September 14, 2012 / My Pregnant Pilgrimage #1
It’s funny, in these last several weeks of pregnancy I haven’t had the impulse to write. Well maybe that’s actually not funny funny. But it is something that I’ve noticed.
Picture this: You are sitting in your house or your favorite cafe or your office. You are sitting in the familiar places of your daily life. Only these places are no longer just your living room, the place that serves the best latte in the city, the building where you fearlessly dive into the task at hand. Now these places are all one big giant waiting room. But it’s not like they have transformed. There are still your house, your favorite cafe, and your office. But they are now also the liminal spaces where you sit and wait for your life to change.
You don’t know what to expect, except that. Things will be different.
Sometimes you sit and glance with increasing frequency at your wristwatch. You are impatient.
Other times you could be anywhere. Your mind’s eye is turned inward. Quiet. Peaceful.
Then there are those moments where you forget that anything is coming. This is true. You are engrossed in a new book. Enjoying a new cuisine. Swimming laps in cold water and meditating on how many meters you have swum thus far.
And the longer you wait the faster the pace of this cycle – impatient – peaceful – present; impatient, peaceful, present; impatientpeacefulpresent!
But on this morning – sipping my coffee, enjoying the cool fall breeze and early melodies of city and nature that waft in through the open window, listening to Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (my ultimate writing album), enjoying the second day in a row of waking somewhere in the peaceful/present continuum – I feel quiet enough to jot down at least a couple vignettes from these past few weeks.
It must have been over a month ago. I’m walking through Target and I am caught off guard by a loud gasping cry. I turn backwards to where this sound is coming from and there are a group of ladies – my age I would guess, maybe a little younger? – staring at me. Apparently at 37 weeks, they are in disbelief that I can still put one foot in front of the other. The screamer shouts over, congratulations and then follows her speech and wanders in my direction. She holds her hands up as if cupping my belly but not touching it. She looks up at me and declares, “This is a girl. And this baby is ready to come. I give you no more than 8 days.” I smile. “May I?” she asks. I nod and she moves her hands now onto my belly and her expression changes. “Hmmm. Maybe this is a boy. No. Hmmm. Well, now I’m confused. I really think girl, but now, hmmm, maybe a boy.”
Way to hedge your bets lady. Oh, and her prediction that I’d be having this baby in 8 days. Not true, not true, not even close. That forecast happened over a month ago. Teasing aside, I was actually pretty touched by this woman’s outreach. While this phenomenon of strangers coming up and talking and reaching out and physically touching you bothers many of the Americans I know – those who have experienced pregnancy and those who have simply observed it alike – I have found it to be lovely. Perhaps spending my first visible months of pregnancy (6-7 months) walking the Camino in Spain, I just grew accustomed to this way of interacting with the world. Between the European sensibilities and the pilgrim community, my baby (read: belly) was regularly touched, kissed, spoken to in dulcet foreign tons, and sometimes even applauded. It’s like my mother-in-law said to me early on in my pregnancy,“Raising a child takes a village, and these physical outreaches that are fading in our culture are good reminders that we are all in this together. It’s not just you and your baby. It’s a bigger community.”
Speaking of, let me tell you about some other advice I got from my community. Specifically a woman walking down my street in Columbia Heights. It’s maybe 6pm and I’m walking home with Colin after a long day at work. It’s just a few days before my due date. The anytime-time. She sees me and lets out a whooooo-eeeeeee!
“When are you due?”
“In just a couple of days. Labor day.”
She smiles. “And you are not having a c-section?”
“No,” I say before I realize how odd this question is as a follow up.
“So you’re going natural?”
“Yes. That’s the plan.”
“Well,” she laughs, “not natural, natural.”
“No,” I say again not yet realizing how bizarre this conversation is, “I am planning to have a natural childbirth.”
“Oh no,” she interrupts, “THAT is not going to work.”
I smile politely.
“Let me tell you what. If they did not have the windows sealed at Washington Hospital Center, I would have JUMPED. I swear to you. JUMPED. Right out the window. And I was on pain medication.”
How did I end up in this conversation?
“I mean, I’ll tell you what, it feels like a truck is running through your intestines.”
Shortly after this tidbit was shared, Colin whisks me off down the street and safely away from the loving “support” of our neighbor. The thing is, even before I got into the house, this interaction already struck me as hilarious. I wasn’t offended or freaked out. Her experience is her own, just as my experience will be my own.
Before I was ever pregnant, the part of being pregnant that scared me the most was that everyone knows something about you just by looking at you. Something about that was unsettling to me. Really unsettling. But when I think about the many interactions my pregnancy has invited since then, it is fun to notice that my mindset really has shifted. I am not bothered by the fact that my physical appearance alone serves as an invitation to strangers to offer up comfort, support, and terror stories. I feel both open to my community and strong unto myself. See: Pregnancy really is great preparation for becoming a parent.
One last vignette. Colin and I went out for sushi yesterday. We went to our local, hole in the wall, neighborhood joint. We love this place. We know the waitstaff and they know us. The Japanese waitresses are our parents age and, while attentive, they are not a particularly effusive bunch. So you can imagine my surprise when, just as we are getting up to leave, one of these women opens up. She asks if I’m having a boy or a girl. And she’s excited that it will be a surprise. Says it doesn’t matter, either way is lovely. She tells me that she has a boy. He’s 14 now. And she has wonderful memories of giving labor. It was a wonderful experience. One of her best days. She wishes she had another baby, but kept telling herself to wait, until she had waited too long. But she loves her son and always thinks fondly back to being pregnant and giving birth. As I leave, she touches my belly and says hello to the baby. The baby (ahem, mom) says hello back. She wishes us well and tells us that in her country they would guess that I am having a girl. Asks us to come back and let her know. And wishes us well again.
And so, on September 14th, 11 days after my due date, time is winding down for additional bets to be placed. Boy or girl, there is a baby coming. Perhaps it will be the birth we planned for and perhaps it will not. But there is a baby coming and I am calmed by the quote that showed up on my calendar this morning. It seems a fitting place to end this morning:
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. – Lao Tzu
Present Day Reflections
Perhaps a little counterintuitively, I’m starting this series with one of the very last journal entries I wrote during this time. I was already back from the Camino for a few months and awaiting (mostly) patiently for the birth of my first child, my daughter Henrietta. I was already 11 days past her due date at the time of writing this piece, so I had had a lot of time to reflect on being pregnant. (Smile!) I am nearly 38 weeks while returning to this piece today and the thing that hits me in taking it in with new eyes is how – 4 1/2 years and 2 beautiful babies later – it still holds so much truth to my experience of being pregnant today.
ABOUT THE SERIES
My Pregnant Pilgrimage is a blog series that I’m sharing in the Spring of 2017 during my present-day maternity leave. The arrival of my third little seemed a fitting time to return to these journal reflections from those last months of my life pre-parenthood. Learn more about this series here.