Calling bullshit on ‘the pregnancy glow’ and suddenly being able to see basic design flaws everywhere.
Read time: 4.5 minutes
Tonight I came home and tried to pick up the post off the floor. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. I can see there’s a postcard from my mum and dad from their holiday but I have no idea if they’re enjoying themselves. It lives on the floor now.
I realised that this particular ability (as, in fact, are any that require me to fold in the middle or bend down) have rather suddenly disappeared for me for the foreseeable. And this is probably just the beginning.
Welcome to the world of a heavily pregnant woman.
Every day brings a new challenge. Next my feet will be out of my reach. Then the top shelves. Finally, I imagine, I will beach in bed, bath or sofa.
I have been talking for years about how design has the power to help or hinder us, but the last few months I have really been living it. And working as I do with older people, we have been having fun comparing symptoms. Pregnancy sounds fascinatingly similar to the process of ageing – just squished into nine months. People speak of waking up with a new ache or pain; a new feature on their bodies they don’t recognise; suddenly not being able to do something they love or have taken for granted for years.
I feel silly for whining. Telling myself suck it up. It’s only temporary. This is a just a tiny fraction of the discomfort that people who deal with much more challenging impairments every day have to deal with.
Yet, pregnancy is no (fat ankled) walk in the park. And I am rapidly coming to the conclusion ‘The Glow’ is just a lie we tell women to get them up the duff.
I read an article about pregnant women existing at the edge of what is possible for human endurance the other day and I believe it.
My bladder is being kicked so that I spend many nighttime hours trudging to the toilet and back. My lungs are being squished to the size of grapes so stairs are now tiring. I can’t sleep. I get leg cramps, back ache, butt ache (my preferred name for the very sexily named Pelvic Girdle Pain). I feel dizzy if I stand for long periods. Restless legs if I sit for too long. And I’m not even sure where my guts are any more but they certainly aren’t where they should be. And I can’t even bloody drink to get through.
So when I come home, I want to relax, not fight with the post.
In design, pregnancy is often mentioned as a state of temporary impairment that should be considered when making products, spaces and services that work for all. It’s called inclusive design.
It’s why pregnant women feature on the priority seat labels on public transport. By and large people have been pretty good when I’ve been out and about too. The baby on board badge does have some power and, if you ask, you tend to get. But gosh, it takes some guts to get people to even look up and notice you. If it wasn’t so obvious why I was asking I imagine this would be nightmarish, so it’s far from a perfect system. And it can get so busy on my commutes that fighting your way through to be even vaguely near the seats is a pipe dream some days. I wish I could take the bump off and put it between my legs like they say to do with back packs. Instead it’s elbow jousting with hundreds of people who are running late and haven’t had their morning coffee yet. It sucks, but at least people are trying.
The workplace too. Mine have gone out of their way to risk assess everything I do and make adjustments to make things easier and safer for me.
But no one risk assesses my flat. And god forbid they did anyway – they would find a death trap. Me standing precariously on chairs to reach shelves and windows; contorting and crawling on all fours to reach low shelves and plug sockets. Anything below knee level is a mystery to me now. Like the Upside Down in Stranger Things; I know it’s there but I can’t get to it and danger lurks.
I’m not saying I want to invite a Health and Safety Officer round for a cuppa and some light admin. I just find it a fascinating piece of psychology; the place where we should be the most comfortable, and spend most of our time, we seem to demand the least in terms of standards of design that works for us. When it comes to our own homes we just grin and bear it.
Working with older people, I know this is particularly true as we age. But handily this also means I know there are plenty of adaptations I can make to help me out. So it was straight on the internet to find me a letter catcher. Sorted. Except it’s not. It’s a hack. It’s a functional add on that solves a problem, but certainly isn’t exactly a style statement. It could be though, with a little more forethought and clever design thinking from our designers and architects.
And what about the future? No one wants to buy or ‘hack’ things for 9 months. It’s a pointless waste of money and it adds to the pile of crap we already send to landfill. Just because I might be able to touch my toes again in a few months (though I suspect the impending pelvic failure and having my hands full of baby will probably put pay to that too), it doesn’t mean that the basic design flaws will have gone away. They just might just be less obvious again for me. But what about a few years time? Your mum? Your gran? Your mates? Your new kid. What about their needs? It’s not like having kids or getting older is a new phenomenon.
When you Google home design and pregnancy, what you actually get is pages and pages about ‘creating ‘healing spaces’, ‘how to style the perfect nursery’, or my particular favourite ‘how to stay cute’. Sure, I am rocking dungarees right now (shout out to Lucy and Yak for being all round brilliant) but being told to look cute is a tad demeaning when you are brewing a human.
Only buried deep on forums and listicles could I find anything about the fact I can’t tie my shoes anymore. The best people can offer is ‘keep some kitchen tongs in the shower for when you drop your sponge’.
What about asking more of our homebuilders so that we have showers that people of all shapes and sizes can use throughout their lives. Anyone? No? Even in specialist books about inclusive design, mentions of pregnancy are actually pretty tokenistic, rather than practical solutions for an age old state of being.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to find some tongs to try and pick up this postcard.
Thanks for reading. Please share with anyone you think would be interested, or better still, share some tips with me!