Gravid. Enciente. Carrying. Heavy. Expecting. With child. Pregnant.
All of these words describe… me. But my favorite colorful phrase was when a bartender at the barbecue joint down the street said I looked like I was “smuggling basketballs.” Yes, basketballs — plural. (No, I’m not having twins.) And that was two months ago. Now that I’m within two weeks of my due date, a neighbor who saw me out walking this week said I looked like a “bean pole with a watermelon stuffed up [my] shirt.” Um… thanks?
I’m not sure that anything could have prepared me for the many changes of pregnancy and becoming a mother. But then again I’m a human, and a tad neurotic at times… and as such I tend to overthink things.
Wild animals don’t have these hang-ups. They simply procreate. (Sometimes I wish I was a wild animal, to escape all the overthinking I tend to do. But then I take a hot bath, and I thank the universe I’m human enough to enjoy such a simple pleasure.)
April and May are the months when most red wolves birth their litters. The females spend time searching out a den site where they bring their pups into the world. These are often subteranean holes they excavate from a slope or embankment. A hill in the woods is nice, but they’ll make do with a canal bank in a farmer’s field too. Their classic subteranean formation has a short entry, then a right turn into the den chamber. Other dens are simple pockets in the earth, encircled by brush. Still others are above-ground “bowl” formations, simple shallow depressions scraped out of the earth — usually in scrub or forest so dense that the vegetation itself is a barrier to other animals finding or encountering the delicate, blind puppies. I would have loved to take a trip down to the red wolf recovery area to visit the biologists and perhaps tag along as they spent time in April and May walking-in on the red wolf dens to document this year’s puppy crop. Sadly, my swollen belly precludes den crawling this season. My own nesting instincts kicked in about two weeks ago, when I finally had the energy and motivation to transform my office, shared with my husband, into the baby’s nursery. Aren’t nurseries really just dens of the human sort? Like the female breeding wolves, I’ll spend the next couple of whiles holed up in this newly done-over room with my baby, when it comes, feeding it and protecting it until it’s big and strong enough to be taken out into the world. With this in mind, I can identify in a way with the red wolf’s instinct to create a space she feels safe and protected within.
But the gestational period I’ve been through is nearly 4.5 times as long as a red wolf’s. I’ve no idea how much first-time red wolf mothers learn, but for me the learning curve has been vertical: learning about the physical changes of pregnancy that are common to all women, as well as the inner changes that are unique to each woman. Here are some things I’ve learned:
- Pregnant women spark smiles in complete strangers. In fact, strangers are twice as likely to smile at pregnant me versus non-pregnant me.
- When I dress in something that strategically locates a bow atop my big baby belly, strangers are ten times as likely to smile.
- When grocery store managers spontaneously grab my cart as I exit the store to “help” me to my car, despite my protests, it’s best to just go along with it.
- I always thought pregnant me would not slow down, that I’d be the same hardcore energy whirlwind that I’ve always been. I was dismally, terribly, and completely wrong.
- “Baby brain” is a real biological constraint on a pregnant lady’s day-to-day life.
- I will never again take for granted slumbering peacefully through the night.
- My physical capacity for vomiting is nearly endless. My mental capacity for vomiting is far weaker.
- Taking naps does not mean a pregnant woman is weak. We’re just growing a tiny human, and it takes a ton of energy.
- No matter how much Hollywood and the media try to glam it up, in reality pregnancy can be a rough ride. I think people don’t talk about this openly because we prefer clinging to the bright and shiny narrative that pregnancy graces women with an ethereal glow which turns us into transient angels on earth.
- It’s okay to admit that pregnancy does not agree with me. It doesn’t mean I’ll love my baby any less.
Yet, the physical changes to how I look and feel, and the discomforts of the past 38 weeks, are only one aspect of this journey. The biggest changes have been mental: how I conceive of the future, and myself and my growing family within it.