Knowing Each Other

Being pregnant is a very strange and alienating experience that mostly involves being tricked by one’s own body. Take for example, the nausea and puking. Your body doesn’t usually do this on its own unless something is very, very wrong. Wrong as in I just ate a plate full of 10-day old fish kind of wrong. Or wrong like perhaps those last shots of tequila I did last night were 5 or 6 too many. But when you’re pregnant and puking your guts out, nothing is wrong. It’s all good. See? Trickery. Likewise when things move around inside of you without your active engagement, that isn’t usually a good sign either. Again, I reference the post-I just ate a plate full of 10 day old fish sensation. It isn’t usually a good sign when the parts move around enough in there that you notice them, it’s a feeling that is usually a pre-curser to something pretty bad, or at least deeply unpleasant. But when you’re pregnant and your whole belly distends, distorts, jumps to one side, and shakes so hard it makes your whole body move, as well as shifting the chair that you’re sitting in — these are all good things. Oh, and don’t even get me started on labor. The worst pain of your life? Good, not bad. Your innards turning themselves inside out? Very, very good, not actually the horror movie of wrongness you might imagine that that would be. Yep. Base trickery.

Right now, I’m struggling with trying to be amused by the yogic gymnastics the Gadlet is perpetually engaging in. I find all of this internal movement disconcerting at best, and deeply uncomfortable and weird at worst. Don’t get me wrong, it is far, far better than the alternative. (Go ahead Gadlet, kick and wiggle away!) And I must confess that it is kind of fun to play Whack-a-Mole with the kid’s foot when it decides to try to push its way out sideways and I push back until it pops up in another location. But, despite all of the flowery bullshit I’ve read in the pregnancy books and blogs and websites, I don’t really love the feeling of having another human being living inside of me. Miracle, shmiracle. I mean, how many people can one sack of bones and flesh and juices reasonably contain? Although the answer is apparently, quite a few, in my personal experience, one is plenty. These days, what with the two of us in here, I’m starting to feel claustrophobic in my own skin.

Between the claustrophobia and the feeling of being duped by my physical self, I’m feeling more than a little alienated from myself, my body, and the baby. This makes me worry that I’m on the fast track to the Terrible Mother Hall of Fame. (Since I’ve already made the Slow Dissertator Hall of Fame, I’d like to stay out of this other one. It looks pretty greedy if you get inducted to more than one Hall of Fame in any single lifetime.) But seriously, I’ve been a little worried that this feeling of alienation isn’t really healthy for me as a pending mother or healthy for the baby as I am coming into the home stretch of the pregnancy. Shouldn’t I feel connected to the baby? Shouldn’t I love it more than anything? Shouldn’t I have a sense that it is the most precious thing ever? I don’t know if I do, really, and that has been bothering me more than a little. Plus, shouldn’t I find it adorable and sweet when it kicks my bladder and tricks me into thinking I have to pee when I don’t really, instead of merely being annoyed? Shouldn’t I find its tiny hiccups charming instead of irritating?

And then I’ve been wondering, if maybe I am not completely in love with this thing yet because I am still trying to hold on to a past self that is no more — the young, carefree person with responsibility only to herself. (Oh, and occasionally her husband…) New Kid on the Hallway has a really interesting post up right now about labels and life stages that started me thinking about this. Is it just that I’m resisting adding the label “mother” to my list of self-identifiers? (Which are, in no particular order: student, professor, wife, lover, friend, daughter, geek, fan, blogger, historian, scholar, dreamer, foodie.) Or is it that I’m too selfish to do this properly because I have some resentment about the difficulty of this physical and emotional colonization process that has occurred? And then I wonder, if this alone isn’t enough to put me in the Bad Mother Hall of Fame because I don’t want to give up some things that are really important to me in order to have this baby. (like my own space or my own sense of myself.)

