How’s everybody enjoying their holiday season? Already had a few teary fights and regrets? Having a lot of life-altering meditations and heart-to-hearts? Thinking about your life and what has happened to it? Determined to be able to see your feet again by this time next year? I hear ya, friend. I lift my non-alcoholic beer to you in solidarity.
I’m entering the final stretch of a very long period of time that has been my Visibly Pregnant season. It is exhausting — not just because of how pregnant I am — but because it has brought out in full force the You Should Be’s.
These are the people who take one look at me and start their next sentence with “You should be…” and then smugly add some advice they’re sure I had never heard before about being pregnant, raising a kid, breastfeeding, exercise, drinking water, or bending down.
The You Should Be’s like to hang out at grocery stores, airports, awkward social gatherings where people don’t really know each other, in line for a public bathroom. They know they know what’s best for me, even when they don’t even know my name.
“You should be walking right now.”
“You should be resting!”
“You should be definitely not working anymore.”
“You should be wearing different shoes.”
“Do you have a pool? Because you should be swimming as much as you can.”
Occasionally you find the one person who’s like, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. Because, listen, you’re going to hear a lot of advice and you should be ignoring it all. You’ll figure it out on your own and every baby is different. But you should be doing pre-natal yoga because seriously, it’s important.”
To the credit of all of my friends, they either have confidence in my competence, or they don’t want to find out what it would be like to tell me what to do. Almost all of them have kept from being You Should Be’s. Or their advice is very useful or timely, because they know me and/or I asked them for help. But the strangers. The strangers are out of control.
Strangers want to guess the gender of the baby, and if he or she is wrong (Oh, how the Asian ladies get it wrong), they turn angry, as if I’m running a Three Card Monte out of my uterus. They blame the way my body is shaped for why they are wrong. “You should be carrying differently.”
I was on an elevator the other week, and when the door closed, the only other person in the elevator– a man I had never met in my entire life — turned to me, put his hands on my stomach and asked, “What are we having?”
What I should have said was: “A fucking panic attack, dickhole.”
But instead I told him the gender. And then he argued with me that I was wrong.
When people ask if I find all this pregnancy stuff magical and wonderful, I think about moments like this, which only confirm what I thought getting pregnant would be like — just months and months of putting up with the inappropriate. You guys all know weird shit happens to me anyway, and people generally have no filter when they say stuff to my face, but this baby sitting in my stomach has put things on a whole new level. And listen, before you tell me, “Just wait until the baby gets here, and then you’ll know about getting unsolicited advice…” I know. I know. But I’m not there yet.
Sometimes the You Should Be’s start with trick questions to lure me into their trap.
“Do you have any baby clothes yet?”
“Yes, I think we’re all set for some time.”
“Well, you should be washing them right now.”
“Have you packed your hospital bag?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Is it in your trunk?”
“No, it’s by the door.”
“Well, you should be carrying one in your trunk, one in his trunk, and then one you just carry on you at all times because you never know. And look at you, clearly this baby is about to drop right out of you today. You should be at home with your feet up.”
That really was said to me this week. Somehow they still find a way to tell me what to do.
My life is a constant pop quiz, always oral.
“What hospital are you going to?”
“I’m at xxx.”
“You should be at yyy. And don’t birth in your living room. You should be at a hospital.”
I’ve never had so many personal questions from people who have no business asking me such things. Suddenly everybody’s my dietician, my nutritionist, my personal trainer, my lactation consultant.
“Are you breastfeeding?”
“Well, not yet, the baby isn’t here yet.”
“Still. You should be. It’s what’s best for the child. Starting now couldn’t hurt. There are babies who need breast milk – HOW COULD YOU DENY A BABY BREAST MILK, YOU MONSTER?”
I never used to have to tell people about my workout schedule. Nobody used to ask what was happening to my cervical mucus (any mucus, really), the size of my nipples, or the state of my colon. None of these people has the word “Doctor” on a business card. I’m never going to see any of these people again! Why do they want to know whether or not I have stretch marks? Just order your latte and then get on with your day, lady-wearing-tights-as-pants!
