Trigger warnings for discussions about pregnancy. This post focuses around my experience as a cisgendered heterosexual white woman.
I had a friend recently suggest that I write some poems about being pregnant.
There is a strange… mmm, expectation, I guess, around pregnancy and childbirth where it must immediately change you in a profound way. That’s not saying it doesn’t. In 9 to 10 months, your body goes through some radical changes and no one’s pregnancy is really the same. I never threw up. Another friend of mine threw up a lot through her first trimester. Some people have their periods. Some people know immediately they are pregnant while others don’t find out until months later. It is an event that is as wide and varied as the human race.
All that aside, I haven’t felt compelled to write anything poetry-wise about this experience. I’ve even been hesitant to portray an online opinion on it but that has more to do with privacy and respect than anything else. Truth is, most people don’t really need to hear daily updates about my belly size or what I’m craving or what various pains I find myself having. Poetry, though, wouldn’t be anything I would broadcast unless I attempted to publish it. Also, I don’t think I’ve reached a point where I have anything worthwhile to add to the already large pool of pregnancy/motherhood/fatherhood/guardianhood/child-rearing poems.
We don’t really know how to engage with body changes in America. The realization that our bodies grow and change leads us to realize that we’re fallible, that we eventually fall apart. That’s terrifying. We don’t want to actually confront the fallibility, so we ignore it or spend lots of money to prevent it or lots of money to hasten it. Pregnancy is a weird in-between area because it’s a huge change that creates something new to help us continue our perceived legacies. We see it as important, know that it is a fairly common occurrence, but cannot discuss it. In my birthing class, there were women who could not say the word “vagina” and did not know what their cervix was or where it was. They were terrified at the notion that something would be altering their body in such a way that they could not control. This is the disconnect. We encourage pregnancy, but we don’t talk about the real down and dirty shit. I’m not talking morning sickness stuff. I’m talking everything. The process, the plumbing involved, the expectations vs. reality. All of that is secreted away in online message boards that are less about support and more about one-upmanship on who has it worst or who did it best. There is this notion that the trappings of pregnancy and child-rearing define the true experience. What belly bands did you buy? Are you buying pregnancy clothes at a big box store or are you getting organically sourced outfits? What sort of shower will you throw? Are you doing to do an ultrasound party? A sex-reveal party complete with color coordinated cake? Do you have the right burp cloths? Attachment parenting? Simplicity parenting? Nanny? Doula? Midwife? Induction? Epidural? We fill the months with all this minutia so we don’t have to focus on the physical stuff.
That isn’t to say the physical stuff hasn’t been discussed. Like I said, you can go onto any online space “for women” to find plenty of horror stories. That’s how these things are couched. “TEN DISGUSTING THINGS YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT GROWING A BABY IN YOUR MEAT CAVITY” or “WHAT THE FUCK, ARE THESE SIX SYMPTOMS NORMAL” or “THE HORRIBLE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR BODY AFTER SHOVING A BABY OUT YOUR VAGINA”. Because we don’t talk about these things or see these things in realistic portrayals, we have to eventually discuss them in the most horrific terms possible to be “real” about it. Holy shit, guys, did you know that your body FUCKING CHANGES?! It also doesn’t help that all the terms for things that happen during pregnancy all sound like horror movies or bad band names: bloody show, mucus plug, sweeping the membrane. It feels like the whole process is set up for shame and fear. There’s no extensive education for people. Serioiusly, can we just teach legitimate sex-ed so we can all be a little more body savvy? Is that too much to ask? So maybe people can say vagina in a fucking birthing class?
So, what does this have to do with me writing poetry? Shouldn’t I want to share my experience with others? Shouldn’t I want to express my opinion? Truth is, I don’t know how. I can’t really do the whole “magical earth mother” angle and I can’t do the “beautiful misery” line. It’s just… been a pregnancy. I’ve learned a bunch, sure. There’s been some woo-woo spiritual stuff. There’s been rough patches. Nothing too impressive. I mean, growing a baby is pretty impressive but a lot of living organisms do that. The fact that I have the ability to doesn’t really make me special. It don’t think it’s connected me to any sort of elusive womanhood thing, but that might be more because I don’t see how having a baby makes me more of a woman. I actually think it’s kind of bullshit to make childbearing a defining trait of womanhood. Being pregnant has had me consider the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to help raise. That’s not really poetry material. Can’t get too lyric about middle of the road, y’know? Why try to add to the glut of these poems if I don’t have anything of value to contribute. The things that have shocked me about pregnancy aren’t the things I should be shocked/altered by. I’m terrified of the profound change oxytocin creates. I’m not really prepared for that. Also, I’ve been more horrified by the reaction people give me when they find out I’m having a boy than the changes in my body. Evidently I should feel incredibly blessed and grateful that I’m having a boy because girls are really hard and needy? I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and it makes me sad to hear these things from other parents. Those are the only two things that have had large impacts on me. The weight gain didn’t really bother me because I’ve been scary skinny and super fat. I’m used to the fluctuations. The exhaustion has been interesting, but I also deal with depression so being tired really isn’t anything new. Okay, I will admit that gaining the super power of heightened scent was cool until I couldn’t be in the same room as… pretty much anything with smell. Then it sucked. Then it stopped.
Overall, I don’t want to write pregnancy poems because I don’t want to be a pregnancy poet. I don’t want a defining attribute of my work, which is funny because I do consider myself a poet that writes about the body. Maybe I’m afraid that once I do it, it will be one of the only things by which I’m measured. It certainly my primary value right now. I think of this print I purchased from artist Colleen Clark. Bodies do amazing things. They do weird things. They do terrifying things. Mostly they just do… things. I’m not going to hamfist some kind of meaning into a situation. I’m not going to let my only measurement of worth be my pregnancy.
And before anyone who ever reads this jumps on my case about “silencing mothers” – no. That is not my point here. If someone had a significant experience with pregnancy that they feel needs to be written and shared, please please please share it. It’s important that the discussion happens. All I’m saying is that my contribution would wind up being, “Yeah, it was weird. But mostly fine.”
That is some Pushcart Prize shit right there. WOW.