Now that I’m deep in mommy land, I don’t often think about my pregnancies. When I see someone in their ninth month in August, still commuting to work, I’m glad I’m not them. All those weird pains and the no drinking and worrying about mercury in fish and the baby’s body parts. Now I can’t even remember the name of that major test with the needle you do at 20 weeks to check for severe chromosomal disorders. At the time it was the biggest deal in the world. Will I have it or not? Is the risk of miscarriage worth it? What will I do if they find something bad? It seemed like every week of my pregnancy was fraught with some stressful choice to make.
On the other hand, it’s such a simple and poignant time, when you can superimpose expectations on your swollen profile. You see visions of your family camping under the stars, writing a novel together, going on safari – who knows what movie or commercial these images came from, or if you even like camping! But, more immediately, you can obsess about the water birth you want, or your nursery being a temple of gender-neutral organic purity. And if all those choices seem so crucial at that moment, it’s because in the back of your mind you likely realize that control is gone, forever. Not that it was ever there to begin with. But every mom-to-be has the moment where she is crushed by things not going the way she researched and planned and along with that comes the realization that research and planning just aren’t what they used to be.
For some, it happens during the actual birth, when so many don’t end up getting the experience they desire. For others, it’s breastfeeding. Or being blue instead of euphoric after the baby arrives. Or feeling like yourself again (whatever that even means!).
And that’s why I find NPR’s Baby Project, a blog that follows nine pregnant women who will be giving birth this summer, to be so moving. The women range in age and background in a diverse-ish NPR kind of way, and its lovely to read what they think about birth plans, baby names and their new status as parents. No matter how different their circumstances are, they are united in this moment, this time ‘Before Baby.’ It’s pure. Sure, there is worry and stress and expectation when you’re pregnant, but really, there’s nothing you can actually do. The road is in front of you, and you’re not getting out of that car now.
As the Baby Project moms continue to give birth in the next few weeks, only some of them so far have gotten what they expected from their birth experiences. One mom went very early and almost died from blood loss. Another didn’t get to have the baby at home as she planned, but made it through her hospital birth without the epidural, which was important to her because she felt she was supposed to be the home birth “poster child” for the group. There will be triumphs and wonderful surprises in these stories, but for so many it will likely be different from what was planned.
Maybe it’s a pothead thing to say, but when I was pregnant I would envision strangers on the subway as babies. I’d look at people, and see only super tough looking doo-ragged ganstra rap baby, or middle manager suburban baby or skinny 20-something hipster person baby. It just kept hitting home that we were all freaking babies at one time, and that all of our parents had made it, they had gotten through it, and now we were all adults, and some of us were ready to jump on board and try our own hands at it. Circle of life, blah blah blah. But it calmed me somehow, and when it wasn’t making me crack up inside, it made me feel okay about having no control over my life anymore.
And so for these women who have invited us into the moments Before Baby, I thank them for their time and energy and wish them all the best. And I encourage them to keep writing and trying to understand what happens After Baby. Because we can certainly use all the thoughtfulness, insight and humor we can get here on the other side.