36 Weeks: What I've Learned About You, What I've Learned About Me
Photo by Adrian Collins Photography
Early on, when mornings were still surreal with the idea of you inside me--when you were the size of a poppyseed or even smaller, when my nurse spoke of you with caution, as if you could disappear at any moment, become reabsorbed into the darkness--that early, your dad predicted that you were a girl.
"Look at the odds she's overcome already," he said to me. "A boy would've quit: 'Nah, too hard.'"
We laughed, and I dared to hope he was right. I dared to hope you would stay. No--I dared to believe you would stay.
And you did--but somehow, all the little wives' tales combined to eventually convince me, and then your dad, and then everyone around us, that you were a boy. I can't even remember what all those little signs were now. It's strange and unnerving and so terribly human how the brain can convince itself of a reality. That's the beautiful and frightening thing about belief--about faith, even: it requires no evidence to feel fundamentally true. So the day we found out that you were you, opening an envelope together at L Taco, of all places, because we'd just returned from Hawaii and your dad wasn't feeling well and I wanted to find out together--I understood the phrase "didn't believe my eyes." I laughed and cried, stunned at how wrong I could be, surprised by the quiet grief for the little boy I thought I was coming to know, overjoyed by the fact of you, my daughter.
You will never remember this time in our lives, and I hope I will never forget. The way it felt to see you, each time, on the ultrasound screen, watching you take the shape of other things--a grain of rice, a peanut, a snail--before looking, finally, like the child you were becoming. The 3-D ultrasound, how it transformed you from shadowy curves to burnished copper. You yawned, you rested your cheek on your foot--"At least one of us is mobile," I joked, laugh-crying as I always did during ultrasounds--you rubbed your eyes, and you smiled. I've now fallen in love twice with that smile: first on a plane, fourteen years ago, and next in that ultrasound room. You smiled as though you were thinking of something funny, the kind of smile meant for no one, and it shook me: you were living a whole life inside me. Eating, sleeping, dreaming. Smiling. A part of me, yes, and a part of your father, but already separate, your experience of the world impenetrable. You became real for us--for me--in a new way that day. From then on, every time my belly rippled with your movements, I could see your face.
Feeling you move is magic.
Watching my body change with your growth has been . . . unpredictable. At first it was a delight, this secret hardness that no one but your dad and me could see. Then, truth be told, it got challenging. The scale creeping up to unprecedented numbers, familiar clothing not zipping or buttoning, not looking pregnant--just not looking like myself. I thought I would enjoy the growth, especially after working so hard for it, and thought I would especially enjoy "eating for two," but the five months of strict dietary changes to reboot my troubled hormones were hard to shake. I felt guilty for eating things that were forbidden before, worried that somehow they could still hurt me, and therefore hurt you. And then, eventually, came another shift. My belly is big now. Basketball-sized, absurdly extending above legs that look high-school skinny by comparison and lack of exercise. It makes your dad and me laugh every day. And I love it. One day, I'm sure, you'll have your own insecurities; my belly has always been mine. Never quite taut, no matter how thin I was (ridiculous, in hindsight: I looked great, if you want know). It was the part of my body I de-emphasized, covered with my hands in beach photos, sucked in incessantly. Now: I love showing it off. Flaunting its absurd roundness with pride. "LOOK AT IIIIIT," your dad and I say to each other, laughing. And I hope I can take this with me, this freedom, this acceptance, this love--not just for my belly but for my body as a whole.
Carrying you hasn't been easy. I'm tempted to think, at this point, that no pregnancy is, but apparently there are women for whom these nine and a half months pass like any others. A part of me is jealous of them. In the first trimester, when everything about my body was still familiar--its size and shape, its strength and mobility--I thought I might be one of them. And then came that mysterious pain on the left side of my groin. A pulled muscle? A tear? Ultrasound, MRI; Airrosti, chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture, osteopathy. As the pain intensified, eventually engulfing every aspect of my days, relief became an endless quest. Symphysis pubis dysfunction, it's called. My body releasing too much of the hormone relaxin, the bones of my pelvis separating too far, too soon.
