My life changes momentously. Just after my twenty-second birthday, at the start of an exciting career, a year from my wedding day, I shakily hold a test strip showing one more line than expected. PREGNANT.
Along with shock, I am mortified to feel a strong mix of rage, guilt, and pity. When sharing “the news,” the excitement of my mother catches me off guard and I am unable share her joy. I reject my fiancé’s touch when he reaches for my belly. My emotionless face clearly makes others uncomfortable.
Why am I not ecstatic? Do I lack heart, a soul, all maternal emotion? Do I not know how others so want children only to be denied? How can I be so ungrateful?
A fantastic liar, I feign joy to please those who demand it. My life is not mine anymore, I‘m just an incubator. My craving for cigarettes, wine, sex with abandon, even caffeine, is inconsequential. The fact that I constantly check myself for blood with both dread and hope is perverse. I know to bury these repulsive truths; instead, I smile as I turn down drinks, make a habit of publicly stroking my not-yet protruding belly, and try my best to seem content while others congratulate the father-to-be and inquire about the condition of my uterus.
All self-identity disappears; where has my confident, feminist self gone? The reproductive system that is to be either worshiped or controlled is working against me, and I can’t “choose a camp.” I am far from embracing my female power to create life, yet, I do not regard the life-filled cells in my uterus to be parasitic, to be less worthy of life than myself.
While believing in choice for others, abortion is not one for me. The first trimester of my pregnancy is the loneliest time of my life. Dangerously dehydrating nausea and fatigue ravage my body, sheer jealousy rips through me while my partner continues life unaffected by pregnancy’s discomforts, and the bitter, self-directed rage that consumes me when my friends plan their futures is tangible. Worse than this, unbearable pity for my unloved child shakes my entire being. I spend nights clutching my stomach, shaking, sobbing, “I’m sorry, Baby. I’m so sorry.” No child deserves such a mother.
Some compare the first trimester of a pregnancy to climbing a mountain; for me, the metaphor of climbing implies too much determination, progress, hope. I am crushed under an Everest. Five months pass, and, at my lowest, I am kicked. My unborn daughter gathers all the strength she has in her small body and, “OH!” As if she turns a switch on inside me, unimaginable love bubbles in my core, surges through my veins, springs from my eyes, and causes my heart to overflow. For the first time in my life, I cry tears of joy. I have not been so alone after all. I really am “with child”- better yet, she is with me.
As she draws nourishment from my body, I draw strength from hers. Her kick is a revelation. I realize that my identity is not limited to the plans I had, or even what I believe in. I am not what I feel at any given moment; I am the sum of my decisions. I may not have been ready, I may not have been happy, but I am not a coward. I did what I knew was right, despite its hardships. I have integrity.
Motherhood does not make me perfect; hormones rage, I miss my pre-pregnancy jeans, and I sometimes mourn the ability to make plans without thinking of someone else. Occasionally I feel more like a girl in trouble than a competent mother, but I know I‘m ok, because she gives me all the strength I need.
I may not have realized it, but I did succeed that mountain. And the view is breathtaking.
Winner of the Voices of Motherhood Writing Contest