January 9, 2013
Baby With a Heartbeat
There are so many things I’ve forgotten to worry about this time around: dwarfism, hermaphroditism, whether my baby would be born entirely covered with one big hairy mole like someone I saw once on Jerry Springer. My pregnancy was confirmed in September with the faintest double line on a home test (albeit the fifth test I’d taken that week. My un-neurotic behaviour only ever extends so far. But I’d known I was pregnant, even if the four negative tests had been oblivious). And after that, I didn’t even get a blood test. I made very few pregnancy-related google queries. One the odd day that I felt well, I didn’t panic and start to think that something was wrong. I was having the rare experience of living life as a normal person does, and it was a really, really nice way to be.
This was entirely different from my previous pregnancy, which tied me up in such knots that my midwife had worried about my blood pressure. Having never had a baby before, I’d found it impossible to believe it was possible, that my body would know how to perform this miraculous thing. It made me crazy to know that that here I was with this enormous responsibility, the creation of a person, and no control over the process. The no control thing was the worst of it, and it seemed really irresponsible to me. This time though, it was easy to accept it, to understand that being pregnant is fundamentally a passive exercise. Part of my ease with this was because it was easier to accept passivity, and with work, a small child and a first-trimester to contend with, any shortcut is welcome. The other part, I think, was because I already am a mother, and spend a large number of my waking (and sometimes non-waking) hours doing “mothering things”. I didn’t feel the need I’d felt before to enact pregnancy (worry about soft cheese and abdominal twinges) in order to stake a claim on motherhood. I had my claim. I also know that this baby is never going to be so easy to take care of as during its time in the womb–let’s enjoy the silence while we can.
(Note: As I say, my un-neurotic behaviour only extends so far. Don’t think that I haven’t supposed that my complacency will inevitably result in calamity. That just when I start to take security for granted, the whole thing will fall to pieces. That I will publish this post, and then find out tomorrow that baby forgot to grow internal organs. But I haven’t supposed so much. I can pack up these thoughts away in a box, which is really something significant.)
When I was pregnant with Harriet, I didn’t know her name or sex, or anything about her, but I spent a lot of time imagining. I wrote her letters, played her music, read her stories every night. I understood that bonding with this tiny being was a really important process, so I worked at this. From fetal kicks, we determined that she loved Motown, we read her Teddy Jam’s Night Cars on repeat so that apparently she’d recognize it, she knew my voice, she knew her daddy’s. Life the soft cheese aversion and anxiety, I think what I was really doing was staking a claim on motherhood. But then she was born, and she was a total stranger. I’d never imagined her face, she didn’t seem to like Motown at all, she was more amphibian than human. It occurred to me that my “bonding” had been 100% projection. The disparity between who she was and the baby I’d imagined (who, to be fair, was at least six months old) made those early days all the more difficult to navigate.
Which is probably part of the reason I’ve not really started using our new baby’s name or proper pronoun, though I’m aware of both. I tell myself that this baby hears more stories in utero than Harriet ever did, because I read stories to Harriet all day long (and most are of far superior quality to the children’s literature I had access to four years ago. Indeed, motherhood has opened up whole literary worlds). Perhaps the strongest bond that I feel to my new baby as a person is that this is Harriet’s sibling, which is a wondrous thing for me to behold. Any sibling of Harriet is someone I’d really like to meet, even if I have no idea what its favourite song is. Yet.
Baby has been kicking away all along as I’ve been sitting here writing this, and I don’t mean to convey that this feeling doesn’t fill me with overwhelming joy. But it’s more a harbinger than a direct message. The sight of tiny feet on my ultrasound two weeks ago, the galloping heartbeat at my last pre-natal appointment. When I went in for my first ultrasound at 11 weeks, and the technician who was blessed with people-skills said to me as soon as she’d started, confirming: “Baby with a heartbeat.” The first outside indication of fetal life since that faint double line six weeks before. That phrase was a kind of music, a song I have such faith in, and I love to play it over and over again inside my mind.