On Pregnancy and Expectation

This morning I was thinking about yoga. I was thinking about prenatal yoga, and how I had planned to do it while pregnant. I was thinking about this because my body hurt, and for an instant I thought, "Maybe I could do yoga," and then I remembered that I couldn't. Which led me to thinking, again, about the plans I had for this pregnancy, about how I thought it was going to go, and how few of those plans are actually playing out.

Here's what I had in mind originally: I had a midwife at a birth center, and I really liked her, and I was excited about a semi-granola birth, a valiant attempt at doing it "naturally." I envisioned laboring in the bathtub and in the birth center's garden. I wanted to learn hypnobirthing and find a really good birth class. Before then I would do yoga, and I would take long walks, and I would eat a lot of green healthy things and plenty of good protein and I would be lean and lovely as a pregnant lady--you know, like a q-tip with a watermelon attached, that holy social ideal of how pregnant women are "supposed" to look. And on the weekends I would drive all around town--looking q-tip-watermelony--to thrift stores and estate sales, buying unique and inexpensive and gorgeous clothes and items for the nursery. And in October--not before--she would arrive, healthy and chubby and screaming her sweet head off. And we would commence loving her forever. 

Instead, a good number of my days are like this one, which happened over the weekend: I wake up; I eat breakfast; I throw up. (Morning sickness sometimes kicks back in around 27 weeks, apparently? I'm right on schedule. Bummer.) I feel shaky; my cervix hurts; my abdomen feels pressure-y. I know enough to know this isn't labor. I know it's just going to feel like this, that it's normal for women with a cerclage, that it's going to hurt worse and worse until she arrives. (But I'm still scared. All day Sam and I talk on and off about whether to go in to labor and delivery.) I go lie down in bed and end up spending the day there. I ask Sam to bring me a bowl, since I still feel nauseous. I read 300 pages of a novel. In the afternoon, I fall asleep, and in the evening  I feel well enough to come sit on the couch. We watch Netflix episodes of Frasier. I can't imagine eating anything, but I'm starving, so Sam picks a menu from a takeout place; I find one thing that for no explainable reason looks like I might be able to eat it. It arrives, I eat a bit of it. I go to bed. Lying there, waiting for sleep, I pray that when she is ready to come, I'll know it; that I won't miss the signs. 

Not all of my days are like that, but several a week are. If it's a week day, I bring my computer and books back to my bed and work, horizontally. On a good day, I work from the chaise section of the couch, and when it's quitting time I trade my computer and books for a craft project and mindless sitcoms. People bring us dinner twice a week or so, bless their souls. Sam takes care of everything--bringing me water and meals, doing the laundry, the dishes, the cat litter cleaning. He even goes to the fabric store and buys me more supplies. He goes to the art museum a few times a week to get out of the house and I do my best not to pout. On Tuesdays friends come over for crafting; on Sundays someone brings me the sacrament. On Thursdays we have a weekly doctor's appointment and they tell me that, while every exam is alarming and indicates the baby will likely come early--30 weeks would be lucky--I'm stable in my alarmingness, and so they send me home for another week. 

And here's the surprising part: mostly, this life is okay. This pregnancy is okay. While sometimes I still get sad that I'm not having the pregnancy I planned, it mostly doesn't matter anymore. I had this shift in my thinking that happened a few weeks ago. They gave me steroids to develop the baby's lungs in case she did come early, and my body reacted by refusing to sleep on Friday or Saturday night. Those were rough days with more side effects I won't mention, but somewhere in there, I realized it just didn't matter. I would do it again. I will do it again in a few weeks if she hasn't come. And that was okay. I realized I didn't care anymore how she arrived or when she arrived or whether I spent the time before then in thrift stores hunting cool eclectic items or on my couch ordering from a take out menu and trying not to throw up. The only thing I cared about was that she'd be born safe. Working towards that was my full-time job, the center of my existence. And when I'm in labor, I'll go to the hospital, and whatever happens there will be okay with me. I'll surrender to it, because I don't have a choice. I'll trust my doctors (if you know me, you know that doesn't come easily), and if I end up with a C-section (which is common for preemies--they're often breech), or an epidural, then that's how it will be, and I'll survive it. It will be over soon enough, and, hopefully, this baby will make it and they'll help her grow in the NICU and eventually we'll take her home and she'll be small but strong, and we will commence loving her forever.

This shift in thinking was a gift. It was a gift I wasn't asking for and that I didn't know I needed, but I'm grateful for it all the same.

