Sunday, September 26, 2004

navel-gazing and integrating our selves

This one's a long one, but I won't be around for a couple days, so consider it a 3-day blog.

I just got a recommendation for a book - Navel Gazing: The Days and Nights of a Mother in the Making by Jennifer Matesa. I've already ordered it and I'm looking forward to reading it. She is another someone who writes about being pregnant and is not so thrilled by its many benefits (ahem.). She became pregnant by accident also, and also - somehow - didn't immediately fall head over heels for the alien in her belly or start picking out borders for the nursery. In addition, (although Ann Lamott remains my hero) like so few others, this book covers the pregnancy itself – not just the postpartum chaos.

Writing like the kind I expect to find in Matesa's book, when not thought of as horribly blasphemous, is talked about using terms like "brave." It is rare, this is true. Most things in print either 1) cover the "how to" stuff of pregnancy and what to freak out about, or 2) jump ahead to the do's and don'ts of motherhood, baby in the flesh. And gee, they all cover both those things so well. Take an example from one of my books. The heading in the chapter on week 16 or so reads "How your actions affect your baby." Under it, the very first subheading is titled "Increased vaginal discharge." Straight arrow logic, people. Heck yeah.

Regardless of the point at which they enter the fray, all these charming reference guides seem equally likely to presume eager parents hovered over a pee stick, hopeful smiles glued to their faces. And this assumption spills out into society at large. The following conversation was overheard in one of the parent education classrooms: Instructor: "When are you due? Aren't you excited?!?" Mother: "So excited!!" Apparently, it is an assumption with good odds of being correct. But dangerous nonetheless. If that question had been directed to me, what would I have said? Not sure. And if I knew, is honesty the goal? – We are a how-are-you-fine society. I don't think honesty is what we're after.

Realistically, intellectually, although I can't pretend to know what all of it will feel like, my own assumption is that I will love my child. Seems likely anyway. And at some point, the possibility exists that I will even "not be able to imagine my life without" him or her, as the saying goes. But I want to strongly establish the idea that regardless of how I'll love my kid, it doesn't invalidate or erase the fact that right now I feel restless and confused and ambivalent. Or that two months ago, between the morning sickness and the depression, most days I couldn't get out of bed.

These times are part of my experience, my pregnancy and my life. An immigrant doesn't forget her home country. A patient in remission can't flip a switch and only count the healthy years of her life. She is different for the experience of having been born somewhere else, for having been sick. Just as many things lead me to experience the news of this pregnancy in a certain way and can't be seen apart from it, the sadness and the struggle that followed remain an element of who I become later, even if or when that's a happy, well-adjusted mother.

In past relationships, men would be attracted to a gregarious, bubbly me that would then eventually give way for stretches in favor of a more sullen, burdened, intense girl, troubled by the world and uncomfortable in her own mind. They would pine aloud for the "old Kitty" to return. And I would vacillate between guilt about why I couldn't just "snap out of it," convinced I must always perform at a 10 to be loved, and anger at their stupid, shallow, asshole ways, convinced I must end this relationship and swear off men. I am both people. I. am. both. people.

I read a book once called Imagining Robert written by the brother of a mentally ill man. In it, the author longs for his brother as he was pre-illness onset. However, with years of the disease to color their lives, he smartly ponders who his brother might be if the doctors actually find this "magic pill" cure they are constantly promising is just around the corner. What of his other life (other self) that prevailed for years? Is that simply cut away and brushed aside as an aberration? This, this happy person, in line with what society expects is the "real" personality then?

Dr Brilliant (formerly Dr Dull) told me in our initial meeting at my 12-week mark that the emotional inconsistencies of pregnancy can take some getting used to. You may feel a certain way, she offered, and not understand why. I had to stop myself from laughing in her face. Lady, please. I'm not only familiar with erratic emotions, I wrote the blog on it. Pregnant, schmegnant.

I am someone who experiences life in extremes, in fits and starts, from within a sensitivity bubble. What's that condition Sylvia Plath had where she couldn't weed out any stimuli? Exactly. I can, as an old roommate once commented, have issues with my breakfast cereal, but minutes later I can also fall passionately in love with a jingle on a TV commercial and find renewed hope in humanity. The world is hot to the touch, my pillow is soaking wet, my laugh is inappropriate and travels across crowded rooms to the ears of self-appointed judges in moments of quiet reverence. I don't know the names of Hollywood stars and don't bother asking because no, I've never seen that movie. My books all have post-its at my favorite quotations, my car is a venue for commentary on social justice, three a.m. is just as good a time as any to paint, scream, try on the contents of my closet.

Lady, doctor, honey, my emotions minus this nine-month hormone shot would wear you out in no time flat. It'll take me no fewer than 250 words to describe how you just straightened your lab coat with your left hand. My words will cut to the marrow or sprinkle you generously with magic dust, depending on my whim and purpose. I don't miss much. So please, spare me the advice column on the "ups and downs" of pregnancy. I'm alive. You, I frankly can't vouch for.

Perhaps they should include this Navel Gazing as required reading in med school. Or maybe just my blog. ;-)

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