Pregnant. The very word sounds pregnant with meaning. It is onomatopoetic in its juicy fullness, its plumply dignity.
Before I got pregnant, I imagined pregnancy would feel a lot like having a good idea for a story or a song: a sort of dizzying energy in my head that causes me to glow from within and move about my day with energy and purpose. I imagined myself, sort of like an oversized Tinkerbell, fluttering from room to room, straightening this, rearranging that, doing the marvelous nesting thing about which I’d heard tell. (Finally, I’d organize my CDs! Finally, I’d purchase window dressing!) I imagined I would be giving birth to the mother within, as I was literally giving birth to the sacred Other. God in my womb! I proclaimed, I am a sister of Mary!
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Pregnancy instead began on the Falcon Ridge Fan Club Cruise last September, when I joined my sister, Katryna and her family, Patty our manager, Pete and Maura Kennedy and Susan Werner and about thirty-five folk music fans on an exciting adventure to Nova Scotia. I felt funky from the moment I set foot onboard, as my symptoms multiplied. I mistook morning sickness for sea sickness, fatigue for boredom, and a sudden aversion to fish to some kind of proximate sympathy. Also, I blamed my bloatedness on the excellent cuisine.
We got off the boat and the nausea remained. So did the bloatedness. I seem to be one of those women whose stomach pops out from the moment sperm and egg start flirting with each other. I began to wear loose fitting clothes. I wasn’t sad about this. I was happy. I have wanted to be a mother since I was six years old and my own mother was pregnant with our little sister, Abigail.
“Don’t you want a brother, now?” said Mrs. McSherry, our babysitter in her Irish brogue. “Sure and ya do. Nothin’ but girls here.”
“No way, “ Katryna and I said, folding our arms. “We’re going to have a sister.”
Fortunately for Abigail, we got our wish. Abigail was leagues beyond the Baby Alive doll I had wished for for Christmas. Unlike Baby Alive, who was purported to be able to eat and drink (where the food and drink WENT after the six year old parent spooned it into her perpetually open mouth, no scientist has yet been able to determine), Abigail was warm and squirmy and smelled like new apples and fresh cut grass. Even her poop smelled good, and Katryna and I fought over who got to change her diaper. I was responsible for helping to feed her, braid her hair, and I took it upon myself to educate her in all matters concerning music, movies, fashion and hand gestures. I would become very confused when my mother would take her away from me with plans of her own, like, for example, kindergarten. To me, Abigail was my baby. So to be participating in growing a baby of my own–finally, at the age of 38–is my fondest dream come true.
Another pregnancy myth that crashed and burned was the idea that I’d spend these nine months studying how to be a parent. I thought I’d be one of those mothers-to-be who blasts Baby Mozart CDs and walks endlessly around art galleries. (Did you hear the one about the pregnant woman who wanted her baby to be cultured, so she walked endlessly around art galleries? The baby was born with flat feet.) As soon as my pee test turned blue, I raced out and bought a book by Jon and Myra Kabat-Zinn, famed meditation teachers, about how to be spiritual, in-the-present-moment parents and how to raise conscious kids with raised consciences. That book has languished by my bed, and instead I seem to be inexplicably drawn to my tenth grade history text book. In the past three months, I have read about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Aztecs and Incas, the birth of Hinduism, the spread of Buddhism and Islam, the empires of Rome and Persia and the Song dynasty, the miserable Middle Ages, the relief of the Renaissance, the Ages of Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions, and now I’m about up to World War I when it really gets kind of violent.
Perhaps I have some kind of pregnancy craving to revisit, understand and accept what kind of world my new child is coming into. Perhaps I have a craving to understand this miracle that is both so ordinary and extraordinary that people have been doing it since the dawn of people, and yet still, for each new couple experiencing this, it feels like the very first baby who ever got conceived in a night of passion.
About cravings. I don’t know what to think, except that it’s clear that I must obey them. Never have I operated so assiduously from a part of me that is somewhere between instinct and gut-level desire. Fortunately, my cravings have been for things like cucumbers, brown rice and Paul Newman’s salad dressing, reading my old history book and watching sappy romance movies. My aversions are just as powerful and bewildering-to sweet foods, to the smell of fish, to the new Capote movie, which I am dying to see in theory, but can’t stomach in practice.
And the most amazing facet of pregnancy so far is the way in which it makes me stop in my tracks. I go from being a pleasant, communicative, engaged woman with a slightly rounded belly to being completely speechless, brain dead and supine in the space of five minutes. When I need to nap, there are no negotiations. I am completely at the mercy of the five inch benevolent despot in my growing uterus. A friend recently commented, “It seems like you’ve signed up for a kind of advanced surrender.”
This is perhaps the most useful spiritual lesson so far. I seem to be able to do, in a given day, about forty percent of what I used to do. And yet, the house has not fallen down around me (although it is covered with dust bunnies and suspicious odors, and poor Tom has done all the house work for fourteen weeks now). I seem to be writing songs as a steady clip; I’ve been able to show up for my gigs, and last week I sent my agent the most recent draft of The Big Idea, the novel I’ve been working on since 2001. In between these gargantuan feats, I slink around the house, I meditate in the pathetic way I’ve always meditated, I chat on the phone, I “cook” meals (mostly with cucumbers), I watch chick flick movies like Little Women and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and hope that Tom doesn’t catch me sniffling at the especially tear-jerky parts. (Recently, ALL parts are tear jerky.)
Maybe I am giving birth to a mother. Maybe this nausea and lethargy are changing me, shaping and molding me, fashioning me into exactly what and whom I’m supposed to be to support this baby. Maybe it really is the baby who’s running the show-saying no to Baby Mozart and yes to Mesopotamia; no to sweet potatoes and yes to brown rice; no to vigorous walks around the park and yes to long languid naps. I am not quite myself, and the more I accept that I too am in a kind of cocoon-like state–in a womb of my own–the more I accept the reality of advanced surrender, the more pleasant my pregnancy becomes.
Now could someone pass the cucumbers?