to end or arrive

[I am jumping back in the story – alas, I’ve long abandoned hope of a chronological account.]

At 38 weeks it is inevitable. It is pressing on us from all around – at any moment labor could start and then we will have a baby and then we will always always be parents. I have never felt the inevitable like I feel it now, even when other things were just as certain and binding.

Perhaps it is because this inevitability is accompanied by so much unknown. You are a stranger to me. I know your movements and little else. It is enough to establish familiarity, a curiosity, but who will you be? And who will I be, as I am born anew into this?

At 40 weeks it feels improbable. Sure, we have a washer and dryer. We have the car seat installed. We have the crib set up and my belly is enormous. But this is our new normal. I will be pregnant forever and all the rest is a bit of pretending. I stop moving things around in a frenzy of preparation. There is a stack of diapers I haven’t washed yet. But we have time – we have all the time in the world.

At 41 weeks it is once again cerebral. I end where I began. There are twinges – things that say: You are not what you were. You are not yet what you will be. At 41 weeks and waiting it is hard to remember the wonder, to recall how I thought I’d feel at this time: peaceful and abiding in the process. I walk and walk, aggravated that with all my effort there is nothing to show for it. I remind myself that effort does nothing during labor, that this is a time to let my body progress and trust, but then I swear at that other self because she is pretentious and I hate her.

The days between 41 and 42 weeks are blurry, emotional and restless. I rubbed a lot of clary sage onto my ankles. I logged a lot of miles, walking on curbs because I’d heard it could start things up. I walk the graveyard. I walk the path along the lake. I walk the neighborhood and wonder if anyone sees, if a woman stands inside a window and points and says “There she goes again.”

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Several times I’ve found him with his feet pressed against the bars in his sleep, and it reminds me of the way I like to tuck my toes into the space between the mattress and the bed frame. Some nights it’s the only way I can go to sleep.

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I keep thinking that I need to wait until the beginning of a week, the beginning of a new month. I keep thinking that I need to wait until I can revisit how it began.

I’m beginning here, in the middle. There are too many things I want to remember and one of them is this moment – the two of us on the couch in the sunlight, the same place we’ve spent countless hours in the last six months.

Or — how he will chase his shadow, the sunlight streaming through the west window.

It is called plankton net for this, for all the very tiny very crucial diverse collection of memories that need to be scooped up, held, observed.

Here is another – the way he scoots his body into the path of sunlight in his crib. It’s a bit ridiculous, the haphazard cardboard over the windows in an attempt to create an optimal napping environment, and there’s a little patch of sunlight that won’t be deterred. He sees it and smiles and hauls his body toward it, just to be in it, just to move his fingers in it.

the elements

I am at Panera and I’m eavesdropping on two men.

“What’s new? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“Oh, you shouldn’t even ask.” A brief pause, as if to indicate how juicy the next bit will be, and then: “It’s supposed to get up to 40 this weekend.”

Which reminds me of this – being pregnant is like being the weather. I am always something to talk about.

Specifically, I am something for a stranger to talk about. A customer waits for their coffee and “Getting chilly out there” becomes “When are you due?” or “Boy or girl?” or “When I had my son…” Talking about the body of a stranger is usually not appropriate. People don’t just ask about a bandage on the face or a missing leg or “My, you have a lot of freckles!” But the body of a mother is within limits because we all have mothers, we know them. The body of a mother is part of the universal experience, like the sun on your face.

I become something to comment on or something to compare as if I am a storm sweeping in or last winter compared to the inevitable winter before us. “You’re so tiny! I was huge.” “Wow, about to pop any day now, huh? Oh, still 6 weeks to go?”

At times it is welcome, as if we both know and delight in the weather – like when a mother at the grocery store quietly wishes me congratulations as I finish bagging my purchases.

Or when a young man at the library exclaims his congratulations, then covers his mouth as if to catch his volume, his eyes wide and laughing. The whole library must have heard. “Sorry, congratulations,” he whispers.

