Third trimester pregnancy. My experiences diverge from those around me. Gaps open everywhere that take effort to knit back together. Everything changes from day to day, even hour to hour. Life speeds up with the approaching end of this pregnancy. Fear makes way for joy, obsessive anxiety collapses to exhaustion, moments of stillness and ones of dancing.
Worlds spin around each other in tightening orbits, showering sparks into the darkness when they collide.
I want everyone close, all my people to be here, near me, as everything changes.
I also want to be alone, to find that calm quiet at 3am where my thoughts run slow and I can feel the time moving like an ant across a vast garden.
The end of pregnancy approaches like dawn. Approaches like a train coming. Approaches like the end of a river over a waterfall into the unknown. I cast dreams before me and struggle to recall I will still exist in some form beyond that threshold. I fry pancakes and tell myself I will still fry pancakes beyond that day. I clean my home and tell myself I will still live here in this place and still tend it. Not everything will be beyond recognition. It won’t be the before and after of homelessness or death. Most of the advice about everything changing is for and from people who have not shared any of my experiences.
The sense of closeness and urgency in me has not been shared by others – months into this they have still been lulled by the unending unfolding of pregnancy. I feel her movements come sharper as she grows larger, feel the pain in rib and skin and pelvis as my body protests. My feet swell and all the world speaks to me of change. Around me people still move in slower time. I struggle not to howl with frustration, to me, everything needs to be done now, to be made ready now, because she is coming soon and because I don’t know who I will be or what I will be able to do after she arrives.
Rose catches the sense of ending at last and together we hang colourful bunting on our bedroom wall, laughing at the sight of me waddling, bursting into song together. Showering kisses like summer rain, so sweet is our bliss.
Another night I work too hard and long and my feet and ankles swell unbearably. Wrapped in blankets Rose holds my hand while I cry and I ask her to tell me that nothing is wrong – I’m not sick and baby is well, because I feel awful and it’s confusing me. I move into trauma mode, frightened and overwhelmed. Humour and rest help ease me out of it again.
My body is tired. Pain is constant. Scares come into our world like volcanic eruptions, Rose and I laying on the bed together, hand in hand, desperately trying to breathe while we wait for the midwife to come and check that baby is okay. She’s been quiet too long and I flip from calm to terror as the fear I always push away overwhelms me. The sense of responsibility to make the call – something might be wrong – is horrifying. By my throat is a large red swelling, glaring back at me from the mirror. I call the locum too.
People tell me to sing to her, to drink cold water, to try various things to wake her up, and I simply can’t. I cannot ask the question without drowning in the silence while I wait for a response. Panic has teeth in my throat; I can’t call her name and live with the silence after. Stop focusing on the anxiety and focus on her, I instruct myself. She may already be dead and I should have sounded the alarm earlier, comes the thought, and my mind erupts in screaming. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. I’m not brave enough for this. Rose and I lay together, holding hands, breathing through terror, waiting for people who can tell us if our world has ended.
Oh, says our midwife, baby is engaged, you’re in prelabour (which can last for hours or weeks), and you’re getting contractions without breaks. That’s why you can’t feel her moving. She’s still moving but the contractions are blocking your sensations. We hear her heartbeat on the doppler. While listening, she rolls from right to left and I feel none of it. The next morning my uterus calms again and I can feel her stretching and rolling inside me. We cry with relief.
Ah, says the locum, your lymph system is stressed. It will probably bring on labour. You’re on the right antibiotics, ignore the lumps, rest lots, and get a doctor to check them out after you give birth. If they abcess you’ll need them lanced but not until then. Okay. Okay, I can do this. I look up patterns for bead weaving on Etsy and unpack my loom. The waiting is interminable and I need things to do to keep my hands busy and calm my mind.
Rose takes me to the new shrink the hospital suggested. It’s pouring with rain and we can’t find her office. We arrive late, I’m cold, wet, angry, and crying. We talk over tea. She mentions that thing women seem to talk about with pregnancy and birth – a sense of connection to the universal whatever, god, creativity, consciousness. I feel something inside me retreat trembling into a dark cave. A sense of shame. I have helped create life! But I do not feel it. I have run from a darkness I find all too terrifyingly easy to believe in. Everything else, all the rest of it, meaning and creativity and energy and forces for good and order and purpose… Those I doubt. I have so little time left with you within me darling girl, and I feel I’ve failed to be aware of you, to be in awe of what you are, to feel connected to anything universal or enlightened. I am in love with you, like a mother in the night, teeth bared. I am connected with a universal terror of loss, a sense of overwhelming responsibility for what I cannot possibly control. I am connected to a sense of being a small creature in a dark cave, trying to protect the infinity precious from a vast, cruel world. The terror and fury and profound love of the almost powerless mother are mine. It doesn’t feel very enlightened.
Waiting for you. The slow build of my body towards labour, movement and activity that plateaus into the calm before a storm. We wait and watch, poised for you to come. I lay in the night and wonder if I’m doing something wrong, if I’m really ready, if I’m blocking you or forcing you too soon, if we’ll be okay. My body is tired. My mind is a thousand thoughts like glittering confetti in the dark, all strange and contradictory and self contained. It becomes hard to speak, impossible to share, to find a single narrative, a simple answer to any question. I’m full of constellations, strung in darkness. I love you, little girl. I can’t sleep. Rose breathes and dreams beside me. I write, on my phone, in the dark. Inside me, my daughter rolls over, gently pushes a foot into my ribs. The dark inside of me is her whole world. She lives in the shadow beneath my blood, cradled by my bone. She is not me and never was. The egg that made her I have carried my whole life, like a star. She is a thorn in Rose’s breast, a bud waiting to bloom and crack open all that has contained it. Love is such tender pain. She has been silent so many months, in her dance I feel like her voice is near, that she is ready for it, reaches for it, longs. We know about longing, little girl. We know about loving in the dark. Your Mama and I are here, arms aching to hold you. Please come safely from the night. Please come to us. We’ve waited whole lifetimes to see your face, to hold your hand and hear your breath and learn your name. It is not safe, anywhere, but you are deeply loved. It is all I have. It is not enough. It is everything.