Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pregnancy in Three Parts

I have now been pregnant for 39 weeks and three days, or, if you're measuring on emotional time, since the Reagan administration.

I've learned some things in the last 39 weeks. I've learned that, if I cry hard enough, I will have a great big nosebleed in public. I've learned that maternity clothes are actually a necessity. I've learned that stretch marks can lead me down a dark and self-loathing garden; I may compare my belly to the alien heads from Mars Attacks! I've learned that sex becomes something other people do—I recall it fondly, the same way Martin Scorsese recalls the New York City of his youth. I've learned that carbohydrates are truly a non-negotiable part of this process, and any attempt to fend them off will end poorly.

QED: Pregnancy is a beautiful, disgusting, competitive, life-affirming, lonely, amazing process.

First Trimester
Terror level: I will probably have a miscarriage

The first trimester is all about secrets. I have a vivid memory of riding up to my parent's farm in a packed car, five weeks along, and utterly terrified that I was going to have a miscarriage right there on the highway. The car was full of friends, gossiping and laughing, and I was gossiping and laughing right along with them, but my skin was absolutely buzzing with anxiety. No-one knew I was pregnant—at that point, telling people felt astrologically unlucky, as if revealing the pregnancy would make the tiny magician growing inside me disappear.

This was a few weeks before morning (or, in my case, early-evening and every-time-I-opened-the-fridge) sickness began in earnest, but I was already feeling averse to farmhouse dinner classics like steak, and booze was off the table for all the obvious reasons. Over the next weeks, I boomeranged from a Paleo-ish diet to one that was 80% carbohydrates. Rice noodles, potatoes, perogies, macaroni and cheese—soft, white foods for my soft, white body. Red meat was disgusting, vegetables doubly so. I had to pretend like it was all normal, like I was my usual self. But keeping up appearances, all while trying to secretly process this massive life change, was exhausting. I was cranky and sore. I said mean things. I went to bed at 9 PM.

When we finally started telling people around week 12, it was a huge relief. It felt like I had accomplished something, even though the only thing I had done was be healthy and genetically on-point enough to make a bundle of cells multiply without any major disasters.

Second Trimester
Terror level: The baby is dead inside.

All the books I read mentioned this phenomenon of waking up one morning and feeling just dandy. Morning sickness would have vanished overnight, and the four or five pounds over the last few months I'd gained wouldn't yet be noticeable. I'd be normal again! Hooray! The books also mentioned that, for some personality types, this sudden shift would provoke a feeling of dread—they stressed that no longer "feeling pregnant" didn't mean anything sinister was happening inside; my body had stopped fighting the fetus as a little intruder and had instead distracted itself with Twizzlers and sleep.

One of the biggest hurdles I've faced in this pregnancy is coming to terms with the fact that I am very, very, annoyingly, normal. For years, I believed I was exceptional, and that the rules of nature and man didn't really apply to me. I took eight years to do an undergraduate degree, but dagnabit, I did it! I peed in the streets and never got caught! I was the only writer in the history of the world who struggled with her own worthiness! I was the most jilted of exes, the most damaged of drinkers, the most sanctimonious of bank customers. I was a unique and special snowflake!

Yeah: no. My pregnancy has been textbook. I have suffered all the aches and pains of the childbearing sisterhood—no more, no less. I've had the emotional rollercoaster, the sleep issues, the back pain, the leaky boobs, the nosebleeds, the mood swings, the stretch marks, the anxiety, the separated abs, the nesting instinct, all of it. (My only exception was a greater reliance on mental health resources—after we moved in September, I spend three weeks weeping and imagining myself walking out in front of a Mac truck—but even that faded with time.) One of the great realizations of my adulthood, coming late in the game and awash in hormones, is that I am not special. I can't escape that I am part of the crowd, and my experiences are firmly mid-pack. I didn't invent, or even improve on, any aspect of this process.

Thanks for that great reveal, baby.

Third Trimester
Terror level: I will go into labour any second now.

I biked until I was seven months pregnant, and I walked until there was too much ice on the ground for it to feel safe. I reveled in my luxurious pregnancy hair, and marveled at how clear my skin was. I rubbed lotions and oils onto my belly, massaged cream onto my poor chapped nipples, and finally started eating vegetables again. I wore black; it was slimming. 

I still feel disgusting. It wasn't just the weight gain, although that was definitely challenging. It's all the auxiliary events. For instance, I started lactating at five months along, and have woken up most nights since with either a wet shirt or stained sheets. My crotch is perpetually swampy. I've had heartburn so bad it's left me in tears. Getting out of bed in the morning is a full-body spasm of tight muscles and hips that feel like they might just explode out from under me. And my back! My poor back. Sing songs of remembrance for my back.

In some ways, this trimester has been easier than the others. I'm sleeping okay, even with the heartburn, which is a blessing. The baby is big and active, with lots of sea-monsterish kicks and rolls. (Hello, you are alive!) My husband has been an absolutely dreamboat, reassuring me that, yep, he still thinks I'm beautiful. He's thanked me for doing this with him, and we have been more tender with each other than ever before. I'm also shifting into feeling ready to be a mom—to have this tiny stranger come live with us. To teach them things, to learn things in return. Even labour, which I had been dreading, is starting to seem more like something I can actually do, not just a torture I will have to endure.


Everyone says that having a baby will change everything. I believe this is is true, but I believe it in the same way that leaving home changes everything, or the illness of a loved one changes everything, or gaining or losing a lot of money changes everything. These things have an impact on us. This is a step, a change. We'll lose some things—and maybe some people—and gain others. What, exactly, that entails, remains to be seen.

For now, I'm looking forward to nursing in the soft pink glow of my salt-rock lamp. I'm looking forward to sleepy baby yawns. I'm looking forward to exercising again! I'm looking forward to sleeping on my stomach. I'm looking forward to watching M chat with the baby as they cuddle on the couch. I'm looking forward to seeing the little sneaker grab for our food. I'm looking forward to naps, to walks, to figuring out the baby carrier, to pouty lips, to first words. I'm looking forward to my parents becoming grandparents! I'm looking forward to reading Where the Wild Things Are to our child, and being able to see their little face when we do it.

We'll eat you up, we love you so.

Image via Creative Thursday