I know that the gestation period of an elephant is about twenty-two months, but that fact didn’t make it any easier to bear my nine-month pregnancy when I also know that a female flea can pop out offspring every two to four days.
No one ever told me (until it was too late, of course) that it would be like what I experienced. Magazines featured propaganda literature and pictures of serene and contented women enjoying the time of their lives. Pictures of women after they had their babies were almost Madonna-like in the sanctification of motherhood. I was brainwashed. I couldn’t wait to join the ranks of expectant mothers, and share in this special time in a woman’s life.
It was special alright, but not in a way I expected or enjoyed. I had heard about morning sickness and was prepared for some nausea in the morning. I didn’t realize that it could last morning, noon, and night for months! The first time the pregnancy malady hit me was when I woke up one morning with what I thought was the worst case of the flu I had ever experienced. After the flu persisted for several weeks, and other symptoms of pregnancy appeared, it finally dawned on me that I was indeed pregnant.
I soon realized that I could no longer tolerate almost anything made for human consumption. I was forced to carry my own comfort bags, copying the ones the airlines provide, and plenty of tissues, because the urge to share my last meal with the immediate world could overtake me literally anywhere or at any time. I also let go out of bus windows, from speeding cars, in trains, planes, and on boats, and in the middle of teaching art classes. I was also the principal of a Sunday school, and when I felt the urge to regurgitate, I’d rush to the school’s bathroom, where some of my wide-eyed little students would look with wonder at their principal’s antics.
All the books and websites on pregnancy may tell you that this particular symptom as a harbinger of glad tidings should come to an end in about three months. Don’t you believe them. I vomited as often as a faithful Muslim prays (i.e., five times a day), which lasted until my fifth month. The queasiness in my stomach and the indescribably awful taste in my mouth, roughly reminiscent of old cheese and boot leather, remained with me to the very end.
My skin also felt so tight that I always wanted to unzip it. The bigger I got the more I wanted to do just that.
I never knew what the little darling inside me would be up to next, but most of the time his antics felt like a little hand was scrabbling around for a hold on me, while the bottom of my belly was being kicked out. More than once I was rudely jarred out of my sleep by little precious testing my stomach muscles for resiliency at 3 a.m. This was after I had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get my huge belly into a plausible sleeping position.
These little jerks and thrusts inside me weren’t the only signs that I was carrying life. At each appointment I would listen through the doctor’s stethoscope to the rapid beat of its heart (sounding much like a rapid offbeat Timex watch). Even through my discomfort I was repeatedly awed by the miracle of this life inside of me.
I vowed long before I became pregnant that I would continue with my usual sports and activities, but I found that with the extra girth and weight, my almost daily half-mile swim was reduced to a quarter of a mile. None of my friends wanted to play tennis with me for fear I might fall or their ball might land on my stomach, and I, the Amazon of the block, who used to tote and lift heavy objects, paint second story house trims, and was generally a handy person around the house, was told to “cool it.”
Even bicycling had become difficult as my stomach got closer and closer to the handlebars. There are bikes for women and for men, but none made specially for pregnant ladies. It was very frustrating for me that I was heavily pregnant in the summer, which was always the time when I’d paint and fix the exterior of the house. I did continue to go sailing and in my eighth month jumped from the pier to the dingy and then to the moored sailboat. I was part of the University of Wisconsin’s sailing club and since I was smaller than most women in their eighth month, no one realized that I was pregnant. I don’t think the club would have allowed me to sail if it had known.
Not everything was negative about my pregnancy, though. One of the most positive aspects was the wonderful swelling of my mammaries. For the first few months, I had a figure that would have rivaled any sex symbol — until my slowly burgeoning stomach finally eclipsed my dazzling new top. After that, what I had was basically a pear-shaped figure and the waddle that went with it.
My plan was to have a natural delivery in a room with soft lights, delivering to the strains of calming music, with the baby being bathed in warm water, which is the only decent way to have your little one leave the warmth and comfort of the womb.
Instead, I was freezing under harsh bright lights because my doctor said that I needed a Caesarean. I was adamant that my big, strong husband be with me as he was fifty percent responsible for my condition. So what if he quailed at the sight of blood? So what if he was uncomfortable? At least I had the comfort of knowing that the guy who got me that way in the first place — and had too often shrugged off my agonies — would suffer a bit too.
I do realize that my long-term nausea is not necessarily the norm. Many pregnant women suffer very little discomfort. Some women are able to go about their daily business with no ill effects and they’re able to deliver their babies naturally and quickly. My daughter-in-law, for example, spent perhaps less than a day in the hospital, while I was hospitalized for ten days. For years, Chinese peasant women worked in the fields and then popped their babies out and went back to work!
But no matter what your childbirth experience is like, the miraculous end result is worth whatever you have to endure during those long months of pregnancy. The moment I laid eyes on my beautiful blonde baby boy I knew that my nine months of agony were worth it.