There’s nothing I know of that’s comparable to being 38 weeks pregnant to bring out all the feistiness within. My crotch ACHES constantly, vomit threatens to migrate up my throat every time I lie down, I’m toting around an extra 54lbs, and I’m trying to mentally gear up to push an 8-10lb child out through my genitals. Suffice it to say: it’s not a good time to mess with me. But because I’m not usually uber-pregnant like this (thank goodness), and because I was raised to be a good girl, as virtually all of us were, I rarely let my feisty fly. Here’s a sampling of the commentary I have received about my body over the last few months, and the responses I wish I had been ballsy enough to utter:
“You look awfully big.” You seem awfully rude.
“Don’t be surprised when the second baby comes out.” Don’t be surprised when I punch you in the face.
“You’re not going to make it to your due date!” Actually the appearance of a pregnant woman’s body has zero to do with the timing of labor.
“Are you sure it’s not twins?” Yes I actually know more about my body than you do, stranger! Imagine that! (And at 34 weeks I was only measuring 32cm, jerk!)
[Wide eyes upon hearing me say “December” — or now “two weeks left” — when asked when I’m due] You do know I can see you, right?!?!
This one time I really was feisty:
A stranger laughed at me, pointed at my big belly, and guffawed “Good job!” in front of a small crowd. I’m thought to myself good job…having sex? Good job…gaining weight? What inappropriate thing is this man praising me for? My thoughts got a little cloudy as I felt taken aback and he continued talking. He said something about boy or girl, still laughing loudly (was he postulating alien or tumor?). I stammered out “a baby,” and left in a hurry.
He saw me again a few minutes later at the gas station next door and approached me. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out he was coming over to apologize. “Ma’am…I’m sorry I upset you. I didn’t intend to upset you.”
I could have smiled sweetly and said “Oh that’s okay,” but I had reached my limit and this was harassment. So instead I said this: “You are a stranger and you have no right to make comments about my body.”
He looked panicked and tried to backpedal. “I didn’t mean to…make comments about your body…I have a wife and a daughter and and…it’s beautiful. Your pregnancy is beautiful.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes — why do men love referencing their female relatives to claim they know how to treat a woman right? You shouldn’t have to have a daughter to know it’s rude to laugh and point at other humans.
“Then just say that. Or just say congratulations. Or nothing,” I deadpanned. He nodded and started to back away.
“I’m sorry ma’am.”
“Thank you for apologizing. Have a nice day.” I never smiled.
I like to pretend that I’m a badass. I’ve had two babies at home au natural. I expressed my displeasure to a rude man at a gas station about his commentary on my body. I was a little harsh with an old lady at Walmart last week (she LET HER JAW HANG OPEN AT THE SIGHT OF ME — I try to be strong, but it was a crushing blow to my self-esteem). “When are you due?!?!” she exclaimed with the alarm conventionally reserved for emergencies. “Soon!” I tried not to cry. “June?!?!” she cried out, clutching her pearls at the thought I’d continue to ballon for another half a year. I shouted back “SOON!” She still didn’t hear me. I screamed “SOON!” again and added, “Thanks a lot for commenting on my pregnant body!” as I waddled away from her. I brushed away hot tears in the Christmas tree department.
The truth is I’m fragile. My body is fragile. I feel like an eighty-year-old woman…every step hurts. Today I fell down and did the splits in my kitchen. I cried, my two-year-old cried, my bones cried. I can’t play with my kids. I’m too tired, too uncomfortable, zapped of energy (and normally-fuctioning ligaments). I’m fatigued when I wake up in the morning. It takes all the strength I have just to roll over in the middle of the night. I’m no longer a person who is pregnant; I’m a (big fat) pregnancy inhabiting a person.
My nerves are fragile. I tested positive for GBS this pregnancy and have been pounding kimchi and fermented garlic and vitamin C and probiotics and apple cider vinegar to try to get rid of it. What if my next test is positive too? I don’t want to have to make a decision about antibiotics in labor. Why didn’t I do more to prevent GBS this time? Because I’m tired and I like eating sugar. Maybe it will be helpful if I lie awake at 4AM and obsess about it…
My emotions are fragile. It feels like everyone is out to get me even when they don’t have bad intentions in the least. I dropped a fork on my foot last week and snapped at my husband (and cried) because his appropriate reaction was not inside my incredibly small box labeled “compassionate responses for mean forks.” #whoops #hormones #promiseiloveyou
A dear doula friend of mine refers to this as the “oh shit moment.” It’s when it sinks in — and I think this happens with every pregnancy — that you actually have to expel this little person from your body. This is the thought that make your vagina wince.
And it’s hard not to fixate on personal history. Gabe’s labor was 28 hours…I had a third degree tear…Phoebe was born with a compound hand presentation…it felt like I was being ripped to shreds…in a combined 46 hours of labor, I’ve never known anything but back labor…
I’m nervous about having a baby in a new place. No grandparents. Newish community (gonna get a swift kick into more intimate community when I have leaky boobs in front of everyone). I’m nervous about having three kids in my van and just the logistics. Who do I get out first? How do I keep them all alive in parking lots? How do I deal with Gabe and Phoebe poking and prodding each other constantly now that their car seats are butted up against each other?
I’m freaked the vasectomy won’t work and I’ll end up pregnant again. I’m freaked motherhood will swallow me whole. I’m freaked I can’t be the mom my children need. I’m freaked that I’m too maxed out to add a third to the mix.
