The obvious but important takeaway from pregnancy is that the world is extremely unfair. First, the biological facts — after their initial (um, not difficult) contribution, men do literally nothing to assist in the baby growing process. That is insane. This is not a Jamie slam; Jamie was and is the world’s most supportive husband and was awesome to have around during my pregnancy. But the growing really was all me. How is that the system?
Of course the injustice doesn’t end there. Among women who want to bear children there is so much dumb luck involved. Some women have a terrifyingly easy time getting pregnant; some women try and try and try and it takes years of heartbreak and/or thousands of dollars; or it doesn’t happen at all. Some women have easy pregnancies and cruise through 40 weeks with barely a swell of the ankle. Some women are miserable. Some end up in the hospital from any number of scary complications.
The unvarnished truth: I got pregnant quite quickly and proceeded to have a very easy and uncomplicated pregnancy. I can(‘t) imagine how annoying, frustrating, and potentially painful that could be to read about, so by all means pass this one by if you are having those extremely valid feelings. But I need to try and capture some aspect of this experience before it’s completely vanished from my mind (it’s already hazy), so I’m going to include some memories of my pregnancy here.
But first, a video by Jamie, on this topic:
And now some words. For me, the experience of pregnancy was all paradox.
All the Responsibility | None of the Control
Before I was accustomed to the idea of having a baby — not that I ever got accustomed to it, am still not — but when it was especially new, one perpetual feeling was that surely we were evading some important rule-following procedure. We had decided to bring life into the world and then we just sort of went ahead with it. Now it was happening, and nothing at all had been asked of us. Didn’t we need to see a judge? Sign some forms? Visit a notary?
Wanna take one hot yoga class for one hour? You must read and sign a waiver. Wanna have a kid? Knock yourselves out!
And once the decision was made — speedily, so speedily, it now seems — things just sort of started to happen. Someone, somewhere, had flipped a switch and now my body was running a whole new program utterly foreign to me. By 28 I had a pretty good sense of what my body was like, when and why it felt good or bad. Then suddenly, not so much. It is resoundingly disorienting to encounter that much unknowability within your own literal self.
Sometimes, especially after I started to show, I sort of felt like a superhero. Look what I’m making!
Sometimes, the phrase that came was – my body is a savage jungle. My body is. A savage. Jungle.
One aspect of pregnancy I truly hated: that I was housing a living thing, charged with its care and well-being, beholden now to something small and helpless and essential — but I couldn’t see, hear, check on it. I assume this is hard on all pregnant people; for those of us in the worrywart club, it sucked. The roiling worry of trimester 1 is vivid to me: when I wasn’t that nauseous in the 9 to 11 week period, instead of rejoicing in my good fortune I worried that I had lost the pregnancy in a silent miscarriage. In fact I convinced myself that I had. I lay curled around my phone some Saturday mornings, clicking through heartbreak on miscarriage forums.
Ultrasounds helped, dopplers helped, but the certainty in the OB’s office was so short compared to weeks — months — of constant, low-grade anxiety. Was she okay? She started kicking, which helped, but was she kicking enough? What if she had a terrible disease that was all my fault? I had gone in a hot tub very early on in my pregnancy, a big no-no; maybe I ruined her nervous system. I did. I did. I did. I tortured myself about that hot tub almost every single day.
4am to 6am was the darkest time. If I woke up to pee, I would just lie awake and think about everything I was doing wrong and all the ways I could be hurting my baby.
The fears had changed by the last trimester — the hot tub, still, niggled at me. But now I thought about stillbirth. Would it happen because I accidentally slept on my right side, inadvertently turned that way in my sleep? I made Jamie promise that if the baby was stillborn we would leave the country for a month, get away from our house and the little clothes, the changing table.
So Private | So Public
I’m not much of a secret-keeper, and this one was so big. Not telling my sisters while we were in Hawaii together (we found out on Boxing Day on Maui) was the greatest feat of self control I think I’ve ever displayed.
It was mostly thrilling, keeping the secret; the intimacy of it. Though I sometimes wanted to tell people for purposes of disclaiming my body and/or behavior. There’s a really good reason why I’m wearing these pants! Pringles and ginger ale for breakfast at work again? Really good reason!
