Thursday, August 3, 2017

Celebrating ALL of Pregnancy

I was going to write another blog post about depression, but then yesterday I read this hilarious piece from The Ugly Volvo called "Being Pregnant Turns You Into an Ethereal Wood Nymph" and I snorted and snickered my way through it and posted it on my older sister's Facebook (she is a midwife so pregnancy is kind of her deal) and then today we talked about it some on the phone and I've decided to write this piece instead.

I want to begin with a disclaimer– that if you are or have been one of those pregnant ladies who have had the beautiful, artistic, glowing pregnancy photo shoot, I am not making fun of you. I think it's great that you did that. Pregnancy is beautiful, and it's absolutely a wonderful thing to celebrate that by dressing up and having gorgeous photos taken of you. I am all about celebrating pregnancy bumps. I was remarking to a friend just the other day how I much prefer wearing the more snug-fitting tops that show off my bump, and that I'm so glad that maternity fashions no longer require pregnant women to wear tents.

I even get, to a certain extent, the current fashion in some pregnancy photography circles to dress up pregnant women to look like ethereal wood nymphs. There is a sense in which those types of photo shoots are trying to reclaim the natural-ness of pregnancy– that it's not just waiting rooms and exam tables and bloodwork, that there is something earthy about pregnancy and birth that will always be present no matter how clinical the language and environment we try to box them into is. Even though I would never in a million years do an almost-naked except for strategically placed hands/hair/scarves pregnancy photo shoot, I can admire the women who do, and join in the celebration that the pregnant body is something really beautiful, something we can celebrate, not something indelicate or indecent that should be hidden behind tent-like clothing. The human form has been celebrated in art for centuries, and I see this as another medium for that.

All that being said, I told my sister that what I want is to find some photographer who wants to rebel against the wood nymph pregnancy photography and do a photo shoot of what pregnancy really looks like. Partly just because I'm snarky like that, but partly because I think if we only celebrate pregnancy with the beautiful, glowing, ethereal photos, we're really only celebrating a tiny part of pregnancy.

Because let's face it, those photo shoots are an hour out of 40ish long weeks, and I don't think anyone– I'm willing to bet you no one on God's green earth, even celebrities that have their own personal makeup artists and hair stylists– looks glowing and ethereal every hour of the 6,720ish hours that your average pregnancy lasts.

If we are really celebrating pregnancy, and not just the ideal image of pregnancy at its absolute most picturesque, then where is the photo of me with my head in the toilet dry-heaving before breakfast? Or how about a photo of that time where I only showered once in a week, and when I went to bed each night I changed into a fresh t-shirt of my husband's– not because I was big enough at that point to need that size, but simply because the neckline of his t-shirts was high enough and close-fitting enough that I couldn't smell the reek of my unwashed body coming up through the neckhole? This was the same stage where I didn't eat any fresh vegetables for six weeks, because I couldn't stand the idea of eating them. "Do you want a salad, dear?" asks my husband. "No– no thanks, just give me more meat," I say, feeling like a mountain man. Or like Ron Swanson.

I'm halfway into my second trimester now, but I have yet to wake on any day feeling ethereal or glowing. In fact, the mornings are a toss-up– will I wake up and not want to get out of bed because of depression, or will I not want to get out of bed because I feel tireder than when I went to sleep? Or am I depressed because I am so tired? Can we please get a photo of me sprawled on the couch half-asleep, still in my pajamas at 11:30am, while my toddler watches Wall-E for the thirty-millionth time? Because this is pregnancy, folks.

