My lower and middle back is stiff and achy, and my ribs feel as if they’re about to split apart. Even though the chiropractor is working on my back, along with my slightly misaligned hips, I feel as if I’ve inhabited someone else’s body. The skin on my back has sprouted something akin to acne*, which I’ve never had to deal with as an adult, except for the occasional pimple or two on my face when I get my period. I have to wear a pantiliner every day, because sometimes when I sneeze or cough or laugh, a bit of pee leaks out.
(*Coconut oil helps tremendously.)
My feet are beginning to swell at the end of the day, even in my comfortably cushioned, grandma-style SAS shoes. I can’t put on or take off my shoes very easily, and a few days ago, I had to give in and ask my partner to file my toenails after struggling to trim them. Turning from one side to the other in bed is an orchestrated effort between my hips, feet, and several pillows.
Even though I’m now 22 weeks along, I still sometimes look in the mirror at my rounded belly and think, “Really, that’s me? That pregnant lady is actually me? That forty-year-old who up until a year ago was almost certainly convinced she’d never have children?” Then I look at my face, now slightly rounder and rosier than it used to be, and I recognize the girl-now-woman staring back at me with the unruly brown hair and quasi-retro black-framed glasses.
During the first trimester, I was somewhat of a deer in headlights, not really knowing where to begin the journey of becoming a mother, other than making my first appointment with an obstetrician, quitting alcohol and sushi, cutting back on caffeine and buying a bottle of prenatal vitamins, and Googling all kinds of things (don’t do it!) about pregnancy.
In those first few months, I freaked out about eating a tuna sandwich. I freaked out about vacuuming a bit too arduously. I freaked out about the time I cleaned the house with all kinds of chemicals and several beers I’d drank right before finding out I was pregnant. I freaked out about all the non-organic vegetables I’d been eating. I freaked out about using my cell phone or WiFi. I freaked out about the few maybe-too-warm showers I’d taken. I freaked out about the extremely light spotting I experienced for a day and a half early in the pregnancy. I freaked out about the herbal teas I thought were supposedly safe. I freaked out about inhaling anything—gas fumes, fracking fumes, aromatherapy fumes. I freaked out about freaking out.
By the time the first trimester was over, and we formally announced my pregnancy to the world, I was ready to begin the transformation and learn everything I could about it. The first books I read were The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm and Expecting Better by Emily Oster. A few friends had jokingly recommended What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but I never did read it, deciding I didn’t need to become even more paranoid. Instead, I opted for Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Childbirth by Henci Goer, and Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond by Nancy Bardacke.
As a person who believes in the virtues of local-grown chemical-free food, daily yoga and meditation, and limiting the use of digital gadgetry, it’s no wonder that all this reading led me to my gut instinct about giving birth.
I had started out with an obstetrician because—well, that’s what most women do. But after a few visits, it became clear that I didn’t want to trust my health and birth of my baby with a medical professional who treated me like the next in line, shamed me for asking too many questions, and pretty much scared me into thinking that I or my baby would die if we didn’t do things “her way.” (I had flashbacks to the senile nuns at my elementary Catholic school, who did everything short of slapping your hand with a ruler.)
So I switched my care to a midwife who is available 24/7 and has given me the confidence I needed to make it the rest of the way through this pregnancy and ultimately through the natural child-birthing experience. (Yes, without drugs, yes, at home, and yes, they transfer your care to a hospital well ahead of time if needed because midwives are professionally trained and licensed to make these decisions.)
I’m finding this has given me strength in other ways. When I need to speak up about something I feel is wrong. When I need to get out of my comfort zone and fill a responsibility I’m not used to taking on. When I need to drive somewhere, and the route isn’t familiar. When I need to trust myself that I know what I am doing, and moreover, that I have the skills, wisdom, and experience to go beyond that. That even when things are hard or confusing, it’s no time to give up.