My daughter, my own darling girl, is pregnant with a firstborn daughter. Being around her has brought back so many vivid memories of my pregnancy with her that sometimes I can’t tell whether it’s 1982 or 2015. (No, scratch that. The clothes and hairstyles are so much better; it’s gotta be 2015.)
Still! It’s impossible not to be absorbed into her expectant world. We sit and fold laundry one hot afternoon and I feel relaxed and dreamily content and fulfilled. Since when does housework make me feel relaxed and content and fulfilled? Since never, that’s when.
The nesting syndrome, I decide, must be contagious.
* * * * *
These days, the sonograms are eerily precise and, praise the lord, more obstetricians are women. In so many other ways, though, the experience of pregnancy hasn’t changed at all: For some reason, a pregnant woman is everybody’s business. The rest of the world notices and judges and comments.
“Wow! You’ve really put on the pounds!”
“You’d better get your sleep now!”
“Good grief, you’re about to pop!”
“Of all the rude, gratuitous remarks,” our daughter says, “‘about to pop’ is the worst.”
“They were saying ‘get your sleep now’ 33 years ago,” I tell her. “Three decades and they can’t come up with a better line?”
Much of the attention is kind and well-meaning — mostly from older, sympathetic women who smile and ask her how she’s feeling and when the baby’s due. They nod and say yes, they remember what it was like. And yes, it seems like it goes on forever, doesn’t it?
Other remarks range from innocuous to overly familiar. A few are troubling in their sheer idiocy (who comes up with the bright idea to tell pregnant women horror stories about childbirth and infant abnormalities? Where’s capital punishment when you really need it?). Odd to think that, at a time when a woman feels and is most vulnerable, she’s subject to more criticism, commentary, and even occasional hostility.
Why? I didn’t know in the 80s and I still don’t know now. There’s something about a pregnant woman that makes the rest of the world go a little bonkers.
But I love it that this generation of pregnant women is more defiant and in-your-face than my generation ever was. Thirty years ago, we shrouded our expanding girth in acres of perky floral material and prim little bows. We looked more like dimwitted shepherdesses than mature women, which was probably the point.
Our larger bodies, too, were a little embarrassing and unseemly. Feminists or not, nobody wanted to be a woman who took up too much space or who looked as if she were letting herself go.
Today — God, it’s so different! I love the pride in the baby bumps. I love the sheer insolence of pregnant women like Amy Poehler or my daughter’s friend Carolina who danced up a storm at my daughter’s wedding in a tight, brilliantly red dress that hugged her pregnant stomach. Or my daughter herself, whose wonderfully confident attitude seemed to proclaim, Hey, world: this is what an 8-1/2 months’ pregnant woman looks like. Deal with it.
So maybe it’s taken women millennia to get to that better place. But the point is, we’re finally arriving.
* * * * *
My husband and I leave Seattle on a beautiful summer day, our daughter still pregnant. I am convinced she will go into labor the moment our flight leaves the ground, but she doesn’t. She waits five days.
That whole day, I become a babbling idiot who accosts total strangers, an entire yoga class, and most of the people in a small restaurant with the news our daughter is in labor with our first grandchild. (My husband, quite unhelpfully, is on a flight to Toronto. He bored everyone on the plane with his almost-grandfather stories, he says later. Nothing like a captive audience.)
The hours pass. At first, I think our daughter is going to be live-tweeting her baby’s birth. Then the contractions get more serious. Our son-in-law sends a photo of our daughter, relieved and relaxed after her epidural. “I am a great fan of modern drugs,” she texts later.
Elizabeth Teal Blodgett, six pounds and 15 ounces, is born in the early afternoon of Saturday, August 8. She’s beautiful. I stare obsessively at the photos my son-in-law sends — the perfect, round head, the furrowed little brow, the open rosebud mouth.
It’s so funny when you notice that a wildly thumping little piece of your heart has suddenly taken up residence two thousand miles away. How did it happen, who agreed to it, and why? Stupid (almost infantile, you could say) questions. Six minutes, six years, or 65 years old, you still can’t begin to explain that fierce blossom of new love.
“You know what?” my husband says when he returns from his trip. “We thought we’d never have to go to Chuck E. Cheese or Disney World again. We thought that was all over — thank God — and we’d never have to show up at those horrible places any longer.
“But now I’m realizing — it’s all starting over again.”
Oh, yeah, I say, oh, yeah. I think you’re right about that.
(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)