk.
As I carried around my guilty secret I became twitchy with paranoia every time I spoke to anyone. One morning, feeling like the colour grey, I bump into a work friend in the street, and yet again have to resist the urge to tell the truth when asked the innocuous question: “What have you been up to, Jess?”
Me: “Nothing much, just working,” Brain Me: “I’M PREGGERS, MATE, SO I AM BASICALLY NOW A PERSON IN A PERSON, LIKE A TERRIFYING HUMAN RUSSIAN DOLL.”
This is when it hits me. This cageyness is somehow familiar. I’m covering something up, just like in my good old drinking days. Pregnancy isn’t just physically like being hungover, it also mirrors it psychologically. Secret Hangover, my old friend, come and meet Secretly Pregnant. You are virtually the same horror.
So off I go to work, not hungover but preggers: dry heaving on the tube and quietly knocking back a Lucozade before 11am, as if it were a normal morning drink, while fantasising about when and where I will take a nap undisturbed. If anyone notices my dark eyes and pallid skin, I shamefully pretend I am “coming down with something”. I wolf down vitamins and gorge on beige food, and slip out early, falling asleep on the bus home.
The agonising shame-over of old has been replaced with a new, far more disturbing anxiety: the impending sense of doom that comes with becoming a person in a person. I am going to have a human child that is going to call me Mummy. Pass me the gin. But, alas, I am reformed. I don’t actually want booze in my body, and it makes me feel almost grownup. Sobriety is slowly transforming me into a responsible parent, and I need do nothing but ride out the familiar sensation of a wretched, never-ending hangover. Who knew I had spent my 20s training for this?