By the time this photo was taken in December, 1980, I was already pregnant but unaware. The October trip to Colorado, which we took to stop thinking about babies, to stop watching the calendar, to stop taking basal thermometer temperatures and which was turning our spontaneous intimate life into a job, had done the trick. We’d gotten back to being just us. We celebrated Thanksgiving, our favorite holiday, with my family in Chicago and somewhere during that time, conceived our baby. Later in December we’d visited Michael’s parents which had been our custom for several years. I, who’d always had regular menstrual cycles since the unfortunately early age of eleven, was immediately suspicious, but too nervous to go beyond wondering. When January came around with no period, I rushed out to buy an EPT pregnancy test kit, a complicated process using test tubes with a relatively long waiting time. A certain, defined ring meant positive while diffuse liquid meant negative. Michael and I sat together, waiting for the chemical reaction which showed up faster than we thought. We were stunned, excited, nervous, intense and so many other feelings. I called my doctor to schedule a confirmation appointment and then we went to have a celebratory breakfast before we went to work. We held hands and giggled, not quite sure of what we felt. After nine and a half years of our magical, intense, volatile relationship, with so much more room for growth, we were adding a third party to our lives. We were 29 and 31 years old. To this day, I still believe that people are beginning to be true adults during their 30’s. No turning back now. We’d already turned our three apartment house into two. Now it was time for a baby room.
I loved my medical team. I’d been Dr. Brodsky’s patient for a few years and felt at ease with him after going through Planned Parenthood and another rude guy who was at one of the two large clinics in town. Brodsky had two partners in a small intimate office. I didn’t like one of them but the other was fine with a good reputation. Brodsky’s relaxed easygoing style and sense of humor were the perfect match for my hyper-inquisitive need-to-know everything-personality. I knew one of his nurses, Betty from my peripheral social world – she was in my peer group. His other nurse Juanita was my neighbor, in her fifties and a truly calming presence. Michael came along to my first appointment. After they confirmed my pregnancy, gave us a due date of August 13th and ordered my prenatal vitamins, I was off to teach myself everything about what was happening in my body. We decided to not tell anyone until I’d made it past the first trimester, a pretty standard cautionary decision. I didn’t feel pregnant at all which made me really nervous. Not that I had a real concept of what I was supposed to be feeling. All I really knew was that both my mother and older sister spent months vomiting and feeling wretched, trying to muddle through with saltine crackers and chicken broth. I went home and chugged a half gallon of milk, barely taking a breath. If I wasn’t going to feel pregnant, I wanted to “show” and show quickly, to assure myself that this whole thing was real. And therein lay my dilemma for the remainder of my term.
Before long and with never feeling ill, I started gaining weight. Thrilled to be needing maternity clothes, instead of going for anything inexpensive I headed straight for this little boutique called The Cradle, run by a woman named Joyce, who was delighted to find an insatiable client for her fashionable pregnancy wear. The ruffled Victorian style blouse in shocking pink was my uniform for awhile over those jeans with the stretchy bellies. And I needed stretchy. In addition to all my nerves about a healthy pregnancy, I was contending with two big problems. First, I came from an old country superstitious family. My grandmother had told my mom when she was a young girl that babies were born through their mother’s noses. For years my mom imagined nostrils tearing open to make way for the evil torturous spawning. She mocked that primitive lie, but told me that if I bought anything for the baby before its birth that I would curse the kid. This came from the sad experience her older brother and his wife had after outfitting their first baby’s room completely, only to have a stillborn child. I knew this was nuts but still…this was my mother talking. I had to push her superstitions out of my head. The more substantive issue was with me and my dysmorphic disorder, although I’m not sure that term existed back then.
When I was a child I grew fast. I was tall for my age and so much bigger than my classmates that the bullying started early. I was in kindergarten when my peers started calling me fat. I remember thinking as early as age 5 that picking on people because of how they looked was just wrong and vowed to never do it. What didn’t help was that I developed differently than my siblings. At age 8, my dad, who teased like a juvenile, called me tubby. I was devastated. My mom yelled at him as I hid under my covers, humiliated. Eventually he bribed me out of there but the damage was done. Not even an adolescent, I was already ashamed of my body. By twelve, I was fully developed. I was also athletic and strong and played softball and football with boys. Those skills elicited a whole new kind of verbal abuse. The boys called me “moose,” a nickname for a left handed ball player on the Chicago White Sox. What would have been assets in this time made me feel terrible about myself back then. I still have my autograph book from eighth grade filled with snarky comments about my future athletic career on men’s sports teams. Somewhere in my head I knew I had a perfectly normal, attractive body, but mostly I felt shame. In college, when my first true love remarked that I had an athletic build, I wanted to disappear. As my pregnancy appointments were lined up, I didn’t want Michael to come with me. Although our bodies were always so close, I never wanted him around for the weighing and announcement of my actual number. Utterly pathetic.
I was definitely worried about what pregnancy would do to my self-esteem as an attractive woman but even more worried about wanting to grow a robust healthy baby. Luckily, I had a loving supportive partner. We had reached the beginning of the time when both of us had begun to transcend the power of our physical attraction. When we looked at each other, we were seeing who we were rather than what we looked like. The magic had gotten deeper. I can’t say I was totally secure, but I accepted the weight gain and proceeded to focus on learning everything I could about me and my growing critter. Back then there were no sonograms available. Except for a tape measure to determine the expansion of my uterus, the fundal height, my progress was measured with what today would be considered primitive techniques. I read every book I could find. And I waited for that first kick which would make this whole process feel real. Meanwhile I just grew. Sometime in April, I felt a curious delicate flutter in my abdomen. After it happened several times I realized that my baby was letting me know it was swimming around inside me. It felt real.