I’m freaked out about struggling with massive oversupply again after baby is here. When Phoebe was born I was tandem nursing AND pumping off an extra 25-30 ounces EVERY MORNING. I did all the things, you guys, ALL THE THINGS…and eventually I succumb to pumping (what you’re generally NOT supposed to do) because it was far better than the constant threat of mastitis. Just thinking about it makes me cross my arms over my breasts and whisper please don’t explode again. Please don’t hurt me.
I’m straight scared too. Of the big stuff. The worst stuff. I’ve watched my doula client die in childbirth right before my eyes, her baby born still, her husband impossibly devastated. I’ve attempted to walk with my friend who’s really my sister this year in the aftermath of her infant dying suddenly at four weeks old. I’ve bled my own pregnancy into a Walgreens toilet before and looked for my baby among the clots. I’ve seen irreparably damaged babies and helpless tormented parents in the NICU. I’ve heard too many stories of miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, anomalies, SIDS. There are too many stories.
I’ve spent a lot of this pregnancy thinking I was “over” the fear of loss. I’ve had a rainbow baby, so I’m good, right? Turns out not so much. When my kids sleep in I still think half the time “are they dead?” Last week my five-year-old pulled a bookshelf over on himself and he was fine but my mind immediately went to the social media posts about toddlers dying under dressers (and the bolts we should buy to tether that thing to the wall). It will never be easy to accept that I don’t have control. I will never be able to keep my babies, or myself, or my husband, or my life totally safe. Nope. It’s terrifying. And I just need to say it out loud.
People tend to be confused why a woman preparing for her third birth (especially one who does “birth things” professionally) would want to take a childbirth class in advance of her labor. But…it’s like a really really big deal. And I haven’t done it in over two and half years. And I’ve only ever done it twice. Did I need the discussions regarding Pitocin and fetal monitoring and the Hep B vaccine? Not particularly, no. But I needed the emotional and mental preparation. I needed the day away from my kids to connect with my husband about this HUGE THING that we are about to do together, again, that will forever change our lives and the lives of our children.
One of the most powerful parts of the class for us was simulated contractions with ice cubes (something all my doulas and teachers have used to prepare me for my three births). In this instance I was blindfolded and given a large bowl of ice. A song started playing when everyone had their ice, “Beautiful Things” by Gungor which is one of my favorites. As instructed I plunged both hands to the bottom of my bowl of ice for the duration of the song. That song is over five minutes long…and I kind of rocked it. I rode that “contraction” and the eventual burning sensation (“baby crowning”) with power. I drew on affirmations, vocalization, and my husband’s presence and touch. (I also told him to stop talking so much, because mama knows what she likes and what she doesn’t — one kind encouragement per contraction and then please be quiet). And when the song ended (“your baby is born!”) I would’ve told you it’d been thirty seconds instead of five minutes. I took my blindfold off and my husband was rubbing my bare feet and beaming at me. I wept. My hands were frozen but my heart was warm and my self-confidence was blazing.
I remembered. I remembered that women are warriors. I remembered that I am a warrior. I can labor. I can birth. I can postpartum. I can mother THREE children. Despite my fears of really horrible things happening. Despite the pain that is so very unavoidable (no matter how and where you birth). Despite the absolutely thoughtless comments from strangers who might as well skywrite “you’re an enormous disgusting monster!” across the heavens. They don’t get to say what’s true about me. I am a child of God and a mighty woman and the uterus is the most powerful muscle in either the male or female body. I want a shorter labor. I want an intact perineum. I want a well-positioned baby that comes out with just a few pushes. But no matter the hand I’m dealt, no matter the circumstances, I can and will triumph.
I can do this.
I am doing this.
My body is powerful.
My baby is strong.
My God is good.
These are a few of the four-word mantras I have been saying to myself when I make time to practice meditation. I touch my thumbs to each of my four fingers with each word. I. CAN. DO. THIS. It helps my mind return to a focus on my breathing or my Jesus or my baby — whatever I’m trying to concentrate my attention on. We’ll see if it’s a tool I use in labor or not. But here, today, 38 weeks and some change, bones brittle and patience thin, it’s fueling my faith. And I’ve learned that’s a desperately needed ingredient for labor, birth, and parenting. Faith in my body. Faith in my child. Faith in my abilities. Faith in my Creator.
The closer I get to forty weeks (or forty one, or forty two) the more I am inclined to surrender. To the process, to the future, to the unknowns. What else can I do? I could simmer in fear, stay in the freaked out place, wrap every anxiety around myself tightly. But I know there’s no benefit in that. The profit is in transforming fear into faith. And not in some trite religious way; it’s not about “just have faith, honey,” or about what I “should” do. It’s about what I choose to do. It’s about a stubbornness to kick fear in the shins and be directed by love instead. It’s about embracing the paradox that I can be feisty, fragile, freaked, and fierce all at once, and all of that can rest inside my faith.
Come on, baby. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in this…this life, this birth process, this stupid-hard parenting journey. I believe it’s all holy. I believe in the Holy One who made us both and who has given us everything we need to get you from my belly to my arms. Come on, baby. When you’re ready. My fears won’t go away but I promise I’ll keep using the transform-into-faith machine as best I know how. It won’t be perfect. I’ll fail. I’ll curse either you or your father during labor. Your siblings will assault you. But you’re already so loved. Come on, baby. My kisses await you.