Right now, the gender of our baby is written on a little slip of paper in an envelop in a wooden box on a shelf in our bedroom. Even though I want to be surprised on the baby’s birthday (“it’s the best prize in the Cracker Jack box you’ll ever get,” says my friend Andrea), I couldn’t resist having the information. Just in case. You know, in case someone holds a gun to my head and insists on knowing if it’s a boy or a girl.
I can’t decide if I want it to be a boy or a girl, not that it matters at this point what I want. I can see pros and cons to each. I wanted a girl at first. I’ve got two sisters and no brothers, 4 aunts and no biological uncles. Until I was fifteen I was kind of unsure that boys were actually human, what with their hairiness and seeming inability to put down the toilet seat. Now I like them fine, but it took me awhile. So at first I wanted a girl, the kind who liked pink and ballet and barrettes and Laura Ingalls Wilder. But then my friend Sandy said, “I had my daughter when I was thirty-seven. Do you know what that meant? It meant she hit puberty exactly when I hit menopause! Man, was our house a hormone haven for awhile there.”
So then, being 38, I decided I wanted a boy. Boys like their mothers for longer, or at least they seem to have a shorter window of that mid-adolescent rampant disgust where they insult your fashion choices and your favorite bands. But then again, if I have a son, he will have to worry about balding. My father is bald, and baldness is inherited through the mother, so my poor son will most definitely have that to contend with. And according to this week’s New Yorker, baldness will be completely obsolete by 2036 when my son starts to lose his hair. He will have to get a transplant in the same way kids today have to wear braces.
Also, the more pressing issue is that whole gun problem. Naturally, you can guess that I won’t be one of those parents giving my kid a gun, even a toy one. But from what I’ve witnessed, at a certain age, boys make guns out of really anything handy; a bread knife, a stick, their penis. The toy elephant.
It’s good that we are still a few years away from letting people chose the gender of their baby. And I think we will keep the little slip of paper in the box. I can wait.
Pregnancy is a long wait. Then again, if I were an elephant, I’d have to wait two years.
I have had what the doctors call a “high risk pregnancy.” This is because I am of advanced maternal age (38), have had fertility problems for 10 years, have had a miscarriage and have had a lot of bleeding and spotting. For these reasons, I was told not to exercise—at all—until given further direction.
“What does no exercise mean?” this old addict asks. “No bungee jumping?”
My kind midwife, Pam, a lovely woman with soft skin and smooth dark hair, says, “No walking, except when necessary, and try to park your car in the closest parking spot at the supermarket. No calisthenics or lifting things.”
“Can I do yoga?” I say, desperately.
She smiles. “Maybe a couple of minutes of very mild stretching, but if you are still bleeding, you’ll need to stop. Just enjoy this time of being still. Think of yourself as hibernating.”
And so, from mid October to mid December, I hadn’t so much as walked around our small city park. My husband brought the grocery bags in from the car. I reached for glasses on tall shelves and surreptitiously got a good stretch along my obliques, but other than that, I eschewed exercise, taking this abstinence on as a spiritual practice.
What I missed most was the sky. I missed going for my morning and afternoon walks and smelling the way the air changes, depending on the weather and the season. I missed watching the clouds form and change, watching the way the sun interacts with them. Whenever I was outside during my two-month spiritual practice (which was rare) I stopped and just smelled.
I am now in my second trimester, which, as you know if you’ve been close to a pregnant woman, is purported to be the trimester of joy and laughter, where food tastes great, sex is unbelievable and your energy returns in spades.
“The second trimester is one long celebration,” my friend Julie says.
“What do you mean?” I say. Julie is now the mother of an eight month old. I call her periodically, clinging to her every word as though she is an oracle. First time pregnant women are like this: they drill their friends with detailed questions. Usually the response from the friend, who is of course now a mother, and therefore somewhat preoccupied, is “Hmmm. I don’t really remember if I felt mild tuggings in my uterus at week 15,” or, “No I can’t recall the exact moment when I stopped feeling nauseated.”
What Julie does say is, “I just felt great about myself, hopeful about the future, everything fell right into place.”
I’ve been experiencing this too. At about fifteen weeks, my nausea went away—just like that. Poof! No more nausea. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so good, which made me amazed at how bad I must have felt before. My energy returned in a surge and I wrote, and sang and made phone calls and generally felt like a great Colossus striding about the earth. Not only that, by week sixteen I was given the go ahead to walk and do yoga, after my two month kibosh. My body began to feel like my body again, only with a gigantic annex. My appetite returned with a vengeance, although it’s still mostly for weird things like mustard, vinegar and pickles. Best of all, the week before Christmas I felt the baby move for the first time. It felt like someone with tiny fingers drumming on the underside of my belly.
I am full of joy these days. My baby thumps at me regularly, reminding me that he or she is there, a compassionate witness to my journey perhaps, or maybe just a bored passenger. Either way, I have company. I am reminded of this so often that finally, the pregnancy seems real to me. And what a wonderful unique moment of life, to be so utterly in love with another being, and not even know if it’s male or female. Aside from God, who else do we love like that?