Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This Time Around

A little over five years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. As my daughter grew inside me, I thought about that pregnancy what felt like every moment of every day. Sure, I was working and living and doing all of the things that life requires, but the pregnancy was always there, at most one layer beneath the surface of my mind, prodding at me with every move I made.

My mind: "Oh, you just wanted to enjoy some scrambled eggs? You know what else was an egg? Your baby.
Let's think about that for a while. What? You're not hungry anymore?
That's probably for the best, as you're going to be too nauseous to open your eyes in about ten minutes anyway."
I remember being in bed at night unable to sleep, but it wasn't because I was consumed with worry (at least not most of the time). Though there were dashes of fear or anxiety, most of the time it was just the work of thinking through the sheer newness of it all. What would it be like to give birth? What would it be like to hold a baby for the first time? I'd never held a baby that new to the world. What would it be like to come home with her? Did we have everything? Where would the changing table be most strategically placed? What would the dog think of her? If I had to have a c-section, how would I climb all those steps in my house? What would her eyes look like? Would she have a lot of hair? When would she be old enough to take to the City Museum? What would my husband be like as a father? How often would she see her cousins? Where would I pump at work?

The questions ranged from the big and philosophical to the daily and mundane, but one thing was consistent: the questions came in a constant internal monologue. I had to push them to the back of my mind to get through the daily tasks of work, school, and socializing. It was like someone had a radio playing inside my head.

This time around, however, I've managed to forget that I'm even pregnant for days at a time. I am about halfway through this pregnancy, and I've found myself suddenly nauseated and confused. Did I eat something bad? Am I getting the flu? No, fool. You're pregnant. Remember?

This wasn't true at the beginning of the pregnancy. Since I'd had a miscarriage just six weeks before getting pregnant, early pregnancy was a time full of questions, but none of them were peaceful or philosophical. They were all practical and full of fear. What were the odds of miscarrying once I'd made it to six weeks? Six weeks and three days? Was that a cramp? It was made even worse by the fact that this pregnancy, like my first one, was accompanied by a hematoma that caused some bleeding. Every day I wavered between delight over having another baby to sheer terror over suffering another loss. Those first few weeks were full of attention, but it was pained, terror-filled attention void of any joy.

At first, I thought my nonchalance was a kind of defense mechanism. Maybe I had fallen into not thinking about the pregnancy as much because it was easier than being terrified. But now I don't think so. Several doctor's visits have confirmed that all is well. The statistics are well on my side. I'm not terrified any more.

So the difference is me.

I'm five years older, for one thing. My life is much more stable in a lot of ways than it was during that first pregnancy. I'm not wondering what my career will look like. I'm not newly moved into a house that's falling apart. My PhD is finished. I'm eight years into my marriage instead of three. Perhaps all of those realities have turned down the volume on that radio show in my head.

But it's also just that parenting isn't new. And that doesn't mean that I think I've gotten it all figured out and that it will be easy this time around. Not at all.

If parenting my "spirited" daughter has taught me anything, it's that I can't prepare for parenting another human being no matter how hard I try. Not really. It also taught me that it doesn't really matter where the changing table goes (I'll use the bed or the couch more often anyway) or where I pump at work (I've pumped in rooms dedicated to that purpose, in my car, in a bathroom, sitting in a corner of an airport). I still have no idea what this baby's eyes or hair will look like, and we've decided to not even find out if it's a girl or a boy, so there are even more questions I could be asking myself. But I'm not asking them because this time around, I know that I can't be prepared.

I saw this video the other day of a mother duck trying to march with her ducklings in a row when the high wind blows her babies all over the place and she scrambles to get them back together. She ends up heading in a completely different direction.

And that, I think, is the perfect metaphor for what these early years of parenting have felt like for me. That first pregnancy, I spent all that time plotting how to keep those ducklings in a row. I spent all that time thinking about what the perfect tempo would be for our march. I spent all that time imagining the direction we would head and the path we would take. But I didn't account for the wind. 

This time around, you could say that I've taken a fatalist attitude toward the wind. Come what may, I can't stop it anyway. But I think a more optimistic take is that I know now what I didn't know then. There is some direction you can go, and we'll get there in time.

Photo: Hamburger Helper