And as for a glass of wine, let me tell you I haven’t had this many people trying to get me to drink booze since I was a freshman in college. “But don’t you miss it? This was your thing!” I’ve learned a lot about what people think of me since becoming a vessel for someone else. It’s like getting granted an invisibility cloak and eavesdropping on your friends.
My friends have been very kind and supportive, and I can tell in their faces that they are as surprised as I am that I don’t look like the world’s saddest pregnant lady. “You look so good!” they say upon seeing me, and not in that way you usually do with someone when you greet them. I can hear the genuine shock in their voices. I’m one of those “all baby” people. I can tell this, because that’s what people say when they look at me. “You’re just all baby!” If I’m wearing black and you’re facing me straight on, you can barely tell. Until I turn to the side.
“You give me hope!” one of my friends said.
“I hate you,” another said, one who had a child of her own. “How do you not look fat?”
The answer is one people don’t like, because it’s no Hollywood secret. “I’ve been on an enforced, restricted, low-carb diet for almost two months. My face might look slender, but my soul is miserable. This is the diet I’m on when I’m trying to lose weight, so it’s no surprise it works even better when there’s a human inside of me stealing any and all nutrients before I can get to them.”
Now that I’m in the final days of Visibly Pregnant, there’s one question that everyone asks, from the You Should Be’s to the I’ll Never Breeds.
“How are you going to have it?”
They ask with a healthy gleam in the eye, because this is the good stuff. This is the stuff where goo and guts and are-you-worried-you-might-shit-the-table conversations come from. This is the opening move.
And the truth is I don’t know how I’m going to have it because it hasn’t happened yet, and I know from enough people that no birthing plan ever goes according to plan, and this is the baby’s birth, not mine, so it’s not really up to me in any way. Besides, all of the options that have been presented to me sound horrible, and while I’ve been holding out for a version that won’t involve pain, mutilated genitals or surgery that slices open my abdominals, there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. So I start to say, “I don’t know,” but the truth is I don’t even really have to answer the question, because it’s just a formality. It’s only asked so that the person can tell me Someone’s Birthing Horror Story.
I tend to tune out during the Birthing Horror Stories, because somewhere inside of me I have at least one or two defense mechanisms that know when something said to me will be helpful. I just wait until I hear the words, “But I’m sure that won’t happen to you” and then I come back to the present.
But I did a dumb thing yesterday. In all the You Should Be’s and their equally helpful You Shouldn’t Bes, nobody mentioned something I did to myself yesterday. I did this willingly, because at the time I thought it would be a good idea.
I’ve been having some periods of stronger-than-Braxton-Hicks contractions over the past couple of weeks (sometimes for five or six hours before they stop) (“You should be drinking lots of water for that!”), and as I come to terms with the fact that I will soon be giving birth one way or another, I decided it would be helpful if I’d seen a whole lot of ways it could happen. I thought if I’d watched woman after woman become mother after mother, it would make me feel less like I was entering Terror Town and more like I was doing something that happens every day, all over the world, for as long as there have been people.
I don’t watch those I Almost Died birthing shows on TLC, so I thought I was being smart deciding to watch birthing videos on You Tube.
You guys, it was not helpful to watch birthing videos on You Tube.
I’ve seen things now that… I don’t… I’m not… Look: I’m not okay anymore. One video was just this woman on her back, the camera over her shoulder, as she’s screaming. Screaming that she can’t do this, that this is killing her, and that something is very wrong. And then she gets really quiet and says to the doctors, her husband, the nurses: “Please, somebody help me.” Very small, very worried. “I need somebody to help me.” And they’re all going, “Just push! Just push! You’re doing great! Breathe and push!” And she whimpers, “You don’t understand. I’m going to pass out or puke or something bad is about to happen to me. I am… not going…to make it.” And they’re not even looking at her. Just staring into her vagina, all smiles. And she weakly grabs her husband’s sleeve and begs him, “Please…Please make them …help …me.” And that guy whom she married who put this baby inside of her, he turns to her and says, “Just breathe, honey.”