By Thanksgiving, at twenty weeks--six weeks after it started--I was using a crutch to walk. "You must be so sick of that crutch," people would start to say as the months passed. They didn't understand that I was grateful for the crutch. It gave me some mobility, eased the pain of walking; the crutch was my friend. It was the pain I was sick of. I couldn't have imagined it before experiencing it, the agony of mundane motions: rolling over in bed, going from lying to sitting, sitting to standing; putting on a shoe or pants or underwear; getting into or out of the car. Once, I tripped over a bag in my room--a mild trip, a minor stumble--and the pain that coursed through my pelvis and hips was so brutal, so shocking, that I just stood there and sobbed. I cried almost every day because of it, mostly in private, but sometimes with your dad. When he'd get out of bed in the morning to nearly lift me from my side, squeezing my hips together for stability, sometimes I'd just lean against his chest and let the tears come silently. Once, I couldn't lift my foot enough to slide it inside my Ugg boot. I sat on the edge of the bed and cried then, too.
By thirty-four weeks, I wondered how I would possibly last another six. It was getting worse every day, and so were the Braxton-Hicks contractions I'd been feeling regularly for weeks. That tell-tale tightening of my belly, amusing at first, when my uterus was the size of a grapefruit and I could see it ball toward the surface, but now irritating, corseting my midsection over and over throughout the day. Normal, though, I thought. Then came the spotting, when your dad and I were driving back up to San Antonio after the weekend of my baby shower. I'd gone the whole pregnancy without seeing blood, and it scared me, though I felt very calm.
We ended up in the hospital that night, a monitor tracking my contractions in peaks and valleys, the horse's gallop of your heartbeat filling the room. We waited for the results of the fetal fibronectin test, which would detect whether the proteins holding the amniotic sac together were beginning to come apart. If so, I would be considered at high risk of delivering preterm. If not, I most likely wouldn't deliver in at least the next seven to ten days. The test came back negative; the relief was crushing. But they gave me the first of two steroid shots that night anyway to help develop your lungs, just in case.
That night was the night I tripped over the bag in our room. I stood there and sobbed, overwhelmed. The fear I'd tamped down all day, the relief I felt now, the pain swamping me, the worry for the next six weeks--it all hit me at once. I limped to the bathroom and ran a bath, sank inside and cried some more.
Then something almost miraculous happened: the next day, I was moving a little easier. And the day after that, after my second steroid shot, I didn't think I needed the crutch. I didn't understand. "Look!" I kept saying to your dad. "Look at how I'm moving!" To most people, I probably still looked like a very pregnant woman waddling. But to me, it was freedom. Freedom I didn't understand for another day or so, when it finally occurred to me: the steroid shots must have had an anti-inflammatory effect. While they were meant to help you, they helped me, too--exactly when I needed it most, when I was starting to despair.
The pain isn't gone, but it's livable now. I swore, when the pain was at its worst, that I would never take mobility for granted again, and so far, though it's only been two weeks, I haven't. Every time I get out of bed, I want to laugh because I don't want to cry. When your dad reaches out a hand to help me, I smile and say, "I've got it." I've got it.
You scared me two weeks ago, little one. But you also saved me.
Just in time for our next set of challenges: every day, I wonder if it'll be the one I see your face. We've already been back to the hospital once since the first time, and I've thought about going a dozen other times. Those harmless Braxton-Hicks, it turns out, have been preparing my body early. Every day, they're a little more intense. Every day, there's a new sign you may be only hours, not weeks, away. We moved into our new house with urgency, your dad a home-readying machine. Your room is taking shape. Your clothes are washed and folded. Your bassinet catches the sun at our window. My hospital bag is packed. We are ready enough and not ready at all.
I said earlier that a part of me is jealous of those women for whom pregnancy comes easy. But another part of me is grateful for the experience I've had. Carrying you has made me reach for new reserves of strength. It's taught me that strength isn't always about independence, about defying the limitations of your body; sometimes strength lies in the humility to let someone help you out of bed, or into the bath, or to put on a shoe. Carrying you has shown me what it is to put another person's health and wellbeing above my own, every day. (Because God knows I wanted to gobble the Tylenol 3 my OB prescribed by the mouthful some days.) It's shown me that somewhere along the line, I became an insatiable gatherer of information, using that information to set expectations and make plans--and it's reminded me that some things, we can't plan for, and when those unplannable plans fail, we must be flexible and gentle with ourselves. Carrying you has redefined our future.
So, in case I forget to tell you later, thank you, my love. Thank you for staying.
See you soon, Josefine. I love you.