Late pregnancy is all-consuming. Every movement declares my impending motherhood. This child is always in the back of my mind, when he's not in the front. Everyone is asking when the baby will come, as if I know. They say I'm "about to pop," but I feel confident I will make it at least to Spring Break. My first was a week late, and this pregnancy has been like a rerun of the first, similar in almost every detail.
I felt really physically miserable from weeks 33-36. Back pain, constant pressure pushing out from my belly, pain in the hips and pelvis, painful kicks and jabs from the baby, pain in my ribs where they hit the baby's rear and feet. The constant, inescapable nature of it was almost as bad as the thought that I had such a long time to go, so many weeks of this constant pain to endure. I hit an emotional low point
Then, magically, I had about 2 weeks of a reprieve. I felt flexible, energetic, maybe even glowy. My belly felt smaller than it really was, and more firmly attached. And then the baby dropped, so that now, in the final 2 weeks, I feel horrible again. But the end is in sight, and that makes a difference to my mental state. I'm not as despondent thinking I have two weeks to go as I was thinking of enduring for more than a month. [Edited to add: it ended up being almost 4 more weeks, because the baby was 10 days past his due date.] It makes me wonder if this is part of nature's plan for pregnancy, to make labor welcome, so that its pain seems a small price to end the chronic misery.
Going into this pregnancy I told myself I'd prioritize self-care and do everything possible to be more comfortable than I remember being in my first pregnancy. I feel like I have spent about as much time and money on this effort as I could have. Some weeks I had four appointments right after school, taking up all of my 'me time' on these efforts to feel better.
The idea of a "quick fix" has come to seem so easy as to be almost immoral and naïve, but to be honest, a quick fix is exactly what I want. I don't want to have to do any work to feel the way I am accustomed to feeling in my body. It sounds lazy and decadent to say it like that, but it's honestly how I feel. That's what I like about chiropractic adjustments. I'm entirely passive, relaxed, allowing this big man to move my spine so it feels better. All I have to do is show up, pay, and let him fix me. No effort on my part required. The relief is instant. It's perfect, except that it doesn't last long enough. Not even 24 hours sometimes.
In comparison, physical therapy is grueling. It's doing a bunch of tedious exercises that don't feel like they make much difference, but maybe they add up to something. And you have to do them every day. And they concentrate on these stupid little muscles in your core that you're not even aware of unless you're in the middle of a Pilates class or something. The appointments are longer and you can't mentally check out. To have to do all this work just to make life bearable, without even getting anywhere close to the comfort you associate with normal life, seems like such bullshit.
Judging from how I feel this moment, the time (and money) I've put into these efforts has been kind of a waste. I guess the bottom line is that nothing can make you feel not pregnant when you're 38 weeks along, and that's what I really want. I feel entitled to the comfort of living in my body when it's entirely my own--comfort that anyone who's never been pregnant takes for granted. And I resent having to work for that comfort. I wish I could parent children that are biologically "mine" without giving up that comfort, even temporarily. Men do.
"But isn't it worth it in the end, when you have your baby?" people earnestly ask. When I complain, and then someone insists that completing my goal, whether it's finishing a grad program or having a baby, will be worth it in the end, it doesn't motivate me at all, but it makes me question the worthiness of the goal, even if it is a goal I chose for myself. At best, I resent that person for not listening to me. At worst, I start to regret the choice I made, a feeling that is terrifying when attached to pregnancy.
I detest this idea of 'worth it.' That makes it a transaction: pain for baby. Do they mean more pain equals more joy? I don't see why that should have to be so. Less pain does not necessarily mean less joy. Obviously, I, and everyone else in the world, want something for nothing. I want the good without the bad attached to it. Duh. What thinking person, capable of imagining unadulterated good, would not long to have it and prefer it to good mixed with bad? People say that enduring the hard stuff makes the good stuff more meaningful, or something like that. Meh. Would I love my first child any more if I'd gone through 25 hours of labor, instead of 5? Does another mother, who had a harder pregnancy than I did, enjoy higher highs in motherhood, because her lows were lower?
Sometimes pain is just pain, and less pain is better than more pain, full stop. Attaching meaning to suffering might be a coping mechanism, but sometimes coping mechanisms take on a life of their own. When we attach meaning where there doesn't need to be any, we ennoble suffering to the point where we almost forget that suffering is bad. Sometimes just admitting that a situation sucks, without minimizing it, is a quicker route to the acceptance that ultimately gets you through to the other side.
I guess saying "it was worth it" is usually an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons after the fact, and if it works for some people then I support anything that helps them through a tough situation. But I'd also appreciate some honesty about the fact that we'd all prefer life to simply hand us apples or strawberries instead of lemons--sweet fruit you can just pop into your mouth without even peeling it, instead of nasty sour yellow things that have to be squeezed and mixed with sugar water before they're really palatable.
This inane rhetoric of "worth it" ignores the unfairness of the fact that the same price is not demanded of everybody. Significantly, men have to endure zero physical pain on their way to becoming parents. And I know many women have pregnancies much harder than mine. I'm very lucky: I have had zero nausea at all, and wasn't even really very uncomfortable until the final trimester. No gestational diabetes, no swollen feet. I am so grateful for the relative ease of my pregnancies that I feel like a jerk for complaining at all. It's unfair that the "price" other women pay is higher than mine. I've said this before. Of course, "fair" has nothing to do with it.
But, like I said, the end is in sight.
At this point, my biggest fear about having a second child is this. I'm not going into this free of expectations, the way I did the first time. I'm not a blank slate mom anymore. My experience with Cogan, my first baby, inevitably shapes what I expect from this child. I've heard it said that there's no such thing as a 'bad baby,' but there sure as hell are 'easy babies' and 'hard babies.' Judging from horror stories of the NICU and colic, and surprising stories of almost alarmingly tranquil babies, I think Cogan was probably somewhere in the average-to-easy range. I'm afraid if this baby is significantly more difficult to keep healthy and happy than Cogan was, I'll resent him for it. Because as much as I consciously know that all babies are different, and that 'hard babies' may have amazing passionate personalities or sensory issues or temporarily high emotional needs, I also know exactly what life is like with a baby who has none of these challenges. And I know I could, and did, handle it, though it wasn't always easy and fun every second. I have no clue whether or not I can care for a higher-needs baby, much less while also caring for a toddler. Probably I can--I don't think I would have done this if I felt utterly incapable--but I don't know what it might cost in terms of my own wellbeing.
The one thing I'm trying to cling to is I also have the perspective that even if it's hard--if it's a normal kind of hard, I mean--it will be temporary. Breastfeeding doesn't last forever. Eventually, all children sleep through the night. Guilt can't hold on if you let it go. I will cry and nearly panic and say I can't bear it anymore--I guess that's where I am right now. And then when I'm just at my breaking point, something will change and things will get better. And then it will be a different kind of hard. And the cycle will begin again, and hopefully if I can hold on to the wisdom and perspective I won in the last round, then maybe the lows won't be as low.
-Mary Jo Tewes Cramb
Mary Jo Tewes Cramb lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, three-year-old son, and baby. She teaches Spanish at a nontraditional public high school and blogs book reviews at www.mereader.wordpress.com.