I Have Loved You For a Thousand Years: On being full-term
January 25, 2012 § 14 Comments
Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” has recently been tattooed into my brain. I think it happened when I was singing in the car on my way home from some errands a few days ago, and it occurred to me that I was full-term. And then Melanie kicked. And it occurred to me that she was responding to my singing…and then the tears came. (But that’s normal at nine months, I hear.)
At full-term, 37 weeks, the baby is not only viable but is really ready. All the fear, all the worry, all the cautious hoping can finally ebb because we made it. Of course, this is a bit of a generalization–although I am entering motherhood for the very first time, I realize that I have only begun to know what it feels like to be afraid, to worry, to cautiously hope. It is a relief, however, to know that if I were to suddenly go into labor, my baby would very likely survive.
(Side note: as I write this, Melanie squirms around in my belly–although some may find it disturbing, I have relished watching my belly pulse and move because of her activity.)
I have enjoyed my pregnancy. Yes, I had discomfort when my round ligaments decided they didn’t feel like playing nice anymore. Yes, I was exhausted a lot. Yes, I had stress nightmares from all the worrying I did. Yes, I have had self-esteem crushing shopping experiences when I realized I was too fat even to wear maternity clothes. (They only go up to a size 16/18, just as a fair warning to any plus-size pregnant women out there. You’ll do yourself a favor to forego the “maternity” labels and just buy sizes up from what you currently wear. It’s not worth the blow to your self-esteem, believe me.)
But in spite of everything, I have enjoyed my pregnancy. Immensely. I have learned a few important lessons that I thought I would share with you all before the baby arrives.
1. How to Prioritize
Before Robert and I conceived Melanie, I was busting my ass on finishing my dissertation. I think I probably could have done it, too, but I don’t know what sort of shape I would have been in as a newly-minted PhD. All that mattered was writing and graduating. The minute that stick showed the two little lines that would change our lives forever, my list of priorities began to rearrange itself. I realize that a number of academics would read that sentence and think, “Oh god, that sounds terrible!” In fact, I was in that group. Until I got pregnant. And then I realized that all those niggling feelings of depression and sadness were from dissatisfaction with my priority list. I knew there was more to this life than writing a dissertation and graduating with a PhD. Melanie helped me identify it, and she helped me give myself permission to feel proud of my rearrangement.
2. How to Worry the Right Way
Worrying about deadlines and other people’s expectations of my performance had been my default setting. I could hardly function unless I consulted someone else for their opinion of what I should do or how I should do it. My worries were often inwardly focused. Getting married helped broaden my worrying horizons a bit, but only a bit–because my husband and I are intertwined in many ways. My worries are his worries; worrying about him means worrying about myself too. And then Melanie enters the picture, and suddenly we’re worried about this little life that hasn’t even begun to live unassisted yet. We’re immensely aware of how our behaviors and choices will affect her in very real ways. After kissing me good morning, Robert runs his hand across my belly; after kissing me goodnight, he drapes his arm across my belly to feel her kick. She is the first and last thoughts we have every day. What a blessing it is to be pulled out of unintentional narcissism in order to focus on someone else and to consider in exactly which ways my actions affect another human being.
3. How to Let Go of Criticism
Although I knew there were some debates raging in the world of maternal concerns, I had no idea just how fiercely those debates were argued. I have unwillingly (and sometimes unwittingly) entered into some pretty heated ones myself. As the nine months have progressed, I’ve gotten better at smiling and nodding, choosing instead not to debate at all. Everyone has an opinion about what a pregnant woman chooses to do or chooses not to do. Anything from choosing to have an epidural block during delivery to something as simple as selecting which nursing pillow to use–these and so many others are all up for debate when it comes to the pregnant woman. And, of course, everyone feels entitled to weigh in. I believe this sort of criticism prepares the new parents for what to expect when they enter into the debates of the parenting world. I have started to work the phrase “we just do the best we can do” into my daily mantra. If I hear criticism about choosing to opt in for an epidural block, I smile and think, “That’s fine. I’m doing the best I can do.” It’s a form of forgiveness and acceptance of my own choices.
4. How to Appreciate the Body
As a larger woman, I have struggled with my body from a very early age. Even when I was a little girl (and I mean in age and size), I would compare myself with the other girls in my class, hoping to be the smallest among them. I cannot tell you how that particular habit entered into my behavioral repertoire, but it eventually morphed into self-loathing once I became one of the bigger girls in my group of friends. I still do have concerns that strangers looking at me on the street will not know I’m pregnant, but will just assume that I’m a super fat woman. But I can tamp down those insecurities with the realization that my body is doing something wonderful, something beautiful, and something that it was biologically designed to be able to do. My body is sustaining a second life, a life I am deeply aware of in many ways. Watching her move around, pressing my hand onto her rear-end (or her head, when she was facing up) and patting her makes me feel more connected to this little life squirming around inside of me. And it is my body that is doing that. My body, in spite of its size, in spite of all its socially-dictated imperfections. My body is doing this beautiful thing.
5. What it Means to Multiply Love
When I got my cats, Callie and Beatrice, I loved them immediately. But they weren’t my world. When I met Robert, I fell hard for him. I loved him so much so fast that I couldn’t stand not telling him and trying to wait some socially acceptable amount of time before sharing my feelings with him. (For the record, I didn’t make it. I told him I loved him about a month or so after we started dating. To my delight, he felt the same way.) I still love Robert as fiercely as when I first started to love him–sometimes I find myself in this habit of telling him I love him multiple times in a single conversation. He does the same thing. Robert has become my world–we have always called ourselves a family, even just as the two of us. And then Melanie enters our picture. She is our world. She is this incredible manifestation of this incredible love Robert and I have for each other. I feel like I have loved this little life for a thousand years, as Christina Perri sings about. I have loved this family for a thousand years. It is just natural to love this family.
At full-term, I feel like I am on the precipice of discovering something even more incredible, something even better. I am incredibly excited and terrified. But I’ll just keep doing the best I can do, and I will lean on my partner just as I have done since the day he and I set foot on this journey way back in January 2007.