Monday, November 30, 2009

Anticipation: Second Trimester

My baby has been moving a lot lately. I’ve been aware of his movements for about a month now; he is especially active at night when I am still. His movements don’t feel sharp or jarring, but rather like gentle bubbles or rolls. I wish I could visualize how he is moving in there—is he turning full somersaults, or just stretching his arms and legs? And how much are his movements related to my own? Does he kick when I am putting too much pressure on the side where he is curled? Is he rocked and thus soothed when I am active? Does he grow hungry when I am hungry, or is the transference of nutrients not so direct? There is so much that is a mystery to me, so many questions I could ask of my midwife, and yet only so much time to find out the answers before another few months—and new stages of development-- have flown by.

It’s hard to believe I’m nearing the end of my second trimester, soon to enter the final stretch of preparation for birth and for HUGE LIFE CHANGES-- not to mention entering that physical stage where things start to get more uncomfortable.

I am so grateful for the time I have had during this pregnancy to read, to write, and to ponder this great unfolding mystery. I know that most pregnant women don’t have this luxury, and instead must carry the usual stresses of work and home at the same time that their bodies go through so many cycling surges of joy, fear, worry, awe, and excitement. I wish that all pregnant women could take the time to go into personal retreat, or to at least take as much time to pay attention and listen to their emotions as they do to thinking about practicalities like procuring baby supplies, maternity leave, and childcare.

For what other event do we go through that is as momentous and life-altering as giving birth? Death—of a loved one, or our own—is the only equivalent I can think of. Yet with death, so often we are less prepared for its arrival; even if we rationally know it will come, only in the most opportune situations do we have the emotional and spiritual presence to openly honor and welcome it.

In childbirth, a part of us also dies as we give birth. Pam England and Rob Horowitz write in Birthing from Within: “The mounting intensity of labor forces complete surrender of our body and will, dissolving our egos, ideas, and familiar sense of self. We’re not afraid of dying because there is no “self” left to resist and fear. At that transcendent moment we have become birth itself. This is the spiritual birth of woman into mother.”

I am soon to become a mother. In some ways, this feels like the most natural role I could possibly prepare for, and I trust that so much will come intuitively. In other respects, my husband and I have so much to learn and get ready for. We need to go to childbirth classes, as well as classes in breastfeeding and newborn care. We need to decide where our baby will sleep, what kind of diapers we will use, and where we will fit all the baby gear into our tiny one-bedroom cabin. We need to figure out how much unpaid time off my husband can afford to take (after his one paid week of paternity leave is over), and who we can count on to help us with meals and care in the weeks that follow the birth. We need to write a birth plan that outlines our wishes (although this seems less pressing now that we’ve made the choice to give birth at home), and I need to practice my squats and Kegels (squeezing the pelvic muscles to help prepare for birth), get plenty of exercise, eat enough protein and ingest all the necessary nutrients-- do all I can to prepare for a healthy baby and smooth labor.

I also need (want) to secure a book deal for my old completed manuscript, and make as much progress as possible on my new writing project, because I know that whatever I don’t complete before the baby is born will have to be put on hold for some time. I want to honor my writing projects and life as much as possible in this sweet spacious time I have right now, for I know that it will be a long time before I ever have this kind of stretched out time to myself again.

In short, I have plenty to think about and do, even without formal employment. And this list doesn’t even touch the emotional preparation that my husband and I are going through, that is slowly building in intensity. In January, we will go to our birthing class, a class that will not only teach us about coping with labor pain, but will also encourage us to journal and make birth art, to prepare for our new lives with a focus and intention that is more rooted in the spiritual, and less in the planning/worrying brain. And soon we will also go on a “babymoon,” or at least take a couple long weekends to be alone together in nature, away from our normal routines, acknowledging what is ahead of us, and saying goodbye to what we will be leaving behind.

I want to make sure that we take the time to make ritual. I’ve heard that the period following a birth is one of the most common times for marital issues to arise, and I want to make sure that we do everything we can right now to honor our partnership-- as a couple, the two of us—- as well as what it means that we are already becoming more than just the two of us, as we begin to welcome this new being.

My husband likes to joke that “our lives are over” and anticipate the birth of our child with an “Oh, shit!” tone, especially when talking to others. When I question why he must always give more weight to expressing the fearful side of things as opposed to expressing the excitement and awe that I know he also feels, he corrects himself “our lives as we know it,” thus softening the drama of his claim. Though I know it is healthy to openly express our fears, I want to encourage him to also practice affirming the trust that we will be capable and passionate parents, fueled in new ways we can only imagine even as we will surely be worn by exhaustion. And although my husband has not spent as much time contemplating birth as I have, I can see in his eyes his shifting awareness when I say things about "our baby" who becomes more real each day; and I can hear it in his voice each time he puts his hand on my belly and exclaims how “trippy” it is. The other night when I was spooning my husband, my belly against his back, he finally had to turn around because the baby was moving so much he couldn’t fall asleep.

All in all, my second trimester has been gentle and sweet. I stopped feeling nauseous long ago, I’ve had plenty of energy, and I feel so much more grounded in this whole process. Once we decided where to give birth and I chose a midwife whom I trusted, I could finally relax into the pregnancy, knowing that there was plenty of time to soak in everything else I’d need to know. “That’s why they give you nine months,” a friend said. Indeed.

This is my time-- to be present, to dream, to write, to stay open. To dwell as much as possible in a place of awe and awareness, good health and good energy. To prepare for the birth of my child, and the birth of myself, as a mother. To prepare for the passing of one phase, and to welcome the coming of another.

Into the great fathomless unknown, we plunge. Let us plunge with steady breath and open eyes, my dear, for once we arrive on the other side, we may quickly forget that there was ever another.

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