The little baby boy still growing strong in my belly is due to greet the world in exactly eleven days. He’s kicking me in the ribs as we speak. He might come tonight. Or next weekend. Or in two weeks. (I’m predicting June 8th.) I conceived this child in the middle of September 2017, found out I was pregnant in October with a tried and true EPT test purchased at Walgreens, and began embarking on the most transformative journey of my almost thirty-three years on this earth. We can leave aside the fact that I also moved to a brand new city mere days before said conception, got engaged in December and married in February, and moved with my husband to a new house in a new neighborhood (in a still new Chicago for me.) We’ve been busy. All that aside, I want to explore the process of pregnancy. The rest is really just icing on the little cake in my uterus.
If you’re looking to go through a lengthy process of waiting and staring the unknown square in its frustrating face, I recommend this pregnancy thing. It will be a great teacher. It remains my greatest teacher.
I have learned a thousand things throughout the past nine months. Not only about the endless biological, medical, scientific pieces of growing a human in the womb, trimesters and weeks and endless pregnancy lingo, or which maternity clothes are affordable and flattering, or how kind people will be to you at the market (or how indifferent and unkind people sometimes remain), or how there’s a rather intense somewhat ideological world of breastfeeding militants out there, or how some people will show up for you in ways you feel too modest to embrace, or about bassinets vs. cribs and au natural vs. epidural and earth mamas vs. mainstream, and how to swaddle a newborn and your breasts changing and feet changing and walk changing (to a bit of a waddle) – all of this I have learned, yet to even birth a baby.
But I have learned a world of lessons far more valuable than all of the above, or at least, more lasting and transcendent. I have learned about endless self-compassion. I have learned unbelievable patience. I have learned how to breathe and have faith in the the midst of the terrifying, bewildering, frustrating, enraging, and lonely. I have learned to jeez, just breathe through the dullest and scariest of moments, for what else can you really do. I have learned to embrace feeling both special and completely ordinary (for pregnancy is both special and ordinary.) Mostly, I have learned that my judgment of myself and others is a tired old ball and chain that I am still untangling myself from, but I keep vowing over and over that I will never judge another woman or parent again (OK, I might, I’m human, and I mean, there are some bad choices), for there are a million ways to do this, and I doubt anyone feels they’re ever getting it just right.
Because in addition to the thousand things you might learn along the the pregnancy path, there are also a thousand things you get to feel bad about and judged for. There are a thousand ways to do it wrong. There are a thousand ways to not measure up. And again, this is before the baby has even seen planet earth. There is the weight to watch, the countless food items that are off-limits (many of which there is literally zero scientific data to back up why they’re banned), the questioning of your diet and exercise regime in general, your choice to breast feed or not, for how long, with a pump or exclusive breast, the going back to work vs. staying home (and the shame and “wrongness” that resides in both) and what is your plan to get your body back after you deliver, and are you still being a good wife, sister, friend, daughter to those around you? And don’t you feel beautiful and magical being pregnant? You don’t? Why not? Do you have a healthy support system? Have you thought about what to do if you get postpartum depression? Have you even attended any baby classes or prenatal exercise classes or looked into mommy groups? You haven’t??
Ok, look, I’m compressing it all into one big dramatic thing that seems like it happens all at once, and maybe we are blessed with our nine month span because we get a stretch of time to experience an entire range of emotions; but it does start to wear on you. The endless ways we are judged in society and not measuring up wear on you. The extremely personal questions from others. The how-to and what to expect blogs. The doctor appointments where you get weighed and measured and poked and prodded as if you’re sick or something. If you’re lucky, you don’t stay resentful, but you allow yourself some room to get angry and say, fuck this. That room is gold.
And then, hopefully, you grant yourself compassion, gentleness, sweetness, and love, no matter who you are, how healthy you are, what kind of pregnancy and birth you are having, what your relationship status is or your work status or what you plan to do three six and nine months postpartum. Nothing has taught me more about the importance of this kind of tender relationship with myself. And nothing has taught me more about granting that same acceptance to others, not only other pregnant women, but everyone. (But especially pregnant women and moms.) Because this. business. is. hard. They aren’t kidding. They aren’t lying.
My estimation is that the amount of love you end up having for your child cancels out or at least dramatically assuages the fact that you say goodbye to a sort of autonomous individual freedom that comes from having no one to really look after except yourself (and no one growing inside you as they see fit, pretty much regardless of your attempt to control it.)
And then you have the baby. You feel proud that you labored at home until nearly six centimeters dilated (and good heavens do you get why one would get an epidural at three and mad props to those who make it the whole way, drug free) and you push one hour, and your son comes along to change your life forever. To continuously teach you to cease the judgments and the attempts at control and the meanness you grew up throwing at your sweetest self and the endless ways you’re too much and not enough – whatever you are, whatever your son is, you are his a mother, you are a mother now, and he is your child, and there is nothing more sacred and blessed than that.