Two Minds about Two Bodies

I'm about 5 weeks away from giving birth-- really a month and a day from my due date, but you never want to hex it by shaving days off your full 40 week sentence.

My belly is profound, my bosom is bounteous. I groan and creak when I stand up or resettle in my chair. I require a phalanx of pillows to sleep (in the small of my back, under my neck but not touching my shoulders, under my left armpit and between my knees, no blanket but yes a sheet, but not covering my feet or arms) and even then I wake up to pee, to drink, to fret, to check facebook, to restart the soporific audiobook, to drink water, to swat mosquitos...

My belly is moon-round and lightly marbled with new stretchmarks-- pearly little striations. I rub them daily with coconutty lotion. My girls sniff at me and grimace-- you smell like baby belly!

This pregnancy-- I want to capture it before it's over. The baby bumps and rolls and stretches up under my ribcage-- sometimes jabs a sharp ankle or heel outward and makes a hard tense bump in my skin, until relaxing, rolling over and snuggling down somewhere deep in my pelvis. I feel deep hiccoughs-- almost in my tailbone. The other day I felt a weird scratching on what felt like the top of my cervix. Sure enough, there was a little blood-- baby's sharp little fingernails poking at the exit.

My hair has grown like mad-- 8 inches in 8 months, curly, thick. My fingernails grow too-- and I've managed not to chew them off for two whole months. My skin is radiant and I feel... gorgeous. I love the way I look in tight little dresses that show off the full curve of my belly, and my impressive cleavage. Oddly, I haven't gained much weight during this pregnancy-- just 10 pounds. With my other two I gained a frightening amount of weight-- 20 or 30 pounds! With this one I'm eating what I feel like-- which in this oppressive heat (it's a record for Kauai this year-- most miserably hot and horrifying September ever) is basically just fruit, and sparkling water with ice in it. With the occasional steak. And all of the purple sweet potatoes in the world. But I don't feel overly burdened with extra weight-- my ankles and wrists are still bony, as always.

I'm running around like a mad thing-- I wake up bleary and whimpering every day, but we all get ourselves to the school, and then performance mode kicks in and I have 500 questions from my teenage students, and to-do lists from fellow teachers, and ominous follow-up meetings with administration, and I have to move from classroom to classroom lugging projectors, posters, art supplies; and teach differentiated English to 27 kids ages 11 to 17, at mixed reading levels from 1st grade to 9th. It involves a lot of me spinning around the classroom, consulting books, reading earnest whispered confessions and fledgling poetry.

I'm teaching sex-ed, too, which I find really gratifying, and a little hilarious with my tremendous belly.  The kids ask me questions-- things they've worried about since some older kid on the bus said something weird when they were 9. The boys are worried about performance: can you get stuck if you have sex? The girls are worried about violence: If you get drunk, will you get kidnapped and raped? One kid told me seriously that an outcome of having sex was doing drugs. "Because if you get kids it ruins your life and you'll wanna do drugs. That's why my mom said she does drugs anyway!" With questions like that, and these enormous conversations with these precious and malleable young people, I don't have any time to feel pregnancy discomfort.

This whole pregnancy has been a delight. A bitter-sweet delight, because I don't think I'll do this again.

In an alternate world, I had a pile of babies, one after another. Like a lady of the canyon, cats and babies round my feet, baking brownies, marbling paper for craft fairs, canning jellies. There's a part of me that really would have loved that.

But it's harder than it seems. And being a mother-- I love it. It is the great treasure and purpose of my life-- but I also felt like I could easily shatter and die-- succumb to depression and loneliness.

And that's the crux of it. Pregnancy, birth, parenting-- it's both amazing and awful. I remember a few days after my first daughter was born-- I was standing in the kitchen wearing only the hospital-issued disposable pad-panties for the steady blood flow with an ice pack tucked inside for the swollen stitches and a cold wet towel on my engorged boobs-- and I was writing an email to my family telling them how perfectly happy I was, how I felt great, how everything was awesome and I was ready to do it again right away! I wasn't lying-- I WAS that blissed out. I was also in terrible pain and emotionally shaken like an old doll in a dog's mouth.

And the bliss and delight of taking care of little babies-- there's nothing as magical as their tiny hands, their eyes as they gaze deeply into yours and grin as they nurse, and dribble milk into their creasy fat necks... Also there's nothing as nightmarish as the irrational screech of a baby who hates the carseat and is trapped and you can't stop and pull over because that will just prolong the journey and you have to drive on, your shoulders hunched around your ears, your blood pressure sparking stars, and fifteen new forehead lines chiseled into your face.

And when they're bigger-- they're such beauties, such geniuses, such fairy-creatures of pure power, magic, and loveliness. And when you shout at them, slam the door, startle them, ignore them, betray them, bore them, disappoint them-- it's a terrible chasm of failure yawning before you. When my big tall 8 year old comes and finds me to snuggle and I smell her sunshiny skull-- bliss. When the 5 year old draws you a card covered in carefully jewel-colored spirals--- I could eat them up I love them so. Also some nights I barely manage a "go brush your teeth and choose an audiobook..." and that's the parenting for the day.

This pregnancy has been a Janus thing from the beginning. I desperately wanted another baby-- felt the absence of that baby like a loss. But I felt so afraid and unsure. It was the moment I realized that my reasons for NOT having another one were weaksauce: Traveling is easy with two big ones! Eating out is simple! We all fit comfortably in my little car! And my reason for having another one-- that my kids are the one pure and unadulterated source of joy and delight in my life-- was bigger than the fears.

And then actually being pregnant-- throwing up in the park, at the urine-reeking base of an ironwood tree when I couldn't make it to the bathroom, being tired down to the bones-- so zapped at the end of school each day that I couldn't speak or think or even feel my face as I drove home. I couldn't tell the girls stories-- my mind was a cottony mush. I couldn't interact with my friends or keep up with social events-- I was just too tired to do anything beyond get to school, get home, procure non-offensive food, and listen to BBC Radio Sherlock Holmes.

But then I got to hear the baby's heartbeat-- and I cried. My midwife laughed with me-- "You'd think it's your first time!" But my happiness at having this baby just bubbled up in those tears. The big girls watch me intently every time we visit the midwife now and report: "Mom, your face is turning red! Are you gonna cry?" I usually do.

And now, a handful of weeks left. I'm in the 9th month. If you pay attention from across the room you can see the baby rolling around.  I love having the baby safely in there-- tucked away. Transportable, cozy, warm, clean, full, happy... I am in no rush to get this baby on the outside. This precious short time will be done, probably forever for me. I can't stand to mark the "lasts"-- the last kicks, the last braxton hicks, the last labor... Even while dreading the pain and fear of delivery, I am heartbroken to say, "never again."

Maybe in that other life I would have had the cocooned safety and security to have all those heaps of happy fat babies. But then there are many other lives that lie abandoned in the possibilities of the past that I can thinking about with both regret and relief.

For now, I'll just enjoy the incredible and strange treasure of this moment-- this pregnant pause.

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