It's been awhile since I've been pregnant.
I mean, obviously, I've been pregnant for the past eight months, but before that. It had been awhile. Like five years. And with Jovie, it was such a blur because I spent so much time scrambling after Lily who was just a toddler. And before that with Lily I was working full time and was eight years younger and it was ... I don't know ... folding origami. Scrutinizing each step, being so methodical, so precise, obsessing over each crease. It was all such a mystery and then with one last push- a whole baby.
There's a lot about pregnancy I'd forgotten about– all the heartburn and the aches in odd places (I'm talking to you right-side under-boob and lower calves). I'd forgotten just how challenging it was to find a comfortable position to sleep in. I'd forgotten how wonderful and utterly absurd it feels to have an entire person rolling around inside of you. Like, is that a foot rammed into my pelvis? Or a shoulder? What's jabbing my ribs right now?
I'd forgotten how grounding the whole experience is. Or maybe it's just that I wasn't as grounded the last couple times. Maybe being a few years older with two kids under my belt has allowed me to sink into this one a little more. I don't know. Somehow it's just different this time.
One of the biggest revelations has been being nice to myself. Being forgiving of myself. Being less judgmental of myself. Taking my time getting up the stairs. Telling the lazy eighth graders who ask me to get them a pencil because "they're too tired" to get their own damn pencils (minus the "damn" part, of course. That's more of a mental add-on) because I'm seven months pregnant and don't need to be their pencil wench. Driving to pick up the girls from school when I'm too worn out to walk. Going to bed at 8:30. Taking naps.
And rather than being stressed about the weight gain and all the rounding out taking place, I'm feeling kind of, I don't know, in awe of my body. Like being a woman that can grow an entire human is pretty damn badass.*
I had this thought today that I wished I could maintain this general feeling of self acceptance all the time. Like that long after Edna** is out of my body and out of diapers and out in the world, I could still find room for being kind and caring to myself the way I've been the last few months.
And I also kind of wish all woman would do this.
Like, we should treat ourselves like we're pregnant all the time.
Giving ourselves space for physical or mental expansion without judgment. Forgiving our clumsiness or absentmindedness. Not second-guessing or fighting through our fatigue, but instead recognizing our exhaustion as a cry from our bodies and brains to stop. Stop saying "yes." Stop feeling guilty about saying "no." Stop taking on more. Stop believing we are somehow less worthy of a person when we reach maximum capacity.
Take a breath. Put your feet up. Take a break. Take a nap. Go to bed early.
It's OK to create a protective bubble around ourselves. Kind of a grownup amniotic sac.
So it's true, we'll never be in a state of perpetual pregnancy (and you know what, thank God for that), but there is one human we are responsible for the caring of and tending for for the entirety of our existence on this Earth: Ourselves.
Too often I think moms overlook that. Or diminish that.
I mean, geez, I feel like in the past week or two I've had multiple conversations with women who are fighting exhaustion and defeat with an arsenal of guilt and self-doubt– which is a pretty shitty arsenal if you ask me.
Let's just start by acknowledging that motherhood alone – keeping another small, helpless person alive – is really hard. Then throw into that keeping multiple small people alive, and not just keeping them alive, but also trying to help them lead enriching, fulfilling lives, while also juggling full-time jobs or volunteering or pursuing a college degree and maintaining a homestead and relationships with family and friends ... and and and. Or or or. I mean, there's all the things. And it's not just really hard. It's every day standing at the bottom of Mount Everest without the help of a knowledgeable sherpa. Half the time we're our own damn sherpas.
We're not setting ourselves up for success here, I feel.
And the thing is most women I know despite the massive loads they carry want to be able to do more. By nature we want to be the helpers. The people doing the kind gestures that make the world nicer. And we get kind of sad when we can't be that person, I think. At least I know I do.
I see so many people doing so much. All the things. Baking for all the bake sales. Volunteering for all the school events. Cooking dinners for the families dealing with illness or injury. Collecting things for the needy. The list of good deeds and do gooders is endless.
And while I appreciate the kindness of others, I also allow guilt to bounce around inside me like a pinball. Flipping it back up and over. Collecting points for being the bad human who didn't raise my hand for all the requests.
I hate it. And just as much as I hate feeling like a failure for all that I don't do, I hate how quickly I forget or discount all the things I do, do.
I know so many women who do this as well. On top of feeling mentally and physically and emotionally drained, we feel like we're just not enough. That we're lesser than the others who do all the things (or even some of the things).
A couple weeks ago this video was making its rounds on Facebook.
I think the story of Fiona and Bee resonates because of its simplicity and smallness.
Woman rescues bumblebee.
It wasn't labor intensive, world changing or grand in scope. Fiona didn't set out to do the most good, instead she offered another living creature the chance to live out its short life in safety and comfort. What she did was doable. For any of us. And not only was it doable, it offered dividends. Companionship, levity and good, earthy soulfulness. It was mutually beneficial in the way our most important ventures should be.
See, because it's OK to make choices about how you spend your time and invest your energy based on what also fills your cup. It's essential even.
The rest of the world cares not when your cup is empty. Like my beloved eighth graders, it's kind of self-centered and will continue making demands of you without regards to your physical, mental or emotional wellness.
It does not do us any favors.
You'll have to forgive me for a moment, because I need to go off on a bit of a tangent. I woke up at 4:30 this morning with the sort of self-righteous rage that makes it impossible to go back to sleep.
And here's what spurred it.