Add to all of this the terrible degree of uncertainty that goes along with pregnancy and it is enough to make this particular control-freak freaked. I mean everything is completely unknown. How will our lives change? Will I ever read a book again? Will I be able to work and think after I have the baby? Not to mention the complete unknown of this other person that is about to move in with us. That is pretty scary too, because, I mean, don’t you very carefully screen your roommates? We’re just letting this person in without even a pre-interview. So, it makes me wonder about even the very simple things like: will the kid have hair or be bald? Will it have its father’s nose and curly hair and athletic grace and inner calm? Will it get its mother’s eyes and prehensile toes and love of chocolate and sense of aesthetics? Or how about this horrible one, will it be ugly? (Yes, I’m awful enough to worry about this.) Ah, hell, I don’t even know if it is a boy or a girl. I don’t know any of these things. And I do not like not knowing.

Today, I don’t really have answers to these questions nor do I have any better sense of whether the baby loves chocolate, but yesterday a small little thing pushed me down the path in the right direction. I’m still no candidate for the Pregnancy Hall of Fame (which this completely fucking crazy lady has to be in for having spent a grand total of almost 10.5 years of her life pregnant. Totally insane. Not sure I really want to be inducted into that one.) But, maybe I’m a little closer to feeling connected to the colonizing, barf-inducing, hiccuping, wiggling critter that lives inside of me.

Here is the small good thing: yesterday at the end of my massage with my amazing massage therapist, the baby was kicking and she put her hand on my belly to feel it (with permission) and, as usual, the kid quieted down. It is very shy sometimes and won’t kick on demand, dammit. (What chance is it going to have to make its old folks rich when it becomes a child star if it doesn’t overcome this performance anxiety?) Anyway, I told her that it kicks up a storm when I put my hand on my belly, but that if other people do it, the baby tends to clam up. Her whole face lit up and she said, “You know each other!” I agreed that, yes, it probably knows me and can tell me from others. But, I hadn’t thought much about the reciprocity involved.

We know each other.

That idea haunted me for the rest of the day. The baby knows me. It knows who I am. It recognizes my touch from all others, even if it is the Whack-a-Mole poke. And I do actually know it. I have been living with it for 35 weeks. The things that have been happening to my body that alienate me are also the things that make me aware of its presence, and are the things that help me to know it. We know each other, this internal alien and I. I know it likes to keep its butt on the right side of my body and kick on the left. I know it gets hyped up when I have a mocha or some other deliciously sugary consumable. (Hm… maybe it does like chocolate!) I know that it gets the hiccups more than once a day. I know that it gets really active in the early evenings and early mornings. I don’t know if it will be ugly or have Spousal Unit’s curly hair, or be a boy or a girl, but maybe, just maybe, the fact that we know each other will help me to feel less colonized, tricked, claustrophobic, and uncertain.
_____________

Dissertation Update:

About 10 more pages of revision to go on this chapter — I figure it is one day’s worth of revising and one day’s worth of tidying and re-reading and then I can send it off to the advisor. I trucked along for a bit yesterday and the day before and got a fair amount done. Today, I’m going to head off to somewhere air-conditioned and try to finish up that last 10 pages of revising. Wish me luck!

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5 responses to “Knowing Each Other

  1. Whew…that’s a lot of stuff to question! But there really are some answers, and you probably already know them. It’s funny that you mention alienation b/c I think pregnancy is simultaneously the most embodying *and* alienating experience a humand being can have. A pregnant women is constantly aware of her body and every cell in her being, yet it is so much out of her control. It’s neither good nor bad all at once. There are simply times when that feels great – like the very first flutter in your tummy – and times when it really sucks – like when E would not stop shoving her foot out the left side of my gut! I seriously pushed back, hard, to let her know that really wasn’t working for me! So, I think the answer to the whole “shouldn’t all these things be adorable” question is No. Not really. And not always. Sometimes, that shit really hurts and it’s not “funny” or “adorable” or “precious.” And admitting this doesn’t make you a bad mother-to-be. Period. It means you’re honest and you’re not adding to some romanticized, monolithic version of the pregnancy narrative (you know, the crap you keep reading in the books).