But this is what I want to clarify, which is something else I was thinking about this morning: I have friends who say I'm handling this well, that they're impressed; that they don't think they'd handle it this well. A few weeks back my father told me how much he marvels at the sacrifice women make to bring souls into the world. And in a way I'm grateful for this encouragement. I'm glad that from the outside this all looks noble or brave or heroic, and I'm glad to accept the positive reinforcement. But the truth is, none of this feels heroic or noble. It doesn't really feel like I'm "handling it well." I'm just handling it. It reminds me of what my grandmother used to wisely say, which is that everyone does the best they can. And that feels particularly true right now. It is the best I can do, but sometimes it looks a whole lot like nothing at all. And while I'm glad that from the outside that looks shiny and impressive, it doesn't matter all that much whether it does or not. Even if I weren't "handling it well"--and with less support I'm sure that would be true--even if I were weathering this pregnancy from a psych ward (which has felt possible sometimes), I'd still be doing fine. Because my only job is to keep this kid in me for as long as I can, and there's not much to that job, in the end. I get up and do that the same way you get up and go to work, or get your kid breakfast, or wash your hair. It's reality. I'm not making a heroic choice. I'm just doing the only thing that makes sense, and I'm grateful for the physical and spiritual help that is making it possible. She's a baby, a tiny kicking moving life inside me, and I'm trying to make sure she doesn't die. You'd do the same, whether it seems you would or not. There's not as much choice as it may seem. I'm heroic insofar as everyone who does daily difficult things (and doesn't everyone?) is heroic.

I hope I can remember this when I'm no longer pregnant. This won't always be my central task, the simplicity of working to preserve her life. But I hope what I can remember is this thing that seems central to the experience of pregnancy, this experience of being a body hosting another body, doing nothing and everything at the same time to help it arrive safely: this acceptance of my circumstances, whatever they happen to be. This conviction that I'm not in charge and don't need to be. That while I can work on changing whatever it's possible to change, worrying over what I can't change or what might of been is fruitless business; it's the least productive use of my time and my self. I want to remember that external validation, while lovely, doesn't actually reflect what matters, which is humble and simple and clear: it's doing what it makes sense to do, what I can do, and letting go of the rest.    


Terry Earley said…
What a learning, growing experience. Thank you for sharing these important insights.
Amara said…
Lovely. AND you admitted publicly to watching reruns of Frasier. It makes me feel a lot better about Watching Drop Dead Diva etc. We are just doing the best we can right? Maybe I oughtta lay off of myself. You're still doing amazingly well no matter what you say.
Libby said…
I love this, and I have a *lot* to say about it, most of which has to do with the fact that the majority of the work you're doing right now is mental: you're choosing not to go crazy. And to THAT, I can say, "Good job!"
Elise said…
Thank you. I need this. I feel like sometimes I want to be heroic. Or just super. And that I try to choose that--instead of choosing what is important, what is necessary, what is right. And what is right, it's not always harder. But maybe it's not what I want. And the risks for me may not seem as high. Likely my children are physically safe. But I risk a lot in my relationships with them if I don't take my time to sit. To read. To be bored playing hide-and-go seek or putting together a puzzle for the thousandth time. Utterly. Bored. But. Probably also the right thing to do.

Thanks for posting about something (and doing so eloquently) that maybe we all deal with in different ways. (but I still think you're heroic, wonderwoman, and amazing. Just wish I could come to craft night!)
belann said…
I guess I didn't see this. Honest appraisal of the situation and beautifully written. Hopefully, you are storing these posts somewhere else just in case blogging goes away in the future. These thoughts are worth remembering. And, I'm the grandma who said,"Everyone is always doing the best they can," part of my training in Nutripathy.
Sorry I'm a bit late in the game commenting here (I was living out of a car for the past month, so hope you'll forgive me).

This job of work that does not "feel heroic" doesn't go away once the kid is out of you. I'm afraid, that is the essence of motherhood. As Elise points out, lots of times it's boring, but it's the right thing to do. But lots of times it's also pretty amazing, & there are even moments when you'll feel touched in ways you didn't know you could be. It's all underwhelming & overwhelming in the same breath. I think it's accurate to say pregnancy is the great bootcamp for motherhood.

I have similar high hopes each time I get pregnant. They can mostly be boiled down to these two things: 1) this time I WILL not get sick. 2) this time I will not gain 50 lbs. (& thereby secure a spot in the "cute pregnant lady club").

& I concur w/ Amara. Frasier?!

& I know you you don't need to hear this (as you so aptly stated), but you're doing awesome. Just thought you should know that :).

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