I have this friend who's nearing the end of her maternity leave- a much-too-short two or three months of recovery and readjustment from the physical strain of giving birth and trudging through newborndom and the accompanying mental fatigue.
We were talking about schools- specifically my thoughts on our local middle school- and the reasons why our local middle school is the way that it is. I talked about having a high population of low-income families, and the challenges for a child when both parents are working full time at multiple jobs. How the lack of involvement or supervision at home seems to result in more behavioral issues at school. I said all of this not as judgement of these poor parents who I can only assume are doing their best. Or on the kids who are also struggling. Or on any working parents in general- because it's so damn hard. And in this area in particular, with such a high cost of living, it's even harder.
I was explaining my reasoning for why things are the way they are (and probably not doing a whole lot to reassure anyone about the state of the local middle school their children will one day attend)- and I saw my friend's eyes kind of getting a little red and glassy.
And I realized that this is not the conversation to be having with someone weeks away from returning to work after her maternity leave. Because even though I was talking about a school her kids are years away from attending, she was focused on the present- the impact of her going back to work on her infant and her first grader. She is already feeling the guilt, full force.
And then I had flashbacks to seven-plus years ago. Bringing Lily home from the hospital and every day, every day, weeping about the day I'd have to drop her off at day care and go back to work. I don't feel like I'm being over dramatic when I say for me, the entire experience was traumatic. Like, the panic and ache I felt that first morning at drop off is still palpable. Settling her tiny body into an infant swing. Fumbling with the bottles of breast milk I'd managed to accumulate over session after session of pumping with minimal results. Realizing it had all spilled. Bawling, bawling, bawling.
It was awful.
And I think it's a cruelty we inflict on mothers in our country.
The bonds a mother forms with a baby are deeply rooted. Cells from all of my children have passed through the placenta and now reside in my body and will for years to come. Studies show that bonding with a mother in infancy is critical to a child's early brain development and their lifelong success and happiness. British studies have shown it can take a woman up to a full year to recover from the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth and baby rearing. Researchers have found that mothers who have shorter maternity leaves risk higher rates of depression- returning to work too soon affects their mental health. On the flip side, those who took more than 12 weeks of leave reported fewer depressive symptoms.
Despite what studies show and what we know, as women, is true- we live in a country where the default expectation that mothers separate from their children at tender ages. That lengthy maternity leaves are a luxury reserved for the wealthy or families willing to take a big financial risk as we eventually decided to do when I left my full-time job. We're expected to just go along with it and get over it.
I even had the "luxury" of banking extra time off so I could take 11 weeks versus the six weeks offered to many mothers, who can't afford to take additional time off.
Should we really be all that surprised that politicians are suggesting that a reasonable approach to managing illegal immigrants is separating mothers and children?
I want to emphasize that I am in full support of working mothers. Working mothers are no less mothers than stay-at-home mothers. A mom's a mom a mom. And I'm not being critical or judgmental of mothers who have their babies and look forward to going back to work. Let's all just agree to be kind and supportive of each other. And not judgy. Nobody likes judgy people.
Because again, for a mom, it's all hard, even if it's what you want.
Going back to work full time is hard. Making the choice to stay at home is hard, too.
I wouldn't trade the years I've stayed at home with Lily and Jovie. I'd love to stretch out that time for Edna, too, but circumstances (i.e. Northern Virginia real estate) means I'll have to shift to being a working mom sooner than later. Already I'm apprehensive and exhausted.
I'm also pre-emptively annoyed about the idea of a job hunt in which I'll have to explain a "gap" in my resume where between child-rearing and freelancing I'd worked harder than I ever had in my previous job. And I'm concerned that I'll probably never reach the same "earning potential" I would've had I stayed working full time, despite the myriad skills I've gained since staying home not the least of which are better time management and interpersonal skills.
In the past seven years through motherhood, farming and subbing, I've learned to successfully wrangle toddlers, eighth graders and goats. I've interviewed hundreds of professionals, written hundreds of articles, built a few websites, led a bunch of farm field trips and helped set up and work a bunch of weddings, that should all count for something, right?
But somehow I think the lack of a clear career path will cause potential employers to squint and pause and move on. But now I'm off topic, I think. What was the topic, again?
Edna tells me that I don't need to focus on job hunting. That right now, it's time to focus on her. Oh and moving.
We're doing that soon, too. Just around the block from the house we're currently renting.
I know, it's a lot. Here's why I'm going to cut myself some slack. Because my whole life situation right now is a bit ridiculous. And there's only so much I can do right now. And that's OK.
It's just a season, right? We won't be in a perpetual state of packing boxes and transitioning houses. I won't be pregnant forever. Questions about what the next stage of life will look like will be answered just by puttering along and living my life one day to the next.
In the mean time, I'll try desperately to hang on to this weird sort of peace I have with myself as my body balloons and performs all sorts of magic.
It's the same peace I'll wish for all the worn-out moms I know out there. Just treat yourself as if you're pregnant. Lord knows you've already carried enough life to justify it.
* Well. Since we're talking about asses, I'd be remiss to ignore one area of body image struggle this time around. Which is this: Why is it that pregnancy has all the sudden made my bottom melt into my legs like a drippy wax candle? Like all those floppy clocks in that Salvador Dali painting? I feel like it's just giving up on life. Like it's thrown up a white flag and allowed gravity to take over. It's like the saddest butt ever. OK. End rant. Resuming positivity protocol.
** For those of you calling to question the "Grandma-ish" nature of our baby name, rest assured it's just a placeholder until we pick the actual name. Although, I have to say, the more I refer to her as Edna, the more it's growing on me.