I suspected I might be putting on too much weight when the toilet seat began to squeak as I sat down on it.
I was in my ninth month of pregnancy and alternating between feeling constantly tired and constantly hungry. I had long ago given up any pretence of attempting to look halfway normal and the most I could manage on any outing was to put a ‘big girl’ top over a pair of short tracksuit pants.
The only shoes I wore were slip-ons that covered the top part of my toes – my heels hung out the back because my feet were so swollen that I couldn’t force my feet into more than two thirds of their length. I rolled now when I walked but I kept walking – every morning the dogs and I did our circuit of the park and ended up in the off-leash area where the small group of dog walkers who gathered every morning would repeat the same question: “Still here are we?”
“Yes,” I would reply through clenched teeth. “Still here.”
Our son was apparently very comfortable inside and was in no hurry to make his presence felt. Never a big mover, he wriggled every now and then and stretched, but there were no karate kicks, no sudden moves, no Braxton Hicks to signal that he was getting ready to launch. He was staying put.
The big ‘DD’ (due date) came and I spent the day on the phone, answering the anxious calls of friends, family and in-laws. No, nothing’s happening. No we haven’t decided what to do yet we’re still waiting. No we haven’t decided how long we’ll wait. No, no, no!
The truth is my husband and I are so anxious that we decide to build a wall and keep our thoughts to ourselves. I was getting sick of people’s need to talk about my stomach and what was happening inside. This baby was the first and probably the only grandchild/nephew on my husband’s side of the family and the pressure for a safe delivery was mounting. My sister-in-law rang at the end of the day. “You’re still home?”
“Yes, where else would I be?”
“Well I thought today was your due date?”
I sighed. “Jane I’ve explained to you that only 5% of women deliver on their due date and that over 70% of first babies are late.”
“Yes but I’ve been worried all day.”
You’ve been worried! Our baby was the result of nearly two years of IVF and his very existence was a miracle. After all we’d been through, waiting every extra day was torturous.
The truth is I was unprepared for the fact that my pregnancy suddenly made me public property and the object of scrutiny. I felt exposed. For someone who has been extremely average and nondescript in the looks department I was more used to fading into the wallpaper than being in the spotlight. There was no hiding – or at least from about five months on there wasn’t for me. I was huge!
Strangers seemed compelled to make some comment and typically the first question would be, “Boy or girl?” I grew used to my own health, welfare or sanity taking a back seat to the state of the baby inside me. No one asks me about my politics, career or my life anymore, except to offer sage advice or an attempt to be funny about how little I knew and how much my life was going to change. I would force a smile, listen, and then politely excuse myself. I didn’t need their chatter. There were already enough voices inside my head warning me of all the mistakes I would make as a mother.
Motherhood was coming late into my life and it was something I was still trying on for size. I had spent the last few weeks making a list of all of the things that I would be saying goodbye to when the baby comes: carefree days with no planning, the privacy of going to the bathroom by myself without fear of interruption, spontaneous travelling, time to read a whole newspaper in one sitting, freedom to live in my own mind and not have to answer questions, or put up boundaries, or discipline, or worry.
But the closer we get to meeting our son, nothing I am saying goodbye to matters any more. I just want him delivered safely into our family.
Five days after my due date and we are nervous wrecks. My obstetrician is kind but adamant. This baby has got to come out. She had spoken to me with increasing urgency about the issue for the last two months. Today her voice was bordering on shrill.
“You’re 41. This is a precious baby. The chances of you having another is very slight. We don’t know how long he will be safe in there.”
The tune hadn’t changed much since I became pregnant and I had always managed to stand firm on our desire to have a natural, drug-free delivery. But with the passing of the days, the hours, I couldn’t pretend any more. Suddenly my own beliefs and my own desires, not only take a back seat, they aren’t even a consideration.
I look at her and confess my fears. “Okay, let’s get him out safely.”
It was the first time I make a decision on behalf of my son and know it will not be the last. My values and beliefs just don’t seem important. I am secondary and from now on; he is always going to come first.
I have just become a mother.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem