8.12.2008

My Pregnancy Lesson #112

Pregnancy is not all fun and games, full of pleasure and purpose. I don't think I knew that. I remember being twelve years old (already in my second year of an avid babysitting business that ran until I got a job in a toy store at age 16), looking in the mirror, admiring my charge, a red-haired baby named Lucas, and imagining he was mine. He looked beautiful, and I felt beautiful holding him. He looked nothing like me, but that didn't stop me from imagining myself as his mother; I felt the two of us together were happy, blessed, angelic. That was the same year I would stand in front of the mirror, turn to my side and press my shirt down at the hips and inhale and pretend I was pregnant. I LOVED the idea of having a baby at 12. I also loved it as 22, when I wrote my dad a letter about baby longing and he gently told me that now wasn't the right time...actually, he visited me in Boston and said, "But you CAN'T have a baby now!" When I first met my husband, at 25, I quickly told him I wanted children. He knew it within the first days of our affair. Everyone around me always knew it, in fact. How could you know me and not know how much I wanted to be a parent?

But we enjoyed each other so much that we waited 6.5 more years before we agreed we were ready for a baby. And ready feels right, gut-instinct right, and exciting, but I still feel sobered by giving up the aloneness we've had together. In fact, I feel more sobered in pregnancy than I ever thought I would. In my second trimester, the everything-is-great-right? trimester, I feel worn out by spending more than an hour with friends at a time. Hanging out usually ends with me simply running out of things to say, sometimes actually leaving to immediately go sleep. It's strange. I can teach 90 minutes of fitness to dozens of people, but give me a social hour or two and I am miserable. Work interactions are little different, but I still crave privacy and hidden spaces more than ever. It's turning me into a reclusive hermit who shies away from people like I shy away from the sun, another surprising aspect of the pregnant me. I crave shade, home, my husband, dark, the quiet. I feel like a mama bear who wants nothing more than for fall to come so she can hibernate.

All of these feelings resemble what I think of as sad, really. Turning away people, thinking twice about a possible baby shower, skipping days at the beach to stay inside, disengaging a little from the outside world. But while pregnancy is definitely emotional for me, I think the whole continuum is not so much sad as just different---an entirely different kind of energy. Every day, my belly gets bigger and the baby seems to kick a little harder. Though my own mobility hits new limits, my baby finds fewer limits, gets to use those new muscles a little more effectively, learns to flip and kick in a new way. I can't even express how wonderful that feels. I can't wait to meet my kicker, my flipper, my dancer, the baby I love without knowing, know without meeting, want to bring into my life, want to help grow and blossom and, on his or her own, find the things that every day make life so gorgeous, so triumphant, so tortorous, so heartbound.

Pregnancy also gives me new respect for big perspective. I am struck by how judgmental people can be about parenting...and I have to laugh as I write that, because I judge parenting skills almost as a hobby. Parents, mentors, teachers and managers gain more respect--or disdain--from me than anyone else. I think guiding other people is just about the most important thing you can do; hell, I guess I think it's what life is about. But judging how others navigate pregnancy, labor and infanthood is different. And as people around me face up to the life and death of this phase of life, I am stunned by the open expression of superior morality of those around them. Listen, people, if someone isn't breastfeeding, it might be because their baby will die if it drinks breastmilk. And the mom may want nothing more than than to breastfeed, but oh well. She doesn't get to. My friend in this exact situation gets long, disapproving looks when she whips out her formula, and I think, wow, if only they knew. At least her child is alive, slightly more important than your lofty morals. Or, as I've learned from another dear friend, sometimes a mom has to wean early because she is getting radiation treatments for her cancer. Again, would you rather the baby has a full year of breastfeeding? Or has a mom when she turns two? I think perspectives get kicked out of whack and people forget what's actually important. And what's at stake: turns out, quite a lot is at stake. Everything.

That said, parenthood and pre-parenthood is emotional, and I have to admit that little things stay with me for way too long. I've been openly lectured many times in my 21 weeks of pregnancy: on what book I'm using, what birth plan I hope for, what hospital I use, whether I'll deliver early or late, whether I look too big or not, if my maternity leave plan is right for me or not, and just the other night, lectured on what I would or would not have energy for during my baby's infancy. And let me add that not all of these people have children, or jobs, so to lecture me on either kinda loses a little something. So, here's my take-away on that stuff: Dude, talk about your own experience. Never talk about my experience.

As I write this my cat stretches out next to me. She has lessons to impart during pregnancy, too: sleep as much as you can. Don't worry or feel bad if you feel like hiding under the bed, just hide. When you can have fun, have fun. Flaunt rules. Get snuggled as much possible. Figure out how to lie underneath the ceiling fan so that it blows your belly fur around, and then just lie there. Well, that last one is kind of hard to replicate, but I get the idea: Just relax and be you!