No one prepares you for pregnancy in a way that can truly prepare you. For one thing, pregnant women seem to be a magnet for those who feel a need to cause panic in others at a most vulnerable time. They tell stories of women who are pregnant for 14 months, or women who don’t know they’re pregnant until they are brushing their teeth one night and suddenly an infant pops out of their non-dental area.
And they give such friendly advice. I recall an older family friend told me never, ever to reach up high because it could hurt the baby – a dopey old wives’ tale (“the cord!”). Then there are those well-wishers who look you straight in the eye and warn, “Just have the doctor knock you out!”
But almost more frightening are do-gooders who say things like, “Pregnancy and childbirth were the most creative and exciting time of my life!” They completely omit the part about how your waistline skin irretrievably stretches beyond the capacity of a four-person tent. They are often the same women who refer to their stretch marks as “badges of pride” or something nuts like that. Oh, please.
Actually, it happens I’m one of those females who loved being pregnant, despite certain experiences that I will soon describe by way of actual or imagined dialogue with the one woman I thought I could count on for the facts: my Mom.
I was just 18 and pregnant with my first child. Who else could I run things by and, at the same time, ask for allowance? It was 1971 and my good Mom sent me 15 bucks a week for the first year of my young, married, pregnant life. That was a lot of grocery and movie star magazine money back then.
We didn’t live in the same town, but we had lots of visits and phone calls. This was fortunate, because those nearby frightened me with their old-school pregnancy chat. Fortunately, my mother counteracted this nicely with her own brave tales of natural childbirth, long before the word Lamaze was heard ’round the world. She even dug out a small, modest-looking government pamphlet from her attic, vintage WW2. It gave simple instructions on what to do if labor and delivery just happened while in the middle of, let’s say, buying lipstick at the 5 & 10-cent store. A basic and practical approach that made delivery sound as easy as fixing a cup of tea, it helped me tune out the scary stuff from other women. My young husband and I signed up for childbirth classes, Mom took me shopping for nursing bras, and my pregnancy progressed.
Initially things seemed straightforward. But then, I started seeing stretch marks – and not just on my expanding belly. I called Mom.
“Oh, that.” she hedged. “I guess I didn’t mention that to you.” She quickly changed the subject.
Later, I noticed that when I looked downward over my enormousness, my belly button popped way out. I wondered if this would remain permanent. I scanned the childbirth pamphlet. Nothing.
And hair? It started showing up everywhere.
“Oh, that,” Mom sighed. “I guess I didn’t mention that to you, either. Say, Kath, uh, did you get your allowance this week?”
Over a chicken sandwich and decaf, I tried to pin her down.
“Out with it, Marge,” I said. “What else are you keeping from me about this baby stuff?”
She smiled and talked about how wonderful it was to give birth. She said contractions felt like “cramps, but more so.” (The woman apparently had no pain receptors.) She retold the story of how she barely made it to the delivery room when she had me, her fourth. I was lulled into a calm acceptance because “women have been giving birth since the beginning of time.”
Just before my due date, my little daughter arrived, healthy and perfect. Apparently reaching to the overhead cabinet for a few cookies now and then had done no harm. Happily snuggling her close, I didn’t care about the looser, softer condition of my body. I was glad I’d been awake to see my child enter our world because, well, it actually turned out to be the most creative and exciting time of my young life.
No one can prepare you for everything. Not for the minor discomforts, nor the gut-wrenching love that binds a mother with her child forever – the kind of love that freezes you in your tracks when that child grows from soft, precious, dependent infant to the lovely, slightly older, thinner version of herself, climbing into the biggest yellow school bus in the world. Or the sight of that child turning away from you to join her new friends at that nice college you both so agonizingly picked out. Nor for the love it takes when that same grown child is about to be a mother herself for the first time, to be just a little bit short on the details.
Kathy Eliscu is a nurse and freelance writer who lives in Westbrook. She credits her way of looking at the light side of life to her mother, the late Marge Eliscu, whose “Coffee Break” humor column ran for two decades in the Maine Sunday Telegram