A Pregnancy Primer
A Apprehension, an arch I walk through on finally becoming pregnant, into an arena gauzy with ever-present doubt and wonder.
B Bottle or Breast? Like all other baby-based decisions, this one alone might determine if my child-to-be becomes a convicted felon.
C Car seat, crib, carrier, stroller, swing, swaddle, monitor, mobile, maternity bra, bouncer, pack ‘n play, jumperoo, to say nothing of diapers (cloth and/or disposable?), wipes, onesies, and a cornucopia of gear spilling from blogs, books, and Babies R Us. All for a tiny being who arrives wanting only food and love.
D Doubt lingers behind all my thoughts and actions. Will the cheese sprinkled on this salad give the baby listeria? Will the doctor hear the heartbeat? Will the tests show abnormalities? Will I love this baby instantly? “Don’t worry if you don’t,” my mom tells me. “It took me some time.” Of course, she’s referring to baby me so this reassurance is mixed.
E Epidural. My entire “birth plan.” No explanation, justification, or debate over the definition of the word “natural” needed.
F “Forever Young,” the Rod Stewart song my parents picked lyrics from to accompany my baby picture in the high school yearbook. “And when you finally fly away / I’ll be hoping that I served you well” seemed appropriate as I soared from home to college, not knowing then I was still just a baby bird. I rely on them again during this new transition, but I appreciate my naivete now.
G Grandparent love is parent love doubled times infinity, and they are not shy in expressing this. When I was an infant, my grandma once asked my aunt why she came to visit without bringing me. “She’s not mine to take places and I used to be enough of a visitor for you,” she answered. “Used to be,” my grandma said.
H Hands swollen just enough from water and blood retention, my wedding rings no longer fit. The extra fluids soften and expand the body to create space for the baby to grow, a normal if irritating development. Too much, though, could indicate a serious problem for mother and baby, just like every other normal but potentially deadly symptom.
I “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder came out around when I was born, so my mom sang it to me as though it was written just for me. My dad and I danced to it at my wedding.
J Joseph: My father and brother as well as my husband and his father’s middle name. I promise my husband naming a potential son after himself is acceptable, but he hesitates. Maybe telling your expanding, puking, crying wife that you deserve a namesake in the baby she expands, pukes, and cries because of seems a bit selfish. “I’ll get complete naming rights of a girl or second child,” I suggest, as if anything can be gender-fair in pregnancy.
K Kicking is the only pregnancy feature I’ll miss. It’s like a private message from my growing baby to me, a sign of health, one worry off the list. I could do with less middle of the night communication as though from a baby secret agent. “It’ll calm down as baby runs of out of room,” the doctor says toward the due date. The next day, one kick is so forceful, it lifts my body off the sofa. Others tickle in an internal unexpected way. They do not abate. So frequent, I never fret over fetal kick counts. Relief comes with each baby punch, roll, and jab.
L Ladies Without Babies, a self-designated subset within my friends, from which I have expelled myself, will still meet for lingering lunches to discuss literature and travel, eat without nausea, and drink enough to cause it, if they choose. I’m not nearly as jealous as I expected. When momming overwhelms me months from now, I suspect the ladies and my husband will conspire to give me guest lunch privileges.
M Mary, the quintessential mother, also my own and her own. Her parents planned another name, there’s no shortage of Marys in an Irish Catholic family, but then she was born on the Feast of the Assumption, so Mary she is. She married Joseph, which I didn’t realize was funny until I was an adult, and they have been ideal parents. Not perfect, which they’ll admit, but ideal. Will I follow their lead? Many years from now, will my child feel fortunate or cheated to have had me?
N Nubbins, baby’s nickname because when I held the first ultrasound, as my husband drove us home, I said, “It’s so small, just a little nubbin. All we’ve done to get here, all he or she will be, is just a tiny nubbin right now.” My friends and family now refer to the baby, even in serious conversations about car seats and vaccines, by the very-not-serious Nubbins.
O Organ. The placenta is a one-time use organ created by a woman’s body just for the baby within her. It provides nourishment, waste management, warmth, immunity, oxygen, and hormones. The first it releases is hCG, the one that drew two lines on the six pregnancy tests I took. It is birthed after the baby, but despite its overabundance of functions, new parents generally take fewer photos of it.
P Pregnancy brain is a (hopefully) temporary status. See also: Where are my keys? Where am I going? What do I need now that I’m here?
Q Questions for the doctor. I make a list in my phone. Toward the end, I have none, but my doctor’s so patient, I almost feel guilty. Then she gives me an umpteenth internal exam and guilt is diffused by discomfort.
R Real estate. In the first trimester, we sold my three-unit apartment building, my husband’s townhouse, and bought a home together. I’d bought while single, with multiple part-time teaching jobs, during the “Wild Wild West,” as the mortgage broker called the pre-recession market. I met my husband while I lived there. We used it as our base to explore the city until we married and moved to his bigger place in the suburbs I hated. We now live in a town we both love, where the high taxes reflect the real estate gold standard for parents: good schools.
S Sex is supposed to encourage labor to begin. I suspect this is a conspiracy invented by men with very pregnant wives who are regretting the sex they had nine months ago and feeling about as sexy as an overinflated raft. Somehow this “help” they can provide also benefits the men.
T Two-hundred-fifty-five babies are born every minute, globally. Two-hundred-fifty-five mothers completing labor and delivery every minute. I fear the actual birth process. Can I do what 254 other women have just done when my minute arrives?
U Underwear is the final clothing item to surrender to my growth. I read “Granny Panties Are Trendy” articles. The thong is deposed as queen of women’s unmentionables as the fashion forward choose the full-coverage cotton embrace of waist high briefs. None of the hip young things in the accompanying photos have hips, though, let alone look like they’re smuggling basketballs. They probably aren’t reading the article at 4am on their sofas because they can’t sleep from heartburn, bladder kicks, and nocturnal brain worries either. Then again, at the store to buy some tent-sized unders, I see magazines with the annual “Get Your Beach Body Shape” issues and realize, with unexpected relief from relentless female body pressure, my shape this summer is delightfully beach bally.
V Vaginal delivery eludes us. I wait two extra weeks for the baby to arrive spontaneously, have to be induced, labor for twenty-four hours, push for four, and finally must accept a c-section. I don’t want surgery. I do want baby to gain the rush of bacterial benefits through exposure to the vaginal canal. More though, I want a safe delivery, so I agree to the procedure. We are whisked, still as one unit, from the delivery room to the operating room to be separated. After forty-two long weeks, baby is extracted shockingly quickly. While a neonatologist suctions meconium and fluids, the minute from removal to a healthy-lungs cry is the longest minute of my entire life.
W Weeks of wondering recede as love explodes from every physical and emotional part of me. The concerns are not fewer, perhaps greater, now that baby’s outside my womb’s protection, but the plump soft body provides concrete reassurance.
XY Early on, my husband and I envisioned the fetus as female. When the test said male, I dubbed it his first act of defiance. His rejection of the due date indicates an emerging pattern. I find this and all else about him endearing.
Z Zzzz. Get lots of sleep before he arrives, everyone said, as if it can be stored up like accessories such as bottles, clothes, and diapers. But nobody told me I’d joyfully forsake mine just to watch his.
Maureen McVeigh teaches creative writing at West Chester University in PA and received an MFA from Rosemont College.