Spoiler alert: I was working on this post last Tuesday, and had intended editing it later. But my bump had other plans, and within three hours labor had begun. I’m posting this now anyway because the blog has been idle too long.
I love a good band name pun: Daisy Chainsaw, Kathleen Turner Overdrive, JFKFC. At one point in my life I thought Olivia Newton John Denver would be a fantastic name for a particular duo, because I was five years old and believed "Rocky Mountain High" and the soundtrack to Grease were the only music I’d ever need.
Last night, after I had been awakened by a strong tightening of my uterus and was getting up for my third pee, I thought of another one: Toni Braxton Hicks. This morning I not only understand how lame this is, but also the extent of its exclusivity. I was playing to a very select audience: heavily pregnant women roaming the house in the middle of the night, exhausted but too uncomfortable to sleep, loopy with expectation.
It sounds ridiculous to say this so late in the game, but in some ways I am just starting to accept myself as a pregnant woman. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I can feel the part of me that is the pregnant woman expanding, literally and figuratively, and taking over the parts that I was before I was tucked away in the background of my own body. And I feel completely okay with this.
I’ve gotten used to people reacting to me solely as someone who is pregnant. I was telling a colleague that I notice people smiling at me more, granting me the right of way in supermarket aisles, and approaching me frequently for directions on the street as though they feel safer around me for being pregnant. My colleague said that’s because they don't know my belly is actually filled with the wallets of unsuspecting strangers.
But pregnancy didn’t swallow me whole. It gradually pecked away at me. At the start, it was complicated secret. Then it was a celebrated announcement. And then for a long stretch, it was just a fact, one that I tried to keep from interfering with my life as much possible.
I didn’t want my pregnancy to dominate all the conversations I had, or to limit what I still had the energy to do. I didn’t want to bore everyone around me or be perceived differently. I avoided maternity clothes for as long as I could. I took pride in still having the energy to stay out late, even when I might have preferred a night in bed with a book. One friend refers to this time not as my pregnancy, but my sobriety.
In trying to maintain my pre-pregnant self, I was not making any room for my pregnant self. This is very easy to do when you do not have friends who are going through a pregnancy at the same time as you. Not that my friends don’t care – they just can’t relate. And my friends with children have already moved from being pregnant women to being parents, more consumed by juggling soccer practices and Justin Bieber crushes than worrying about whether their water will break in public.
It was the Irish fella who had the idea to go to an antenatal class, so we would be forced to focus one night a week on the fact that we were going to be parents and had no idea what to expect from any of it. It was a new club we were joining, and we had to embrace the change, ready or not.
Driving to the first meeting, we were both feeling a little insecure. What if the other couples were just better and smarter at this than we were? When we pulled up to home of the instructor, I was bottoms-upping a take-away latte, sucking back the remaining foam, as the other couples made their way to the door.
“For feck’s sake,” the Irish fella said, “put that down before we’re thrown out.” During the class introductions, he continued to present us as best he could, volunteering the fabrication that he and I had been together for two years, and casting a dim view on my sharing that we’d met in a bar.
That first day, the instructor divided us into groups, with the men on one side of the room and the women on the other. The women’s task was to take a whiteboard on which was drawn a cartoonish outline of a naked pregnant woman and label it with various symptoms we were experiencing.
Now, anywhere else, when people ask how I’m feeling, I always say I feel great, because nobody really wants to hear over brunch that your gums bleed constantly because you are carrying 50 percent more blood than normal or that your expanding uterus has caused a substantial reorganization of some major organs, forcing you to breathe like a suffocating goldfish, among other discomforts. What I mean when I say "great" is that I feel great, considering.
But the women in my class didn’t hold back. One grabbed the marker and labeled the diagram’s feet “SWOLLEN!” Another drew little bubbles in the belly and wrote “GASSY!” Sore nipples, migraines, patchy skin, constipation, heart burn and, on a positive note, “great hair” were added. I had found my people!
Why it had taken me so long to see the value in getting to know other pregnant women, I don’t know. I have a particular aversion to anything with "mommy" as a qualifier, including (hypocritically) mommy blogs and mommy friends. And yet I have running friends, work friends, writing friends, pub friends. Every role you have in your life comes with new knowledge, new vocabulary, new experiences, all of which are best shared with others who have similar interests or ambitions. You have to find them.
The women in my class are all figuring out how to balance their pregnant selves with their working selves, their adventurous selves, their partner selves, their selfish selves. We are all taking on something new and unknown that feels too huge to not mean everything and yet too foreign to be part of our identities at present. We are preparing to make room to be moms while maintaining everything else that have worked hard to be.
It would be unfair to expect people to see me as anything but pregnant now, including myself. What was as small as a pine seed in the first ultrasound has grown into a watermelon-sized bump that is part hindrance, part armrest, part my little boy.
But now that I live in a body that I maneuver with the nimbleness and grace of the Kool Aid man, now that my mind is full of labor and motherhood, and now that I have embraced this so fully, it’s all about to change again.
Our class has already planned a December reunion, at which we’ll meet the literal fruits of each other’s labors. The first of us is being induced today, and we are all thinking of her and cheering her on, wondering who will be next, whether we are strong enough, how it will be. I hope we can continue to be a source of support for each other as we tackle the next phase, beyond the bump. If for no other reason, I'll need these women to test my new material on, the jokes that only a new mom can understand.