How hard could it have been to understand what went into being pregnant? Nearly half the world has the experience, continually and since the dawn of time. My own partner carried our first child four years ago, and there I was, at every kick and step. And yet the surprises, not to mention the humiliations, for a first-time pregnancy at age 44 keep coming. When does it stop? (March 4th, says the OB: deliverance. From this stage.)
There's the eating, of course. While I've always had a healthy appetite, as a straight-bellied person I rarely found myself stopping at the corner bakery on the way to lunch for a toasted bagel with cream cheese, but there I was yesterday, one sesame to go. Today it was peanuts and dried cranberries, tomorrow it could be a mango smoothie and a scone. I had three weeks of crackers with cheddar cheese, a broad platter, always at around 11:00 a.m. I'm not in charge of my appetite. Don't care for it.
Then there are the mental gaps, which I always assumed pregnant people made up, or used as an excuse. I sent out a stack of invitations to our holiday party recently -- clever, I thought, with a joke about the ham we'd serve -- but forgot to mention the date. (You know who your friends are when they call to accept, please forward date.) Last week I needed to attend a school tour to help determine the future success of our four-year-old daughter. Wheezing my way to 87th Street -- when did I start wheezing? -- I kept checking the address on the piece of paper in my hand, until I stood in front of a residential building that I suspect my shrink lives in, based on seeing her get out of a taxi there once (to discuss, on the meter). No school. That would be 78th Street, as I finally understood from my paper scrap. I gasped my way to a taxi and tumbled through the school entrance moments before they closed the doors on our daughter's promise.
The physical part is somehow the most embarrassing, maybe because former jocks always think they won't suffer the same physical downsides as the general population. I seem to inhabit the downsides, or do I just complain more? My mother, who had four children in five years, waves her hand with a laugh, remembering those early days. "I'd just put you all in the car to go shopping," she says. "The dog too." Pushing a shopping cart, herding kids, pulling the dog? My heels hurt when I walk. My limbs fall asleep in the middle of the night, which I know because I have to get up every couple of hours to use the bathroom, which is to say I always have to go to the bathroom. My bowels can't seem to make up their mind on behavior or output, so I quaff Metamucil like the even more-senior person for whom the product I believe is designed. I can't see my feet, let alone tie my shoes; when trying, as with standing up or sitting down, I grunt involuntarily, which must be cutting into my sex appeal. What did people like Madonna, who aren't allowed not to be sexy, do? Is this when she found religion?
My most surprising moments come when I meet a woman who gets misty-eyed, seeing my belly. "Oh," sigh, "you're pregnant," and I know what's coming. That that was just the best time of her life; oh what she wouldn't give to be pregnant again; oh I must just be so happy. She beams at me, and I hate to let her down. "We're very excited," is what I usually say, which is generally true, certainly in the big picture. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest from here.
At least we won't have to go through Lamaze again. Not that it was so bad, but there were moments when I did feel the odd girl out, like that last class. The assignment: bring in your idea for pre-labor time, those hours when labor is underway but not enough for the hospital to want you there for the real action. In class that night the instructor said "Husbands -- and Stephanie," as she always did, "go into the other room to discuss your assignments, then come back and present them to us. We look forward to hearing from you!" Husbands, and Stephanie, went next door, where the men sprawled with relief on the furniture around me. I was slightly anxious for a moment that they forgot I was there too, a non-pregnant version of the females next door; though it was also sort of exciting, like being unnoticed in the men's locker room after a game. They bandied about. Time passed. I cleared my throat.
"Well, guys," I said, hating to be the girl but wanting to get underway. "Should we write down our plans?"
"Right," said one. "Here was my thought: cook a beautiful steak dinner. You know, the preparation will take a long time -- we could do mashed potatoes with garlic, some other stuff -- then sit down to a nice dinner, pass the time." There were nods and approval all around. "Great!" "Smart!" "Steak -- that sounds good."
"Here's what I was thinking," said the next man. "A picnic in Central Park. Right? Big basket, lots of good food, dessert, the works. We could go to Sheep's Meadow and just relax." General acclamation to this idea as well.
"My thought," said a third "was to watch the Highlights of the World Series. We have all these tapes, it would take hours."
"Well," said the fourth. "I know this might sound a little, I don't know, different, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it and thought -- why not?" We all waited. "Sex!" he said, then sat back with his hands on thighs.
"Sex!" "The best!" "Dude!"
When it was time to go back next-door, I rose to present the options. For each of the first few the pregnant women scanned the faces of their husbands -- was that your idea? Greasy steak? Marooned in Central Park? The World Series? I saved "Sex" for last, when the female half of the room exploded in indignation and scorn. Technically I suppose it's feasible, and one never knows about other people's private lives. Anyway, class dismissed, for good.
I'll survive, and before I know it we'll be looking at schools for the younger sapling. Time flies, except when I'm pregnant.