I’m a walking waiting room, a human transition. I’m 20 weeks pregnant, halfway to becoming a mom. It’s beyond exciting–and a little surprising, given that I got pregnant a month after getting married, and at what doctors like to call the “advanced maternal age” of 36.
Actually, I lied. It’s been more than a little bit surprising. Every day, at every stage of this fascinating process, I keep finding out things about pregnancy that shock me. And the biggest of them all is not the weird side effects (I’ve developed bursitis, dry skin, and round ligament pain) nor the breasts as big as my head (truly frightening) but the liminality of this experience. Nothing has you looking ahead as much as pregnancy, wondering if the baby will be a boy or a girl, who the baby will look like, how your life will change.
But at the same time, given all the physical, emotional, and intellectual side effects that can’t be ignored, nothing keeps you living in the moment as much either. When you’re pregnant, you think about it all the time. With joy and excitement. With abject fear when you learn all the things that can go wrong. With indignation when distracted pedestrians bump into you on the street and you want to yell, ‘Be careful! I’m pregnant!”
But life goes on, so I promise to keep this blog from being all pregnancy, all the time. Still, now that I’m so huge there’s no plausible denial, and half of this adventure is behind me, I thought I’d share some of the most surprising things about this liminal stage, my role as a human incubator.
First, they say you can’t be a little bit pregnant. So I was shocked to find out that you are, in fact, a little bit pregnant for weeks if not months. Biologically (I’ve learned since reading too many baby books), a zygote, the fertilized egg, floats around for a while before implanting in your womb, a process which may or may not succeed. So in a physical sense, you’re just a little bit pregnant at that point.
After that, it’s amazing to watch the zygote develop into a baby. My first ultrasound, to confirm the pregnancy, showed an “embryo stem” a white line in the middle of the black fluid of the amniotic sac. My second showed an adorable tadpole with a big head and a curved tail. By the next one the tadpole had flippers, and at the following it had arms with hands, each of which had five fingers! With each ultrasound the pregnancy becomes more and more real. But then there are the weeks and weeks between ultrasounds. Which brings me to…
Emotionally, the hardest part of pregnancy is trusting that everything is going smoothly during that first trimester, when the baby is too small for you to feel it move. I felt sick all the time and couldn’t tell if that was a good or bad sign. I would have bought an at-home ultrasound machine if it were legal, affordable, and my husband let me indulge my crazy side. Prior to becoming pregnant, I didn’t realize how little contact or interaction you have with the baby until you can feel it move at about 18 weeks. Before that, there’s a being growing inside you, but you have no idea how it’s doing except when you get to see it on the ultrasound screen. I was horrified when my mother told me they didn’t have ultrasounds when she was pregnant—I’m not sure I could have handled that. Which probably means that pregnancy is a really good growth exercise for a control freak like me.
And then, socially, there’s a long time when you’re not “officially” pregnant, when a pregnant lady is in the closet, gestationally speaking. All my doctors—physician, gynecologist, obstetrician–warned me not to tell people I was pregnant until I was done with the first trimester. There’s a logical reason for this; statistics vary, but something like 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage and the vast majority of those miscarriages take place within the first three months. But there are also logistical reasons that make it impossible to keep the happy news secret; in my case, I was six weeks pregnant when my husband and I went to my parents’ house for Christmas in Massachusetts and ended up getting snowed in for seven days. Seven days in which I didn’t drink booze or coffee, and took frequent naps, all wildly uncharacteristic behavior for me. There was no way I could pretend not to be pregnant while trapped in a colonial farmhouse with people who love nothing more than wine, coffee, and stinky cheeses. Unless it’s babies; turns out they love those, too.
So we ended up telling my family on Christmas Eve. We told Emilio’s mom earlier that day, and while she respected our request to keep the news a secret, she clearly didn’t understand the reasoning behind it. And, after I thought about it, neither did I. I still wasn’t going to tell the general public, a group represented by my Facebook Friends, the news, but I realized that if something horrible were to happen, we would want our families to support us through any tragedy. So we told my mother-in-law she could tell her mother and other relatives—it would be too cruel to keep it a secret. Especially since she was partially responsible for the pregnancy; when we called to tell her the news, my mother-in-law had just returned from the ninth mass of the novena she had been praying in the hopes that we’d get pregnant. She’s very powerful!
The whole “to tell or not tell—that is the question” debate was my first clue that pregnancy, as an experience, is highly culturally subjective; in America we wouldn’t dream of telling people as soon as we found out, while in Nicaragua everyone’s in it together. My Greek family was sort of a cross between the two—we told my extended family once we heard the baby’s heartbeat, another exciting milestone.
Now that the baby is big enough to kick me when I’m driving or watching TV or staring at the full moon, I feel pregnant for real. I can’t wait to meet this little person (and to fit into my old bras again). But then I think about how portable the baby is now, how I always have company, how my husband can fit his entire family on his lap. And it makes me a little sad that pregnancy, like all transitions, is here for a limited time only. So I plan to take full advantage of all the cultural rituals surrounding it. And I think I’ve invented a few of my own–namely, the weekly chocolate croissant celebration. Because right now, a chocolate croissant is just like me–soft, flaky, and carrying something delightful in its middle.