Saturday, June 23, 2007

:: Confessions of a Competitive Pregnant Lady ::

I wrote a couple of months ago about my new mommy friend whose positive attitude I so admire. I was struck by how genuinely she seemed to be enjoying pregnancy, even the last few weeks, while I, still 14 weeks behind her in the process, was feeling less then sunny. And that's not even quite true, because I was feeling great, but I was also occasionally plagued by feeling not-great, and I was conflicted about how and when to share that.

As the weeks pass and my due date grows more imminent, the conflict about how much to "admit" about how I'm feeling rears up again and again. On Thursday, for example, at my 38-week OB appointment, I told my doc that baby is still doing great -- moving like crazy and all -- but I feel a bit like pregnancy has smacked me in the face. Last Saturday, as if it had been scheduled and written on some invisible calendar, I started feeling uber-pregnant. I felt big, unweildy. My back ached, my hips ached, my pelvis ached. The ligaments connecting my inner thigh muscles with my pelvis -- and the muscles themselves -- twinged with even the slightest wrong movement. My sacro-iliac joint (the joint that forms between the hip bone and the lower spine) was moving. And I was exhausted.

My mom, to whom I talked that afternoon, hung up the phone with the conviction that I was about to have that baby. It was like suddenly I was a different person.

The week since then has proven much the same. I had a few days of strong Braxton Hicks contractions. A few more days of being exhausted. My back aches even when I wake up.

But at that Thursday-morning OB appointment, as I told this to my doctor, I could see pity registering on her face. She tried to be extra nice to me during the exam, too. I have been dilated 2 cm for three weeks, and she checked me and gave me a sad look like she'd just watch me trip over my evening gown in the Miss American pageant and said, "Well, still about 2 to 3" as if I didn't know she was really saying, "Yeah, you're stuck at 2 and you're never going to dilate more than that."

As we walked out the exam room door after the appointment, she gave us an even sadder look, a look meant to commiserate with us. And it made me feel awful. I really still feel pretty good. I have been walking 4 miles a day -- broken into two walks -- and still cleaning the house, working on my dissertation, running errands. I'm hardly broken or even bent. And here was my doctor looking at me like I am the most miserable, uncomfortable human being on earth.

When I got into my car alone -- Brian in his own car on his way to work -- I burst spontaneously into tears. It was part disappointment that nothing has changed -- baby is still engaged, cervix is still at 2cm -- and part disappointment that I could look and sound pathetic enough to garner such a response from my doc, who surely has seen women more uncomfortable than I.

The whole rest of Thursday I tried to ignore all pregnancy-related ailments. I went for my walk with Brian that night and didn't mention my contractions (walking brings on Braxton Hicks like crazy for me), I didn't ask for a massage that night, I tried generally to just be not-pregnant.

By Friday night I was back to my sorely-pregnant self. I want so badly to be this really positive, healthy, cheerful pregnant woman -- to weather the storm of the last few weeks without complaint -- but it's hard. Things hurt.

And the kicker is this, which is hard to admit: I think the reason I want so badly to be so fabulous through this final stretch is that I want to somehow out-do other pregnant women. "You're miserable," some secret part of me wants to cry, "but look how great I'm still doing." There are bragging rights involved in being pregnant, and also a very strong cultural imperative, I think, to be healthy, be strong, and be good at being pregnant. There's definitely pressure to keep your weight within specific limits (and I get it that there are medical reasons for this, which is at least 33.3% of why I have tried not to gain the maximum amount of weight recommended, but wanting my prepregnancy body back as quickly as possible definitely constitutes at least as much, as does wanting people to tell me, at nine months, how great I look for being nine months pregnant). The women who waddle their way into the delivery room, who gain "too much" weight, whose ankles are swollen to the size of birch trees, these women haven't "succeeded" at pregnancy the way some women do. And yeah, I'll admit it, I want people to see me as someone who has not just made it to the finish line but who has arrived at the end of 26.2 miles with breath, energy, and sweat to spare.

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