The settings of the photos, too– let's pay attention to those. Frankly, I would love to be in a beautiful forest– or any beautiful nature setting anywhere (as long as there are flushing toilets somewhere close by, because you can bet me 25 Kegel exercises I am not squatting in the woods, sister!) Actually, forget nature. I would just love to be in a completely clean, completely picked-up house. I confessed tremulously to my sister my dreadful realization that I am never going to have a tidy house ever again. Or at least, not until Sean and this new baby are both big enough to be ordered to pick up their toys and have them follow through. Last week I decided I was going to pick up the playroom– I just couldn't stand it any longer. Sean helped me a little bit, but as anyone with a toddler knows, it takes five times as much effort and energy to supervise them in picking up toys as it does to just pick them up yourself. (There are times when I am intentional about making him pick up something he was just playing with, and I fully intend someday to have children who know how to pick up their own crap.) Energy is something I am sorely lacking these days, so I decided to just get it all picked up myself. And I did! I even swept the floor with a broom (yay laminate flooring!) I was so proud of myself– until I walked back into the living room, and the dining room, and the kitchen. (I didn't even think about Nate's and my bedroom.) Not only was the rest of the house still a disaster, but I had expended all the little amount of energy I could spare in just dealing with the playroom. I had nothing left to do the rest of the house. It began to dawn on me that I will never catch up– that by the time I had enough energy to deal with the living room, the playroom would no longer be spic-and-span.

So please, can we have a photo of my house– the house where I am just thankful we don't have a problem with rats the way one of Nate's test pilot school classmates has because frankly, my kitchen and dining room floors would be an all-you-can-eat buffet for a rat? We're celebrating pregnancy– and this is the setting for my pregnancy.

Okay, I'm being kind of snarky. Here's what I'm trying to say– can we start to see beauty in all the grime and grunge and messiness of pregnancy, too? If the only part of pregnancy that is beautiful and worth celebrating is the part where we look put together and our hair is done and we're wearing beautiful clothes and we're just big enough to have cute bumps (but we haven't gotten so big we start feeling like beached whales dressed in muumuus), then really what we're saying is that only approximately two and a half hours of pregnancy is beautiful. What about the rest of the time when we haven't been to the hair salon in four months (yep, that's me) and the only reason we're wearing this cute ankle-length skirt is to hide the fact that we haven't shaved our legs in two weeks (me again) and frankly if we had to do a pose that represents our strongest emotion about pregnancy then we'd look something like a dead cockroach with its legs in the air (except my back hurts so I can't keep my legs in the air very long.)

What about the pregnant moms who are depressed, like me? What about the ones who are so sick the whole pregnancy that they can't even function? What about the high-risk pregnancies that are full of fear and uncertainty? What about the rainbow pregnancies that are the same– because we are mamas who have lost babies and have a hard time experiencing any joy because we are so afraid of losing this baby too? What about all the pregnancies that are just really really ordinary– where you have those glowing moments, sure, but you also have constipation and heartburn and you wonder how you'll deal with having a tiny human being utterly dependent on you (or another tiny human being utterly dependent on you to add to those ones you already have). Can we start to see that there is beauty in all of those emotions, all of those moments, too? That a pregnant woman is beautiful all the time, not just when she looks like a photo out of a Motherhood Maternity add, because what's going on inside her body and her heart and soul and mind is so miraculous.

So– keep doing the ethereal and glowing maternity photo shoots. Absolutely. And if you want to strip mostly naked and wear a crown of flowers in your hair and sit in a field of wildflowers, you rock, sister.
Just remember– when you're wearing your husband's sweaty t-shirt and there's nothing in your hair but the oatmeal from your toddler's fingers while you try to wipe his face, and you feel like your back is breaking just lifting him down from his high-chair, and you try to remember how many days the laundry has been sitting in the dryer, and how many months it's been since you cleaned the bathroom, and you collapse at night in front of a mindless Netflix show wondering if you will ever be an interesting person and have interesting thoughts like you know you used to but it doesn't even matter because you are just. so. tired...
In those moments, you are beautiful. Your pregnancy is beautiful. The mothering work you are doing– whether this is your first or fifth baby– is beautiful. The beauty is not in spite of the grunge and grime and mess– the sweat and tears and blood. The beauty is because of those things– so let's celebrate them, too.

My wood-nymph pose in a realistic setting.