    And you’re not selfish either. I think there’s a point in pregnancy where most women say “I want my own body back.” We want control again. And that’s totally okay. I still loved my baby. I just wanted to love her outside of my uterus! I was ready for her to exist in this world outside of my body, so I could focus on getting to know her even more. All those things you talk about. Her hair, eyes, nose, her personality. I was ready for her to be a little person of her own, whom I could care for, love, and protect with the help of my husband, not simply on my own anymore.

    Any you will read books again. You will work. You will do whatever you want to do. It may be on different terms than before, but you’ll do it. Your life has already changed forever b/c you’ve faced the worst: now knowing. It’s the single biggest *thing* that sucks about being a parent. Not knowing. And it doesn’t ever get easier. Ever. But the sooner you know that, the sooner you can just work with what you *do* you and the things you *can* control. And you’ll do it all in your very own way, learning as you go, what works for you and your family, despite what everyone else says.

    By the way, as if I hadn’t had enough surprises, it wasn’t until my second pregnancy that I found out that in the last 4 weeks or so of pregnancy, another hormone shift takes place that can cause increased anxiety, worry, (moodiness in my case), etc. So remember that there’s actually a physiological/chemical connection to some of the feelings you’re describing.

    You *do* know each other. You just haven’t officially met yet.

  2. wow! this sums up a lot of what I’ve been feeling lately. Hope all goes well these last few weeks!

  3. Remember that unlike with a roommate, you will be able to shape the personality of your baby. You will teach her/him to be a wonderful human being; you will communicate your sense of aesthetics; you will instill the values that you and your husband share. From what I know about you from this blog, you will be an extraordinary mother. Just the fact that you’re questioning all these things makes you a remarkably aware and intellectually profound woman. The Gadlet is so lucky to have you.

  4. New Kid on the Hallway

    I realize this is a completely unhelpful comment, but: The Duggars had YET ANOTHER baby????? They are completely and utterly insane. I mean, it’s their right (I guess) to have so many kids, but they. are. insane.

    On more serious matters: fascinating post. You express some of my concerns about ever having kids (which is unlikely to happen) – that giving up control over one’s body. But in any case, I know you’ll be an amazing mom. My mom loved being pregnant (though sensibly she only did it twice, not SEVENTEEN TIMES), but she said that once we were born it really took her a while to fall in love with us. She’s not a little baby person and she wasn’t presented with a tiny bundle and instantly overcome with a wash of motherly devotion while birds sang and violins played. And she was a totally awesome mom (well, still is, but you know what I mean). I really like AcadeMama’s point about not contributing to some mythologized narrative of pregnancy and motherhood.

  5. Thanks for the great comments — I really appreciate them. Kiki and Aqua, you make me blush. Thanks for the compliments!

    AcadeMama – you are so right about the saccharine narrative we have about pregnancy and motherhood in this country. I think the more realistic assessments there are the better off we all will be. While, yes, I’m sure there is amazing stuff, each person has to find that for themselves and in their own way. If our cultural narrative is that it feels great to be pregnant, or that you instantly bond with your infant, then I think it creates such irrational expectations that those who don’t love being pregnant or who don’t immediately fall head over heels for their infant can think that there is something wrong with them for failing to live up to those glorified standards.

    And, thanks for reminding me that while I’ve had to be pregnant pretty much alone, child care (for me) will be a 2-person venture. Spousal Unit keeps reminding me of the same thing — saying things like, hey, kiddo, I’ll be here to help with the next part, unlike right now. That is pretty reassuring.

    New Kid — I didn’t articulate the full extent of my, well, consternation? at the Duggar lifestyle. I think it is wasteful, uses up planetary resources shamefully, and is exploitative for women. I wouldn’t want to legislate against it, but I agree it is pretty much madness.

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