Moreover, I enjoyed the way I moved in the world when I was pregnant. Strangers would congratulate me, offering unsolicited blessings (and advice). Doors were opened, seats on the train vacated, inquiries about why I wasn’t at church / the gym / happy hour abated, and my normal activities – be it walking to work or having friends over for dinner – suddenly seemed herculean. I felt like a kind of superhero; even as I held a full-time job, cared for my family, stayed in shape, etc., I was also growing a new person. This constant multi-tasking appealed to my need to be productive, while also giving me permission to indulge in some rare downtime.
That was then. From the beginning, this third pregnancy was different. My husband and I did not tell anyone for months, and did not “go public” until I was already in my third trimester. Our reluctance to share our good news (indeed, this was a desired and intended pregnancy, so we thrilled from the start) was not for fear of a miscarriage, but due to a sense – more on my part than my husband’s – that by now, no one really cared anymore. Especially at work, where I will have had three kids in four years, I am afraid of being seen as “the pregnant / pumping one,” just a baby-making machine. Instead of glowing with pride when telling people I’m pregnant, this time I feel a bit self-conscious and hastily add, “This is the last one.” No one has accused me (yet) of over-populating the Earth (though I’d point out that someone has to have 3 kids to maintain a replacement rate of 2.1), but I do feel a bit irresponsible. After all, I’m the sole breadwinner for my family of four and we are barely making ends meet as it is. But my children are my greatest joy and I cannot think of any better use of my limited resources than to introduce one more to make the world (especially my world) a better place.
Philosophy aside, this third pregnancy has also been a lot more challenging physically. Now that we live in the suburbs, I take a bus and a train to work and I have been unpleasantly surprised by the lack of chivalry shown to me. Several times I have fainted on crowded trains where none of the 20-somethings looked up from their phones to offer me their seat (though, to be fair, none has refused when I have asked). When I am offered a seat, it is almost always a middle-aged (or older) woman, who has been in my shoes and knows that standing for twenty minutes while wearing a heavy backpack is more than an inconvenience when pregnant.It came as no surprise that this pregnancy would bring more fatigue and less downtime. After all, I have two toddlers to keep healthy, fed, and entertained. Still, I was completely caught off guard when I began experiencing flu-like symptoms a few weeks ago, only to have my headaches, stomach cramps, back pain, nausea, and sciatica dismissed as “common late-pregnancy complaints” by my midwife. She said these ailments are increasingly likely in subsequent pregnancies.
I did not want to accept that such discomfort, which exploded into labor-like pain at times, was normal. Suddenly, just showing up at work (much less accomplishing anything of note) was a herculean task. What had become of my pregnancy superpowers? I felt my body had betrayed me.
After a few weeks of suffering in silence (outside my home, that is, I complained plenty to my tirelessly supportive husband), eventually, I could not grit my teeth any longer. I began to gripe to anyone who would listen. My aching self-pity was calmed by others who shared their own pregnancy pains and challenges. Hearing about their suffering, the tools they tried (successfully of not) to overcome it, and the way they too had felt robbed of what is meant to be a magical time made me feel less alone. There was nothing wrong with me, my body, or my baby. My friends and colleagues convinced me that I could try massage, yoga, acupuncture, self-hypnosis, and/or chiropractic care, but in the end, my baby’s birth would make this pain a distant memory. In fact, acupuncture seems to have relieved most of my symptoms, but the support and sisterhood I found by speaking up has soothed my spirit.
Now that I am back to normal life in which I just happen to be pregnant, as opposed to the days I spent fighting to do anything “normal” at all, I wonder why I was at first reluctant to reveal my pain. Perhaps because I had chosen to get pregnant, so felt I was undeserving of sympathy since I brought the ailments upon myself. Maybe it was because society tells us we should be glowing and grateful while growing another human. I suspect I was too attached to my image of myself as “great at being pregnant.” Additionally, to the extent I was not enjoying this pregnancy as much as my other two, might my unborn child feel less cherished and desired? Not to diminish the magic of my acupuncturist (he is a miracle-worker!), but the support I received from other mamas willing to share their own pregnancy challenges was even more comforting.
Not every moment of growing a baby (or raising a newborn, for that matter!) is wonderful. That is the simple truth. To the extent that we can acknowledge and embrace the things we must overcome to bring our children into the world, the less any one of us will feel inclined to suffer in silence. Whether lifting weights at the gym or curled in the fetal position on the couch, every pregnant woman is a superhero.