Knocked Up with Joy: One Woman's Pregnancy Journey
by Valerie Reiss
When I was 17, I was obsessed with the idea of being pregnant. I sketched women round and bursting with child—over and over. I traced pregnant photos from coffee table books. I imagined, yearned, and fantasized about becoming a giant human peach.
I didn't actually want to be a teen mom, but I loved the notion of being so ripe, fecund, brimming with potential life. On one level it was certainly a metaphor for gestating all that was ahead, and on another I craved that sense of fullness and purpose. My obsession had the fierce backing of my raging hormones, and made my 17-year-old boyfriend extremely nervous. The longing lasted through part of college—I almost got kicked out of the Womyn's Center for painting a mural of a pregnant lady on our dilapidated kitchen cabinet; I surrounded her with the words of Sylvia Plath's poem Metaphors: "I'm a riddle in nine syllables,/An elephant, a ponderous house,/A melon strolling on two tendrils….." The womyn thought it was essentialist (a very popular word in our herstory) and discriminated against non-straight womyn somehow—we were all getting our feminist bearings.
Then, the fever broke. For nearly two decades I had a hard time getting why some of my friends wanted babies so badly. I just didn't feel it. At 31, I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Before chemo started, a nurse asked if I wanted to harvest and freeze my eggs; there was no telling if they'd survive the onslaught. It shocked me, but there was no mulling. "No"—one of the fastest decisions I've ever made. It would mean delaying treatment by weeks and, according to the doctors, I was pretty actively dying. Kids seemed like a luxury I couldn't afford—and one I wasn't willing to potentially trade my life for. "Are you sure?" asked my boyfriend at the time, concerned. "Yes, I'm sure." We'd been dating a year but it didn't even occur to me to give him a vote.
The cancer went away and, after a few years, I broke up with the boyfriend, got back into yoga, wrote a book proposal, and worked. I liked my quiet time, my me-ness, my friends. Babies were not a need. At 36, though, someone asked if I wanted kids. I said if I didn't have them, I would feel a great sense of loss. Who knew? Then, I met Brad—the only man I'd met who seemed to have baby fever. He'll tell you he loves kids so much because he is one, but I've seen how he lights up when one is anywhere near. He instantly engages the kid in conversation and/or chasing and playing dragons. When I saw how much he adored his little godson, and how exceptionally relaxed and happy they were hanging out, my ovaries began to awaken. Are we needed? the basket of bruised survivors seemed to ask, in unison, roused from their long slumber. The answer was, Well, yes, if you're up for it.
After a couple of years together, we decided to try. That word, try. It's so funny. "We're trying." No need to modify the verb; it's understood that you're not trying to run a marathon or start a school, you're trying to create human life. And of course, everyone tries differently. Some people just say, "We're not not trying," as they let nature take its course in a mellow way. And others try everything—temperature-taking, fluid testing, elaborate charting, and into fertility treatments, surrogacy, and adoption. "You'll be a mom somehow," people would say to me when my trying was getting, well, trying. "There are many ways to be a parent." Which is true. But the urge to procreate with my body was on. I charted, I ate well, I chilled out my yoga practice, I meditated, I listened to Belleruth Naspartek's visualizations for fertility. I did acupuncture. I prayed. As per a book, I spoke to the souls of my kids-to-be. And though I wasn't sure where my trying line was, I did end up in the office of a fertility doctor. Turns out I was already a week pregnant and didn't know it. That pregnancy lasted a few months, and ended.
I retreated then, my longing unabated, my heart scarred, yet opened. "You're a mother now," a healer friend said to me. And though I had no child to show for it, I felt that. My own sense of motherness—for one, my hands felt different, like they were ready to check for fevers and turn the pages of picture books. For two, my heart got bigger, like the Grinch's, popping a belt in its widening.
It's a year later now, a lot more trying trying behind us, and I'm pregnant again. Four months tomorrow. All appears healthy. It's a boy. No one's given me a seat on the subway yet, but I'm showing. I'm round. Some days I feel fat. Other days I'm a smaller version of those gorgeous, bursting women I filled notebooks with 23 years ago. Every day I'm terrified, wildly grateful, and feel myself wobbling into a new world. Of course every moment is uncertain—I am concerned and superstitious and yet know there is no controlling anything, especially with my worry. Last week my therapist told me, "Enjoying the moment is not tempting fate." She is maybe right, so I am trying to relax and feel the crazy miracle of where we all come from, a microcosm of which is living in my belly. Like I was all those years ago, I am also gestating joy—and hope. And despite discomfort and some darkness, I am, like we all are, birthing rays of that mad love daily.
Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.
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