At times it is like this, like the magic of a first snow and somehow you end up making eye contact with a stranger and you both smile and you could almost hug them.

Other times, often, I am merely on display. I am not quite a person, I am a force to be observed.

false lights

They told us we’d be sick of each other, that the first year would be the hardest, the first year would be the best and it was all rough from there. They told us it would get good twenty-five years in. They shook their heads and said it would be sanctifying as if sanctification could not hold hands with the very good, only that it would be good if it was hard. They said we would be glad for the company. They told me that sex was for him and I would appreciate other things – like when he does the dishes or rubs my shoulders. They warned us about selfishness, sharp words, wandering eyes. They said we would regret it. They said everything would change. They laughed and said, “Just wait, just wait.”

They were right about some things.
But it has been four years and there are so many things they did not tell us. They did not tell us how it would feel like unfolding. They did not say that some things would not change, things you’d hoped would transform. They said nothing of sitting in silence, of deep contentment. They did not say how it would feel to learn so much and still wonder, wonder all the time. They said we would take each other for granted, yes, but what of when our eyes are opened again and we realize anew?  They did not say anything of deep fears, of sitting in silence and wishing yourself away, of wishing yourself to a future moment where you lie next to his sleeping form and all is peace. They spoke nothing of tenderness, like an unexpected benediction. They did not prepare me for the beauty so I am pummeled and bruised by it. I am out of breath by it.

_______________________

They tell us we will never sleep, we’ll never be alone again. They tell us that the first six weeks are the hardest, the first year is the hardest, it’s easy until you have two kids. They tell us everything will change, now we will always be parents. We will always worry. They tell us how to feed, sleep, change, play, teach. They tell us our lives are over, our lives are just beginning. As a mother, I will realize the depths of my own selfishness. They tell us our capacity to love will be expanded, that we will be tempted to hurt our children. Our ideas of raising a family are too relaxed or too romantic or too stifling. They laugh and say “Just wait, just wait.”

And I keep thinking of all the things they have not told us.

chrysalis

I have done a poor job documenting this transformation with photographs. There have been pictures snapped here and there, but I do wish I’d done more gathering of time and all the in-betweens.

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five weeks

I was excited at the beginning. The morning after we found out I took a picture in the bathroom. I took another one several days later. And the week after that. As it turns out, the first couple weeks are very boring. Nothing perceptible happened to me and I have lots of photos to prove it. But I wanted so badly to capture the transformation. I wanted to have evidence of the moment everything shifted. I wanted to catch it like we hunt for seasons, like we wait for the cicadas to come from their shells and the chrysalis to open, to catch it like looking back at the moment you fell in love. But it all happens too quietly and one day while our backs are turned or our heads are down everything has changed.

This is how it was with me. Nothing had changed and then perhaps something? But no. Now? Seems unlikely. And then — my goodness.

nostalgia you old devil

 

At night we meet at the beach after he is done working on the boat and swim under the full moon.

At night we borrow a boat (loosely interpreted – we never received permission) to watch the shooting stars in August. We get in trouble for stealing a boat and not wearing life preservers.

We are reading Patrick O’Brian and I am always one book behind him. I’ll watch him laugh or moan and shake his head and wonder what I’ll be getting myself into with the next one.

I have never been sentimental about the end of summer. “Good riddance!” I say, ready to welcome autumn at last, but this year has me dragging my heels. It was ten years ago we met, and five years ago we started dating. It all happened then, in those dreamy end of summer beginning of autumn days. I am recollecting it all while having this summer, while tucking it day by day into The Summers We’ve Shared. It is all happening now as we shift to thinking about welcoming our little one soon.

How can I say it? There has never been a lack, and we don’t welcome another to fill a void. We welcome another to share in our abundance, but I’ll be honest, at times I only want the abundance for myself. I know that often when you share it only grows, and already that begins to be true.

