#167: One month left
Some last words on pregnancy
Last spring, I stood in the mirror and tried to imagine what it would look like. I puffed my stomach out as far as it could go. I put my hand under my shirt and squinted, but it looked unnatural, not round enough. I moved on quickly (to bed), afraid of what my brief cosplay might have suggested: that my excitement in being newly pregnant was just a crude form of self-involvement rather than something more profound. I knew it wasn’t true. That I was just curious about—actually baffled by—my imminently changing body. But we’re not the author of all our thoughts.
Last week, I wrote about getting older. About embracing the unstoppable cycle that washes all of us out of the zeitgeist eventually. I knew that what I was writing was not particularly novel, even prosaic. This raised the question of whether that made it less true (no) or not worth writing about (debatable). But I was tired, too pregnant to second guess myself, so I accepted the unoriginality. It’s hard to say something new about aging. In a way, that was the point.
Last Sunday, an email reply from a reader: “At best you have produced exactly what super-smug and detached-from-reality middle-class newspapers have been churning out for years. Next, if the world is unfortunate enough for you to biologically replicate yourself, it will be I've had a child and I'm a mother, it's rather beautiful actually, here are some almost-amusing and some mundane stuff that I am going to present to you as if I were the first one experiencing them (even though in that sinister, almost-narcissistic way we do, I will add a sentence that seems to suggest I am self-aware, but I am actually not). DO BETTER YOU SAD COW!”
I only started looking pregnant—properly pregnant, the kind silhouetted above priority seating on trains—in the last few weeks. This has been unexpectedly satisfying. Heavy, uncomfortable, but a step into visual legitimacy at the very end. Confirmation when I look in the mirror that it’s real, finally happening, even though it’s been happening for a while. I try to communicate with my former self. Here, see? This is what it looks like! But I forget what it feels like to not know. The baby is due in a month.
Last week, Avi and I stood in our hallway and debated what to do with the last of our purgatory items—the things we carved out of their places in our reorganization and pretended, for our sanity, to be unsure about. There were the bulky speakers he once used for recording music, our deceased cat’s window perch, a broken designer purse I’d hung on the wall of my first solo apartment like a piece of art, a neon light we used to turn on for parties. We left them there for weeks, stumbling over them every time we went to bed. Totems of a life that was quickly receding. Finally we leveled with each other, then Avi took them down to the street.
“I was never going to do anything with music anyway,” he said when he came back upstairs.
“Phrase that differently!” I insisted.
“I was never going to do anything with those speakers anyway,” he said, satisfying us both.
Ostensibly, the expulsion is a trade. Speakers for sound machine. Window perch for crib. Broken designer purse for water-proof LLBean. We’re turning away from what we know and toward something else. I’ve been trying to appreciate the mobilizing energy of that, of looking forward—hoping, dreaming, preparing. For all its agitating shortcomings, I think the sensation is preferable to feeling stuck, or bored. I haven’t been bored in a long time.
Pregnancy presents a confounding mix of the miraculous and the mundane. I am walking around with two hearts, two sets of lungs, two pairs of eyes. And yet there’s nothing especially unusual about this—about 150 million other people are currently doing it. “How can an experience so profoundly strange and wild and transformative also symbolize or enact the ultimate conformity?” Maggie Nelson wonders in The Argonauts. These contradictions are central to life itself. Every day that we wake up, hearts still beating, is both a miracle and the most basic fact about any of us.
Here I will add a sentence that seems to suggest I am self-aware, but I am actually not: Pregnancy has happened before, but not to me.
The baby is currently the size of a head of romaine lettuce, the apps rejoice in telling me. About six pounds. She has pushed my lungs and stomach upward, almost into my throat, and my bladder and colon downward, nearly out of my body. Pelvic pain, back pain, heartburn, hemorrhoids. The work of becoming ample, as Leslie Jamison put it. I stare at the dark veins now surrounding the baby like a vast fungal network, funneling her resources, depleting me of mine. I tell her to keep going. To do what she’s doing, but even more.
We’re closing in now. Car seat installed, burp cloths rolled, diapers stacked. Everything ready to be soiled.
I recently saw a video of an infant born at 36 weeks old, my current gestational age, and it just looks like a baby. Not a digital rendering of a fetus that resembles a seahorse (6 weeks) or an ’80s-era Sci-Fi alien (20 weeks), just a baby. A fleshy version of the life-size kewpie doll Avi and I used last week to practice infant CPR. Picture us pressing its little plastic chest over 200 times, breathing into its plastic mouth, working so hard to learn a skill we hope to never use. We tried to laugh at the baby’s unnecessarily detailed butt. It wasn’t really that funny.
The sad cow email troubled me at first. I of course understood the person to be sad themselves, potentially deranged, but what if I do become the sort of parent who forgets what constitutes an interesting thing to say? Will I be able to separate the mundane from the sublime? Can I tell the difference even now?
Jamison on motherhood: “When I am with her, I am not converting time into something else—a piece of writing, a book I’ve read, an email I’ve returned—I’m simply moving through it with her, like water, noticing things, learning the names of the trees on my block, nursing in front of landscape paintings at the museum, climbing and descending the same set of stairs, over and over again, like a walking meditation practice. My daughter opened up the midnight hours for me, too, like unzipping a seam in the world. Suddenly, there was three in the morning, and we were inside it together.”
The fear I’ve felt of losing myself is dissipating, crowded out by a curiosity to open this door I’ve been staring at for months now. To see what’s on the other side of all this waiting. Maybe there’s never been much difference between the mundane and the sublime. Maybe I wouldn’t mind rearranging my life around such an idea. I think, in many ways, I already have.
My favorite article I read last week was “What Happened to San Francisco, Really?” by Nathan Heller for The New Yorker. Last Friday’s 15 things also included a healing chicken soup recipe, an app I’m convinced will fix my personality, an amazing Norwegian film, and more. The rec of the week was the best movies to watch in October (blown away by your suggestions). Also last week, for the tidying heads, I finally wrote out all my tips and products recs care of my months-long organizing bender. Then added some more recs in reply to your comments!
Final podcast re: being knocked up
I felt a little wistful writing this essay, because it’s the last thing I’ll write while pregnant about being pregnant, and more generally, the last essay I’ll write for a while (next Sunday is my advice column and the Sunday after that I’ll be sending myself off on maternity leave). There’s so much more I could say about this utterly strange condition, so I’m going to do one final podcast episode about it. If you have any questions or angles you’d like to hear me cover (or potentially Avi, if I pull him in), please send them by replying to this email! My condolences to people who couldn’t be less interested in this topic—I promise it’s almost over.
Love to you all,