I'm officially past my due date and very, very pregnant. Though it's been a long journey with many changes, I am realizing I haven't done much processing throughout these last 9 months, if at all. For most of 2018 I heard a lot of the same narratives from women (and from some men expressing their perspective on their wives' experiences): on bodily changes, on delivery, on "4th trimester." Looking back on the last 40 weeks, it's fascinating what people will share with you, what they feel oaky asking you and telling you. In the moment I didn't find it fascinating at all. At times it was jarring, catching me off guard. Most of the time it just made me uncomfortable but the people-pleaser in me would smile and take it in. I know that all of it comes from a good place-- people wanting to connect, excited to be able to share their experiences-- but it didn't make it any easier when someone would tell me for the 10th time in a week "You're having twins!" I'm not. Or, "You look like you can pop any day now!" when at the time I was only 25 weeks. Or, "You're so big!" Duh. I'm pregnant.
The thing about pregnancy, at least in the latter half, is that you're so visible. As an introvert, this kind of visibility, was a challenge. I get it-- it's the first thing you notice when you see me so it's a perfect conversation starter. I didn't mind an individual comment about the obvious (my pregnancy), it was more the collective comments day after day, month after month. There is so much more to me than my body-- before I was pregnant and especially now that I am pregnant. But at least pre-pregnancy people aren't asking to touch you, people aren't asking how much you weigh or how much you've gained, people aren't asking about your bathroom habits. There are certain societal norms that somehow go out the window once you're showing a pregnant belly. After a while, these kinds of conversations also made me feel farther away from myself. I'd question, "Is there more to me than my body?" "Is the most interesting thing about me the fact that I happen to be pregnant?" "How do I feel besides the physical symptoms of pregnancy?" I couldn't answer these questions.
And then there are the birth stories. We have a terrible habit of framing the birth experience in negative terms-- how painful it will be, how to avoid a c-section as if it's the worst thing, even the very word "labor" implies the drudgery of work. People (mostly people who have not experienced childbirth) would ask me "Are you ready?" "Are you going to do natural or epidural?" (as if epidural suddenly negates the "naturalness" of your birth experience) "Are you scared?" This last question in particular would bother me, because the more I was asked it the more I started to think... "Should I be scared?" I wasn't particularly scared before. I've tried very hard to hold onto my own thoughts and feelings about all of this: this is the most natural thing in the world and if millions of other women have been doing it for thousands of years so can I. But when you get asked over and over again, "Are you scared???" it starts to seep into your skin.
Throughout this process I've done a lot of Googling and reading blogs and forums to get insight into other people's pregnancy experiences, and I noticed another oft-repeated narrative: women suddenly loving or embracing their bodies as if pregnancy gave them permission to embrace new shapes and curves. I love to hear this. We have enough shitty societal forces bogging down on our self-esteem, our body issues, etc. And yet, pregnancy exasperated my insecurities and anxieties around my body. With every new curve or crease or wrinkle or fold or pound (many, many pounds) I felt further and further away from myself. I dreaded stepping on the scale at my frequent doctor visits. In the back of my mind I had that generally accepted weight gain range of 25-30lb and the closer I approached it, the shittier I felt. (I way surpassed that number, by the way, and I had a very healthy pregnancy). My breasts ached. My feet could hardly squeeze into shoes. My calves felt like they were going to burst. My ankles were long gone. My face got rounder, as if that was even possible. It hurt to sit too long, it hurt to stand too long. My body felt foreign and looked foreign. The only thing I loved about my body was feeling my daughter move inside of me. Everything else I could've gone without.
EDIT: I began writing this post on 1.7.19 - just hours before I started contractions. I never finished because the day got away from me and by evening, I was getting ready to finally say hello to the little human that was growing inside me all these months. Now I have a whole other slew of feelings and experiences to process!