When my father was younger, he was very outspoken (what am I saying? he still is; see his Twitter, @mavconservative–but if you do, two things: (1) he’s going blind so forgive the typos; and (2) we are two separate people–I do not condone, endorse, or even keep abreast of what he expresses on there).
One of his BIG issues that he wrote about constantly in school papers and local publications alike was abortion. He’s right wing, and he’s always been very, very, very, very against it. Interesting fact though: he is not religious. He does not believe in God. His reasoning behind his view is based on principle alone; his own sense of right and wrong. As a result of this strongly held view, he has never shied away from publicly writing about what women should do with their bodies, and he’s always presented himself (despite not being a woman and lacking any medical degree) as an authority who knows all there is to know about women’s bodies–and pregnancy.
I know: lucky me.
When he visited me recently, I explained to him (against my better judgment) how foreign pregnancy felt. I remember seeing pregnant women before I got pregnant, I told him. They never looked particularly uncomfortable to me. People giving up their seats for them seemed more like a courtesy than a necessity. They seemed generally cheerful, and functional. Smiling, rested, able to maneuver fine. Easy-peasy.
Not quite. In trimester one, I was taken aback by three months straight of morning to night nausea and debilitating fatigue. In the movies, morning sickness seems like it’s something that lasts a day, or maybe a week or two–not months.
I felt like I was constantly hungover–a feeling I knew very well.
In my pre-transformation life, my friend Jennifer and I were like sisters, joined at the hip. She lived on 77th and Lexington, and I lived on 89th and Lexington. We’d go out every night downtown, then we’d finish the night off in one of the places in between our two apartments. We’d then sleep over together at one of our apartments, hobbling to breakfast together the next morning.
Well, guess where my hospital and doctor’s office are? 77th street near Lexington. When Jimmy and I go, we usually stay in the area to eat or even walk up to 86th to run errands. Every time, I point out yet another bar or speakeasy I have some fuzzy memory in (Jimmy doesn’t love these stories, but in the moment I feel compelled to tell them, if only to remind myself of an increasingly distant life that doesn’t seem like it was mine).
Two or three months ago, we were walking the stretch between 77th and 86th after a doctor visit, and I was feeling like shit. Like I was severely hungover (complete with the headache). The stark contrast between the life I had then and now, mixed with the almost identical feeling, suddenly hit me in that moment.
Walking those blocks with that feeling was like being transported somewhere else in time–but I couldn’t fully recall it because I was now a long, long way away from there. My body was taxed not because of self-destructive drinking and late nights out on the town, but because of what I was creating: two new lives, the direct result of my new life with my new husband. I wouldn’t be going into any of those bars anymore, and I felt no urge to. They had nothing for me. I passed them as if they had become complete strangers, no longer applicable to me.
I digress, though (shocker).
First, turning back to those pregnant women I’d see, what the hell, ladies? Couldn’t you have shown some discomfort, bitched a little, so I’d have some actual idea of what this experience would be like?
Now to be fair I am pregnant with twins. That doubles the hormones (which doubles the nausea) and doubles the belly size, etc. But, still. The acid reflux, the pain in my ligaments around my pelvis as my body struggles to hold the weight, how tired my legs are, how I couldn’t (at all) outrun a predator right now (rogue mountain lions, etc.) even if I tried with everything I’ve got.
But then there are the amazing parts too, and I guess that’s why the pregnant women I encountered never complained. What is temporary discomfort in comparison to seeing two new bodies–filled with new, separate, individual souls–forming inside me? What is it compared to seeing two functioning, beating hearts, two sets of organs? To seeing them make their first facial expressions? Huddling together head-to-head in the womb, forming their first bond with another?
It’s nothing of course.
But even the good parts are a far cry from normal; they’re extraordinary. Them moving inside me — and watching my belly externally morph as they do — is extraordinary. And in due time, out they’ll come, two living, breathing beings that will turn into full-fledged adults with their own life journeys. Incredible.
Getting back to my father (yes I did have a plan to pick that up again eventually)–he listened attentively to me talk about what was going on with my body. How my organs got literally moved, stretched and squished to accommodate my bulging uterus (I had an info-graphic to prove it); how I had started waking up with an esophagus full of vomit (“that’s acid reflux,” he said); how I’d get random, excruciating leg cramps if I slept the wrong way; how I didn’t really understand just how different it all would feel.
Every thing I mentioned, he acted like he already knew it. “Well, yes that’s what happens to pregnant women.” “Yes, but women’s bodies have been making babies for thousands of years, nothing unusual about what you’re describing.” “No, that doesn’t sound right; pregnant women usually don’t have increased pressure on their bladder until they get a little bigger.” “The acid reflux is related to the pregnancy, it’s normal.”
He seemed incapable of listening without firing back a know-it-all response. I kind of wanted to strangle him.
Then he told me about an article he wrote in college.
Did I ever tell you my father is a brave man? But I mean brave in the way that Trump is brave–i.e., audacious.
In this article, he explained how pregnancy was a normal condition of a woman’s body. The point he was trying to make, he said, is that this is what women’s bodies are made to do; biologically, we’re designed for it. There was nothing special about it, nothing that warranted extra consideration or special treatment. And, above all, it was not a condition or a process we got to claim as our own, or make our own choices about, even as it was occurring in our bodies; it was merely the way the world, and the sexes, were set up.
He intended it to be another article against abortion, but the women who read it back then didn’t focus on that part, he told me. They more so couldn’t get past his claim that pregnancy was “normal.” He told me that once the article was published, he got a seemingly never-ending flood of angry response letters from countless women explaining, in graphic detail, just how abnormal pregnancy was. He said the sheer number of the letters he got–coupled with their disturbing content–did give him pause; perhaps he didn’t know as much about it as he thought.
Later at my sonogram appointment, my dad was mainly silent, straining to see the babies on the screen through the keyhole that remains of his vision without much success. When the doctor came, though, he cornered him immediately. He told him I had been suffering from acid reflux–what could be done about it? What could I take? Surely there was something.
I don’t know that that moment marked a shift in his thinking about pregnancy, but I’d like to think that it did. I don’t expect he will ever support abortion, and if I’m being honest, I don’t know my own mind on that issue either (though I am generally liberal); it’s so incredibly complex, despite both sides’ efforts to simplify it. But setting that aside, it would be nice if, in the course of having only daughters and supporting them through life’s trials and tribulations, he got some sense of true empathy for the female experience.
As for my own view, pregnancy is one of the most abnormal, extraordinary things that has ever happened to me. Transformation in the deepest sense of the word, though nothing like I expected. I imagine parenthood will be the same way.