The disclosures to loved ones: truly some of the most densely concentrated joy I have ever, ever felt. Adrenaline zipping up and down my veins every time. That pulsing secret, trapped in my rib cage for so long, volleyed at last into the air and caught so tenderly.
A professor walked by my desk one morning while she was kicking. I must have been smiling because he said, “There must be something good on your screen.” “I’m pregnant!!” I answered, surprising us both with my candor and exuberance.
Once I started really showing, it felt like privacy was at a permanent end. I’ve never felt so on display. Everyone had something to say. For example, a male colleague who said I was “looking ripe.” ICK. For example, the lady on the train who recommended I drink cornsilk in hot water for my swollen ankles. UGH.
This was not always bad: “Baby…woman?” Asked the man in halting English running the boutique in Torri del Benaco. “Baby Girl!” Corrected his shopgirls laughingly.
At Tahoe, looking truly absurd in my bathing suit, I passed a woman in a high ponytail. “Almost there,” she said. “You got this.” It was one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me.
Pregnant Forever | Never Pregnant
Around 32 or so weeks it seemed as though I had always been pregnant, for my entire adult life, and would always be. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to have that peculiar silhouette. I couldn’t remember the experience of easily staring down at my toes. I marvelled at women who lay on their stomachs at the beach, who bent down and picked something up from the ground. How sublime, to have that level of ease.
It hasn’t been so long since then, but already my body has almost entirely forgotten the feeling of being pregnant. The last remaining sensation I can still call up is that grinding in my hips after trying to sleep on my left side all night. The feeling of perpetual internal bruising.
Rigidity | Gentleness
Pregnancy has lots of intense rules, which was stressful. (see: Expecting Better). I worried every day that I wasn’t eating enough fruits and vegetables; then when I ate them, I worried that I hadn’t washed them thoroughly enough.
That said, I did love the way everyone around me — people on the Bart train, my app, my family members, my friends — encouraged me to treat myself with gentleness. Pregnancy was a sustained period of kindness to my body. The delivery guys for whom I signed off on packages, each and every one gruff and burly, showed me startling sweetness. “How’s that baby?” They asked. “Is your husband rubbing your feet?”
“Prego,” I said to the guard manning the handicapped bathrooms at Boboli Gardens. “Incinta,” I explained, a word I had looked up on Google translate before we left. He let me in. We had a friendly, smiley, semi-signed conversation about my pregnancy, boy or girl, how far along I was. It was genuinely lovely.
At some point I realized that as a woman I had been granted this new beneficence toward my body only when someone else was living in it. That seems telling.
Must Plan | Yet Cannot Plan
We did so much prep. I had such a long google doc. Labor classes, breastfeeding classes, postpartum classes. We watched the goofy DVD of The Happiest Baby on the Block (which side note: I do recommend). We cleaned out our garage. Julia helped me organize all her little clothes, then organize them again. I packed our hospital bag. I nested like the completely batty mother hen I had become.
But we could also recognize that we really didn’t have any idea of what was to come. And even wilder — we didn’t know when it happen. How often can you say that in modern life, let alone about something so earth-tiltingly new and strange? It is weird to live in the world of order and information and also be suddenly very tied to animal reality. At any moment of the day I could click around in my phone and know the time of our staff meeting, the weather at my sister’s house, Emily Blunt’s highest-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes.
But no one—not my phone, not my spouse, not even my doctor—could tell me who my baby was and when she was going to come.
All August long I wondered: Who is steering this ship? WHO WHO WHO?
Wicked World | Wonderful World
Every day on our walk to the train we passed the middle school, and the tweens in their gym uniforms on the blacktop, and I would remember anew that by birthing this child I was condemning her to seventh grade P.E. How could I do that to her. Why did I get pregnant.
How could we bring her here, when so many things have gone so wrong.
And also while we walked to the train, and on Saturday mornings in bed, and in the car, Jamie and I would talk about all the new things she would do, feel, see:
The trees and the wind.
The moon and the stars.
Standing at the water’s edge — the whoosh and grasp of receding waves.
Christmas, and Christmas lights, and a first crunchy step into snow.
Sleepy car rides.