I have to preface my answer by saying that, as much as I had pictured being a mother, I never really pictured myself being pregnant. It’s not that carrying my own child wasn’t something I wanted to do, to the contrary; it’s just something I was unable to clearly envision. I, like many women, entertained a convincing paranoia that it wouldn’t work for me. A miracle of such enormity is already hard enough to compute; participating in any way is almost beyond the credit I could give myself, especially knowing perfectly qualified and worthy would-be parents who couldn’t get pregnant. If nature denied them, why would it be generous to me? Well it turns out, that part is random, or at least subject to an otherworldly logic I need not understand. I got lucky, so here I am.
OK, let’s get the things-that-are-just-how-I-expected out of the way, because they are kind of boring:
- Strangers invite me to take their seat on the bus.
- Friends like to touch my stomach.
- I have rare but random weepy spells, even when I don’t feel particularly emotional.
- My boobs are bigger and I’m always horny.
- I gleefully eat ice cream 1-3x a day.
- It’s harder to flirt with dudes.
Now for what surprised me:
- How much I’ve loved this baby before it’s even technically a baby. I now understand why parents think everything their kid does is the greatest, because I was so fricking proud of my little zygote for implanting, and then of my little blastocyst for cleaving, then of the little embryo for growing organs, and now of our little fetus for kicking and squirming. Basically, for doing all the stuff it’s expected to do that looks ordinary to anyone on the outside.
The experience has given me the gift of this beautiful epiphany: that I never really fathomed my mother’s love for her children. Because if her pregnancies were anything like mine, by the time each of us was born she probably loved us more than anyone else ever could. Which means her eagerness for me to have my own child wasn’t just because she wanted a cute new baby in the family, but because she was impatient for me to finally understand how much she loves me.
- Upon finding out about the pregnancy, I expected to feel joy but I also expected to feel panic, so it was quite a surprise when the panic didn’t come. Instead I felt a great relief, a marvelous freedom from all the things I didn’t truly care about and all the other lives I should want/could have — because I knew I wouldn’t have time to dwell on those thoughts anymore. I would finally have to stop bullying myself over what I hadn’t yet done or would never do, and instead put all energy into doing only what met the highest standard of Mattering To Me. That list quickly became very short and very obvious in the best of ways.
- But the biggest surprise is how much being pregnant has prompted me to think about death. Not in a morbid or fearful way, and not even because I’ve been reading up on birth stories and stats, which expose the subject of America’s unnecessarily high maternal mortality rate. I just find that I can’t reflect on what’s happening in my body from any perspective except one that hovers above the axel of life’s revolving door. To contemplate a beginning is to contemplate an end. To introduce a life into the world is to introduce a death into the world. That is the dual nature of nature, the twin stares of Mother Isis — all swirling simultaneously in my gut. Especially in the early weeks when a miscarriage felt as likely as anything, the birth/death outcomes seemed two ends of the same rope at which my imagination would grasp ardently, late into the nights…
Before I’d told anyone except my husband about the pregnancy, I used to pace hurriedly through the streets of our neighborhood just like a girl with an urgent secret, instinctively holding my stomach and parsing through racing thoughts, one of which was, Wow. I have inside me right now the person who is going to bury me someday. When I later shared that with friends, they laughed, seeing it as comically macabre. But it wasn’t that; I actually felt comforted at the thought, and was awed by this preemptive glimpse at closure. As I wrote in my journal the night my pregnancy was confirmed, that moment of finding out instantly became “the belly button of my life,” tying the skin of my past and future existence into a defined center, giving it all unified form.
And I suddenly understood how some people say that having kids makes it easier to die. That’s usually proposed as a critique, and certainly I always thought of the inevitability of death as a lame “reason” to reproduce. But now that I have another generation gestating in me, I see the relief of being survived not as a ‘reason’ but just as a fact. I do feel better about her father and me eventually dying, believing that our families have combined into a new person who might carry on our love for the world after we expire. It’s not that we were looking for a way out of death, or that we naively believe we’ll carbon copy ourselves onto another being. We just lived our lives naturally until more life grew out of it, and somehow that notion takes the edge off death’s unyielding persistence, and allays what doubt I had that the big revolving door is nothing cruel, or futile, or anything to fear. Now the door seems, just like everything in life, another way of learning to share, learning to take turns, learning to grow up.
Long before being a candidate for parenthood, I enjoyed randomly asking people: “Pregnancy: miraculous or mundane?” I’d felt it was equally both things, but now, for me, its mundanity only contributes to its miracle. I suppose that’s one of the shifts that constitutes our transformation into gushing, lovesick parents. At least, that’s my assessment halfway through the process. Ask me again next trimester!