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Fumbling Through ‘Is This Your First Baby?’

14w4d - I’m very nearly the sort of pregnant that suggests Oh, she is harboring life! rather than Too many cider donuts, maybe? This is novel, to say the least. I have been fortunate enough as an adult to be stretched pretty thin, so looking considerably rounder than usual feels not too dissimilar from seeing the results of my inaugural makeup application at age 11, at the hand of my best girlfriend’s sister—a high-schooler with a penchant for jewel tones. Then, as now, I peered incredulously into the mirror and thought, So this is what being a grownup feels like. Awkward. Uneasy. Excellent.

I haven’t been out much these days, as 13 weeks of smell aversions, dry heaves, and near-narcoleptic exhaustion have quarantined me from the general public (but ho-boy am I grateful for it all!). Which means I’ve seen no one and no one’s seen me in some time. Which means the only one who could have noticed I look a little greener or grander would be The Mister.

But I do voyage occasionally for my continuously palatable foods—ginger ale, Annie’s Shells and Cheddar, oyster crackers, Ba-Tempte pickles—and after much trial and grievous error, I’ve found post-9pm to be ideal for hitting the grocery store, as the prepared meals have long lost their just-made smells so it’s the time of day least likely for me to retch on another shopper. This week, after I added double-chocolate pudding cups to my cart, a grocery stock-gal asked, smiling and looking from my cart to my belly, “First baby?”

I had no idea how to respond.

Pausing as if to translate her question into my native tongue, I muttered a half-hearted, “Yes?” and beelined toward the checkout. I was unnerved and embarrassed, not only because the only human who had laid eyes on me in weeks was now convinced I was the biggest goon in town (with perhaps the worst diet), but also because I was at a complete loss for how I would, from here on, be able to confirm the existence of this baby and revere the experiences of my two miscarriages in the last year.

I spent some serious time following each miscarriage trying to reconcile how to make these losses pertinent to my understanding of myself. Was I the sort of person who would recount them casually, if asked? No, we have no living children—though we did miscarry twice. The dinner parties I’d be invited back to!

Following each miscarriage, as I was still too raw and unraveled to speak coherently with anyone who might actually offer me valuable perspective, I sunk myself in first-person accounts of pregnancy and baby loss. And while I can wax emphatic about the dearth of quality books there are out there on the topic, I can say that I found two collections in particular—About What Was Lost and Wanting a Child to be quintessential for getting out of my own head and beginning to process the impact of these experiences, long after I’d finished the essays they contained.

In Wanting a Child, I highlighted and circled this passage (from Heedless Love by Barbara Jones), which I revisited after my botched supermarket exchange and countless times since:

“The irrevocable moment in becoming a parent is not the moment you conceive a child; it’s the moment you conceive of her.”

Three and a half months into this seemingly textbook pregnancy, I’m no closer to feeling entirely comfortable telling well-intentioned strangers about our obstetrical history with total candor (though blogging about it certainly is warming me to the idea), and I still feel a pang of regret—or guilt? Longing? Just sadness?—when I confirm that this will, indeed, be our first baby. I’ve resigned to figuring this out over time, knowing that my responses will likely always be contingent on the circumstances, the asker, the pull of my heart in that moment.

But I am finally ready to hear how other women have come to terms with their losses and subsequent gains: What goes into your How many kids do you have? reply?

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