I almost punched him through my laptop screen.
This semi-snuff video wasn’t titled, “Me, Dying In Front of Five Caregivers.” No, it was titled, “Our Beautiful Son’s Birth.” That lady uploaded that video herself! As something sweet! Something she has nostalgia for! Does she not see what I see? Does she not see herself begging someone to help her? Because it has been a good thirty hours and I still hear that woman’s calm, quiet announcement that she is going to die before the baby is going to be born.
I didn’t pick a single video that sounded like the horrorshows I witnessed. Every one was like, “Hannah’s First Day!” And then I’d click it and there’s a woman spread open with the camera focused firmly on her private parts and MORE THAN ONE HOLE OF HERS had grown to the SIZE OF A BABY HEAD and this woman is screaming, “GET IT OUT OF ME! I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! I CAN’T DO THIS! IT BURNS IT BURNS IT BURNS IT BURNS IT BURNS!”
And all around her are people holding her legs open, staring between her knees, going, “Just breathe. You’re doing great. You can do it.”
There was one with a woman going, “I can’t do this!” and all the other people responded in unison, “Yes, you can.” Not encouragingly, just monotone call and response. “I can’t!” “You can.” “I will die!” “No, you won’t.” “I’m still a human being here!” “Not really, baby-pusher. Just breathe. WE NEED THE BABY. WE WANT THE BABY. YOU ARE THE ONE HOLDING THE BABY HOSTAGE. RELEASE THE CHILD FROM YOUR VAGI-VISE.”
I click another video and it’s a lady crying in a bed, miserable because she’s been laboring for more than a day and now they’re going to give her a c-section, the one thing she never, ever wanted and why is this happening to her and basically her entire life is ruined now.
I clicked another only to watch a taint rip in real time, inches from my face. You know, I can’t see a man even say the word “asshole” on television without a good three or four warnings before that segment airs, but one click and I’m face to face with unedited butt-torture.
Every face of natural childbirth was one of primal fear and pure, agonizing pain. Eyes wild, legs splayed, screams and tears and just women begging for mercy, pleading with someone to take his or her focus off the baby and just for the love of God save them from this impending death.
And then I clicked on the epidural ladies.
Oh, the sweet, blissed-out, heavy-lidded epidural ladies with their lazy smiles and half smirks, leaning back, head tilted toward the camera as they serenely explain, “So…. I just got my epidural… and I’m feeling pretty good now… and it was a little scary earlier… but now I’m just fine and…. We’re just waiting on the baby! The baby’s coming and I couldn’t be happier because I’m not in pain and the baby’s coming and I’m just so happy and I love my epidural lady. There she is! Honey, point the camera at her. That’s my new best friend, the epidural lady. I love her. I want to put her to my breast and give her all my colostrum because she deserves it. She loves me. If I could walk right now, I would run away with that woman.”
It’s the end of Visible Pregnant season. “You must be so ready to have this baby,” people keep saying to me.
My house is pure chaos right now. In one week we had to replace a bathroom fixture when pipes exploded on Thanksgiving Day, our washing machine decided it had a new cycle called SCREECH AND SHAKE, the carpets got jacked from all the repairmen (including one who plans on returning the day after my due date) so today we had them cleaned, just after three different delivery men arrived with the final pieces of baby-related furniture. If you could see what I’m sitting in the middle of, you would laugh. In the living room alone there are open boxes and pieces of bedroom furniture and bedding and towels and stacks of mail and an old mattress and two different yoga balls and two different emergency suitcases. And right now, at any minute, this baby might arrive.
Still. “No,” I answer, “I’m not ready just yet.” But I’m not thinking of the state of this house. I’m thinking of the slaughtered taint. “No, I’m good for another week. That’s fine. The baby can finish out its lease.”
“You should be ready, though,” they say.
“Because it’s happening.”
“Oh, I know.”
“Are you scared?”
“You should be.”