“They say they will love, comfort, honor each other to the end of their days. They say they will cherish each other and be faithful to each other always. They say they will do these things not just when they feel like it, but even-for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health-when they don’t feel like it at all. In other words, the vows they make at a marriage could hardly be more extravagant. They give away their freedom. They take on themselves each other’s burdens. They bind their lives together in ways that are even more painful to unbind emotionally, humanly, than they are to unbind legally. The question is, what do they get in return?

They get each other in return. Assuming they have any success at all in keeping their rash, quixotic promises, they never have to face the world quite alone again. There will always be the other to talk to, to listen to. If they’re lucky, even after the first passion passes, they still have a kindness and a patience to depend on, a chance to be patient and kind. There is still someone to get through the night with, to wake into the new day beside. If they have children, they can give them, as well as each other, roots and wings. If they don’t have children, they each become the other’s child.”    — Frederick Buechner

I have loved him in these ways – as a wife and a mother and a child. I have known the rich intimacy shared by lovers. I’ve felt when stroking his head at the end of a long day as if he were a child that I’d loved from birth. I’ve known the comfort of laying my head on his shoulder when I am broken, small, and feeling the strength and stability of a parent. It is something they never told us. In my best moments, I want to share it – I want to bear witness to the love of a father and the child we made, to give roots and wings. In my doubtful moments, my nostalgic moments, I am not ready for the summer to end.

Blood

I can feel it now – more of it. Perhaps it is only because I know, because I read that by the time a woman gives birth she has approximately 50% more blood in her body. When I am lying down at night or when I am walking I am aware of the pressure, the volume increasing, my veins, like the rest of me, adapting to accommodate more.

I can see it now – more of them. Visible in the places that are pale or stretched, my chest and stomach and the inside of my wrists. I feel privy to something secret – this is the way a body looks under the skin.

We watched a birth video where the baby did not cry immediately and learned that even after the baby is born, the umbilical cord is still delivering oxygen to the baby through blood, so that if it takes a moment or two for the lungs to catch up the newborn is still breathing, the cord inhaling and exhaling.

It makes me feel so full full full of life, giving life, pumping breathing moving dancing life, woven and threaded life, coursing and delivering this life.

 

 

Forsake

I cultivated a quiet disdain for motherhood. After we were married and the possibility was distressingly immediate I would be consumed with panic. No, I did not want this.

It began while I was young. I did not especially like children, and as I grew older and was expected to beam a motherly glow when holding newborns, I balked and felt awkward and unsure. I would always say that I wanted to be a wife and mother, but what interested me were intellectual things. Men were having better conversations, and they didn’t hug you all the time like women did, and they managed to avoid the bulk of the things I also wanted to avoid – dishes, laundry, emotions. Sometimes men would still gossip which I appreciated because I was very nosy. Men would occasionally smoke, drink dark beer, had the preeminent “final say,” got to have jobs and hobbies.

I said I wanted motherhood because all girls want motherhood, but I wanted it clean. I wanted the children to really adore me and also not need me. I wanted motherhood but I didn’t want to be a mother. Mothers were always worrying, always concerned with boring things like meal plans and chore charts and holiday crafts. I was no good at holiday crafts.

My mother was not like this, but I thought other mothers must have been. There was a subtle narrative that mothers were weak, a bit simple, indispensable yet forgettable. My mother was strong, no-nonsense, honest. She did not love snuggling, but she did love reading and would read aloud to us. She did not get on the floor and play with us but she cultivated a freedom of play. She did not cry often, though when she did it was a little scary, and even if she had cried behind closed doors her face would disclose it. My dad would tell us, as if it was a secret, that she’d written poetry, that she wanted to learn photography. Underneath all her mom there was a mystery.

I am thinking a lot about my mom these days, about other mothers, and trying to shed the still lingering impression about who it is I’m becoming – hollow and spent. I was surprised at how soon after I knew I was pregnant there was less trepidation. At times I have felt as if I’m betraying a former self by my openness, my curiosity and awe.