When I found out I was pregnant, after the initial shock and disbelief, my first move was to lunge for my thrift store copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, circa 1993 edition.
I immediately developed an affectionate name for it: The Big Book of Bad News. If I had cracked the cover before the nine-month countdown began, it may have frightened me away from motherhood altogether. The first few chapters introduced me to my future of swollen feet and ankles, stretch marks, back pain, nausea caused by prenatal vitamins, peeing when you sneeze, tender gums, puking, exhaustion and other horrors I’d prefer not to name here.
It’s a lot to take in right away: the nine (really 10) months of misery that await, and the very real prospect that, when it’s all said and done, your body will just never look and feel the same way again.
Even now, at better than halfway through this pregnancy, it’s scary to think how much worse things might get, or what complications still might manifest themselves. I’ve been blessed with a great pregnancy so far, thanks to God and my mom’s exceptional childbearing genetics, but the Big Book still sometimes keeps me up at night.
That said, I don’t think people spend enough time talking about the beauty and joy of pregnancy. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve loved the anticipation as my baby develops and even the mystery of seeing my body transform to accommodate the incredible otherness of new life.
So here, in honor of Mother’s Day (just a day late) are ten things that I truly love about pregnancy and will always be grateful to have experienced. Without further ado:
1. Learning how baby is developing this week
Every Wednesday I celebrate the passing of another gestational week down by reading up on how baby will grow and develop in the coming week. Wednesday is now the highlight of my week as I look forward to finding out if baby is the size of a mango or spaghetti squash. (Incidentally, it turns out all prenatal size comparison must be done in terms of fruits or vegetables). And it’s nothing short of miraculous to learn that your tiny new growing baby can already suck his or her thumb, or grip things in a tiny fist, or respond to music or the sound of your voice. Parental pride starts early, and it’s intoxicating.
2. Telling people
After that first strange 12 weeks, when a lot of people wait to share pregnancy news (and during which, incidentally, some of the worst symptoms of pregnancy manifest themselves) it is such a relief and delight to tell friends about your new hopes and dreams and the baby growing inside. Just thinking about the delight that came from telling family members and close friends has me grinning again. So many people are thrilled to celebrate with you, especially if this news makes them an aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, or honorary relative-in-waiting.
3. Not having to tell people
Everyone develops their unmistakeable baby bump at their own pace, and my feelings about when I hoped mine would pop were decidedly mixed. The Big Book has very clear ideas about how much weight one should gain during each trimester of pregnancy and I thought a late-blooming bump might be my best shot of keeping things by the book. But it was a huge relief when my belly got big and round enough to announce itself. A guy outside the Dupont Circle Metro asked me about baby names the other day, and even though that was a bit forward, I was secretly pleased. There’s no hiding it; baby is on the way.
4. Joining the club
Nothing prepared me for the miraculous generosity I would experience when veteran parents learned that I was joining their club. Baby furniture, accessories and clothes are often sturdy and well-made, and parents have a sentimental connection with them. They love to give or lend their lightly used and well-loved items to a new parent who can make good use of them. I haven’t bought a single baby item yet, but I now have a gorgeous crib, bookshelf and dresser set; two pricey strollers; an infant car seat; a box of clothes with items for each gender; a brand-name baby carrier wrap; and an assortment of age-appropriate toys. All without asking for anything. Not only do these gifts and loaners ease my anxiety about affording life with a new baby, they reassure me that I am not alone. There’s a lovely community of parents surrounding me that can offer wisdom, advice, support, and — yes — hand-me-downs.
I had my first confirmation-of-pregnancy sonogram when I was just past eight weeks along. It was early enough that I was still wondering if my body was playing trick on me. And then, there it was: that tiny throbbing heartbeat, small and strong at the same time. It was all real. I was going to be a mom.
I’ve never gotten any of those high-speed ones that show the contours of the baby’s face with 3-D imaging, but I’ve watched the baby move his or her arms and legs and counted ten tiny fingers and toes, which is miraculous enough. Getting those pictures to take home, whether they are grainy or high-definition, is comforting confirmation of the invisible miracle happening inside you. And — take it from someone who has stumbled dazedly around a hospital parking lot looking for my car after an appointment — it’s literally intoxicating.
6. Kicks and flutters
Over the last few weeks, the baby’s movements have become more persistent and unmistakeable. I’ve likened it to having a tiny manatee swimming around in a little aquarium inside my belly, bouncing off the walls every so often. I never know when I’m going to feel the little kicks, but I’m always comforted when I do. It’s a reminder that something truly strange and miraculous is happening inside me, and a promise that someday soon I’ll be able to kiss those little kicking fists and feet.
7. Doing it all
I’m deeply fortunate that my pregnancy has not much interfered with my day job (apart, perhaps, from making me more irrational and irritable with my coworkers — sorry.) But there’s a feeling of empowerment that comes when I’ve completed a productive workday or time in the field doing interviews, all while acting as a nurturing home for an ever-growing and developing little one. When I sit in a press briefing or cover a hearing while my baby kicks inside of me, I feel like a total badass. Excuse my French.
8. Moments alone
Husband and I have not found out the baby’s gender, and it’s hard to know what to say to a little someone you have never met anyhow. But every so often, baby and I sit by ourselves and talk. I tell the baby that I pray he or she will grow up courageous and strong, kind and compassionate, fearless and gentle. I tell baby I can’t wait until we meet. I always cry; I can’t help it. I’m not given to this kind of emotion and affection, and I love how this little person is drawing it out of me. Anticipation of our first meeting getting closer by the day is enough to put all The Big Book’s scary childbirth stories out of mind.
9. The perfect excuse
I try not to dwell too much on this one, but it’s nice to have a trusty fallback excuse when I come home from work and just feel too exhausted to make a real dinner or do that waiting chore. It’s a little internal absolution for wearing giant sweatpants out of the house or taking a nap at 6p.m. or asking my husband to get me a glass of water because I just can’t move. It’s possible I won’t want to give up my excuses after the baby is born, and that’s a bit concerning. But for now, everyone seems okay with giving me that extra little bit of grace, and I’ll take what I can get.
10. Mother’s Day
The outpouring of Mother’s Day love I received yesterday was really unexpected. I don’t feel like a mom just yet, and I have some dues to pay in the shape of 18 more weeks of pregnancy and then labor and delivery. But I was deeply touched by the family members and friends who included me in the day in honor of the course I’m on and what’s ahead. It’s sobering to think of all the sacrificial love my mother has shown me and how the other mothers I know do so much for their children at great cost to themselves.
I don’t really feel ready to join that precious community and I’m full of doubts about my own ability to do the job. But I’m comforted to have the moms in my life embracing me on this journey. Every day makes me more aware of heir sacrifices and more grateful for their grace and love.