Week 20. Halfway there.
I don't know how many of you reading have been pregnant, or will be. I've hesitated to say or write much about pregnancy and have sworn to be a woman who doesn't define herself entirely by the existence of her child. All too often, I have watched women's lives become engulfed by their children such that they lose their own identity, their own passions, their own voice.
I have also hesitated because I understand that my story is not that of everyone else. Mine is one of having the privilege of being "ready" to try my hand at parenting, of having an astoundingly supportive and loving husband, of having no trouble whatsoever conceiving, of, at least to this point, having a healthy first pregnancy.
There are some of you (women) who are reading who have decided that motherhood is not, and will not, be a part of your life story. It is with all sincerity that I say to you that I admire you and respect you. I honor your choice and am empowered by your decision.
There are others who became mothers too young or without your consent. Others who are without the support of a partner. You, you powerful women, inspire me. You build me up. You have a strength and a courage that deserves recognition and awe.
Some of you are waiting. Maybe you have been for a very long time. There are those among you whose patience will be satisfied. My own parents waited 17 years before I came on the scene. I know from experience the kind of love a mother whose longing has been fulfilled can give to a child. Some of you will find other ways to motherhood. Others will choose, instead, to mourn the loss of what could have been. Sisters, you are the epitome of patience and fortitude. You've got the kind of moxie I bow to.
Then, there are those of you who have lost a precious life, the flesh of your flesh and bone of your bones. Your pain is unknowable. Your ability to go on loving and living, without being consumed by bitterness, leaves me speechless. You are brave and strong and powerful.
I have realized in the last few weeks that I want to know your stories. I believe they should be told, that they should be heard and known. It would be duplicitous, though, if I did not hold myself to the same standard, if I did not believe my own voice did not deserve to be heard.
It seems to me that the act of growing and birthing a human has been stripped of it's gravity. I have seen at least 10 belts attached to maternity wear that sport a metallic bow. We demand "belly pics" from pregnant women, cooing over how "cute" one woman is while raising our eyebrows in judgement because another woman's abdomen has swollen a bit too much for our liking. We ask women-with-child about their cravings and registries.
I'm open to the possibility that I'm in the minority of women who do not find pregnancy to be a wonderful, peace-filled, glowing time of life. Maybe some really do find that, after conception, everything is rimmed with gold. I have a feeling, though, that most of us who are or have been or will be pregnant will find that our minds are not preoccupied with bows and buttons. The reality of my "condition" becomes more apparent with the growing strength of each thump of tiny limbs against my womb.
God willing, I will bring a life into this world and Jordan and I will have the responsibility of raising a healthy, well-attached, well-loved child. The thought of meeting this little human, of watching her or him grow, of having the privilege of being this child's mother is an unspeakably joyful one. But it is also incredibly weighty. The voice of self-doubt is difficult to quiet.
So, it isn't that I think pregnant women shouldn't wear belts with bows or that friends should stop asking about weird cravings. I do, though, want to say that when pregnancy is reduced to a cutesy freak show, the pregnant woman is silenced and disempowered.
My experience of pregnancy is that it is incredibly lonely. From the exhausted and nauseous weeks of the first trimester to the intensely emotional weeks of the second trimester, I have realized that, ultimately, I am alone with this growing child. I am the one whose body has become a home, a source of nutrition, an entrance into the world. I am the one whose physical shape is expanding and shifting and forever changing. It is me who is inundated with irrational, but completely real, emotion in moments expected and unexpected.
To say that I am lucky or blessed with a supportive partner is an understatement. Jordan's love is a steadfast, active, and patient love. He is, in all honesty, the best human being I know. He readily shoulders my burdens and, when he can't remove the weight from me entirely, finds ways to lighten the load. During pregnancy, this has meant that he marches me upstairs to tuck me in when I am too tired to keep going. He brings home boxes of herbal tea and bags of yogurt-covered pretzels. He drives 20 minutes to buy a novel for me when I am too down to get out of the house and comes home with two.
I know that, if he could, he would swap experiences with me in an instant, even if only for a day, so that he could know me and know what it is like to grow a human. But, he can't. And, so, as I stand in awe and pure gratitude of his love, I also find myself standing back a bit, bewildered by the shifting of my body and mind, an experience that will leave me utterly changed, and one I cannot truly share with anyone.
I'm sure I'll find occasion to write and talk more about being pregnant in a culture that diminishes the significance of pregnancy. Now, though, I would ask that, along with your belly comments, you take a moment to ask a pregnant lady how she's doing, really doing. Because, trust me, whatever her experience, she, and the world with her, is being changed.