“You’ve got great hips. A nine and a half pound baby could fit through there. Yours is only seven pounds so far!” My midwife’s face was gentle and reassuring, the smile genuine.
Bizarrely, I felt a sense of pride at her statement, as though something other than genetics and luck have had anything to do with my good prospects. This misplaced surge of pride somehow counteracted the awkwardness of the pelvic exam, which is uncomfortable and undignified at its very best, and I realize that I am being distracted by my midwife. I think that they must teach this at gynecological school, because every ob-gyn I’ve ever had suddenly becomes chatty the second they start touching my undercarriage. I’ve got a lot of those moments ahead of me in the next few weeks.
I am very pregnant now. On Saturday, our daughter will be fully cooked, although it is still a little over two weeks until my due date. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself worrying about labor more often, as my brain finds idle moments in my day. It happens when I close my eyes to sleep, when I am waiting for the train, in the moments when I try to manipulate my increasingly bulky body into clothes that grow tighter and tighter each day.
I only began to enjoy pregnancy a month ago, although mine has not been particularly hard compared to the hell that some women go through. Mine hit me where it hurts me most — in my athleticism and my vegetarianism — which made it hard to bear. There are amazing women who can handle athletics and vegetarianism during pregnancy, but my body could not. That smarted. Maybe that’s why finding out that I’m in a good position to have the labor that I’ve chosen felt like an accomplishment, when it’s really nothing more than luck. I spent the early days of my pregnancy talking up a good game of looking forward to labor for its pregnancy-ending benefits, but now that my bluff could be called any minute, I am becoming less brave.
It’s hard to be private when you’re pregnant. Many women report strangers touching them without asking. I didn’t have a problem with this, other than one drunken acquaintance forgetting to wait for permission before giving the belly a good rub. Still, being a New Yorker means having very little choice about interacting with strangers. I am on a train now, sitting next to a man that I will never know, who keeps glancing at the visibly moving baby in my midsection. I can’t blame him. I can only be grateful that he hasn’t given me the twenty questions that strangers seem to think it’s my responsibility to answer.
“It’s a boy, isn’t it?”
“Do you have a name for it?”
“You’re almost due, right?”
“Are you having twins?”
“Is this your first?”
I get these questions all the time, from people that I presume mean well, who presume that I’m the sort of woman who is thrilled to be pregnant and wants to talk about it all the time. Sometimes I don’t mind. Sometimes I want to forget that everyone knows and to just be treated like my old self again. I am looking forward to our separation mostly for this reason — the ability to be anonymous again, to be able to buy a sandwich without having my personal life questioned by strangers.
I’ve chosen a natural labor, with as little medical intervention as possible. Although I am rather hippy-minded, it’s more that I can’t stand the idea of spending my labor tied to a bed than any desire for a natural labor experience. An epidural, which is the main pain management option, numbs you from the waist down, so walking is out of the question. The very idea makes me feel claustrophobic and anxious, which is the opposite of what makes the labor go faster. Fast is not a word commonly used to describe first labors and I am expecting that mine will last at least twelve hours, given the experiences of other women in my family. I may not be running, or even walking very fast these days, but now I’m preparing myself for a marathon.
I have some strategies to get through the experience. We’ve gone to the Lamaze class, so I understand the biology of labor and how important being able to relax through the pain will be. I’ve started getting Braxton Hicks contractions, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with breathing techniques to learn which ones work best for pain management for me. The contractions aren’t pleasant, but I’ve found them comforting, even when they hit me in the middle of my work day. I’ve learned that I can still be the professional side of me, even as a hugely pregnant woman. Maintaining that balance — the ability to cooly troubleshoot network problems and think logically while my uterus is clenching so hard that I wonder if it might fall out my back — that has given me a confidence that I can handle the upcoming ordeal. I just hope that my labor starts when I am well fed and well rested, just like I would begin any endurance athletic event.
My old yoga mat is already in my hospital bag, waiting for the hours I plan on spending in cow and child’s pose. My body may try to take over with pain, but my brain has fifteen years of training on how to deal with it. I’ll just breathe in and then I’ll breathe out. And then I’ll do it all again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
At the end of the day, what happens in that carefully decorated labor room is not really my choice. If complications arise that risk Cora’s life, then I’m happy to be tied to that bed and sliced open like a fetal pig. I’ve learned from this pregnancy that I’m already willing to go to great lengths for my daughter, even when those actions are in total opposition to my desires. All the same, it was so reassuring to hear that my final moments of pregnancy might actually go the way I’ve planned.