By May, I was getting quite enormous. My parents came to visit for my 30th birthday. Michael poked a flower into my hair to boost my spirits, as I’d turned into one of those women whose face really ballooned during pregnancy. I was spared what’s referred to as “the mask of pregnancy” which discolors your face. Instead my nose broadened so much it stretched the bridge of my glasses, which for the next few months frequently slipped off my face. The heat and humidity didn’t help. We had no air conditioning at home. I remember going to the grocery store and trying to write a check while sweat dripped down my face, blurring my glasses, spilling on the counter. I was always miserable in summer but this was ridiculous. The only good part was my sweet husband responding to my endless “I’m hot” complaints with “you’re telling me.” His constant flattery and acceptance helped me through my body issues.
The outdoor pool was my refuge. I swam and floated, swam and floated. I bought a few maternity swimsuits that I wore whenever I could. As time moved along and I increased the frequency of my visits, the young lifeguards, alarmed by my whale-like appearance were positive the baby would arrive on their watch. They started a betting pool, wagering on the potentially unnerving delivery.
At the end of May, after my birthday, Michael and I got away for a long weekend in Brown County, Indiana. We stayed in a cabin and spent time near water. We didn’t do much but wander around and relax, squeezing in time alone, away from everyone. That luxury was going to be gone in a few short months.
While we were keenly aware that our time alone together was going away fast, we also were acknowledging that our individual trips, always particularly important to Michael, were going to be less frequent. The two individualists. He went off on a whitewater rafting trip in early June, as we’d discussed the importance of trying to do what we’d always done, baby or not. For a lucky boy scout that was a fortuitous choice. While Michael was taking a break from his own raft, having a beer at a riverside bar, the kid bounced out of his group raft into the rapids. Michael, the former lifeguard, leaped in and hauled the boy out. That episode became part of our family lore.
I didn’t have too many cravings. My mom brought me out of season nectarines for which I was momentarily desperate. Another time I really wanted a Whopper. By the time Michael and our friend Brian returned with it, I was no longer interested. Just as well, because after Michael consumed it, he became violently ill in the night and vomited right in our bed. I had to drag all our bedding and my gut down three flights of stairs to the washer and dryer. No more cravings for me. I always thought that some cosmic intuitive maternal thing saved me from that experience. For the most part, I was enjoying my pregnancy. Except for the heat, I felt well. As those little flutters got stronger I was intrigued by the fact that I was a host to a small parasite who’d eventually emerge as a person.
Michael took lots of photos of my rapidly expanding gut. We spent hours talking about names, about what we didn’t like about our childhoods, whether we could agree on approaches to almost everything, and about how we’d manage the distribution of familial responsibilities between us. Michael was insistent that we were splitting every chore right down the middle. We both knew I was way more aggressive and opinionated than he was so he was carving out his turf early. Great life goals. I was skeptical. Down the road, all that conversation set him up for my snarky nickname – Mr. Fifty-fifty. Poor guy. We went to Lamaze classes. Michael was especially concerned with how much food the coach would need to keep up his strength through my labor. Seriously.
Suddenly July showed up. We made a trip to Chicago to visit my parents and eat at our favorite restaurants. With the baby due toward mid-August we didn’t know when we’d be traveling up there again. For people who’d thought nothing of scooting up to the city for dinner at our number one pizza place at the last minute, we were sure that spontaneity was over. I could feel my mobility becoming more limited. The baby was taking up lots of space. I asked Dr. Brodsky if he felt that I could manage to deliver a large kid. He laughed and said I could probably manage anyone under 14 pounds. I was nervous. My mom who was smaller than me had big babies and struggled mightily. She had four natural births but needed a hysterectomy at only 32. I was just two years younger. At night, Michael and I would lie in bed and watch my abdomen move around in slow surging waves. Occasionally a hand or foot would poke up like a strange geometric object. As we continued our intimacy, we were fairly geometric as well. A time like no other.
My dear friend and coworker Joanne threw a baby shower for us at her house which included all four of us office mates, along with family and friends. Things were definitely getting more real. We had the baby’s room ready. Everything was organized. Were we?
August. I was still working but seeing the doctor weekly. I was massive, hot, grouchy and worried. As my due date approached, I went for my weekly appointment and discovered that my blood pressure had spiked. Brodsky suggested that I stop working, stay home and relax. I wasn’t thrilled. I was going past my due date. The house was hot. I had a giant face. I hated my hair. Back then I had a hairdresser who was almost a friend. He kindly came over and soothingly cut and styled my shaggy locks in my dining room. I’m not good at waiting. And this waiting was a problem because I only had six weeks off for maternity leave. This break was not in the program.
I was annoyed. The due date passed. The days were slow. I went to the doctor. I wasn’t dilating. We missed going to a friend’s wedding who graciously stopped by for a short visit. Juanita, my nurse neighbor, stopped by to check on me on her way home from work. I couldn’t wait for Michael to get home at the end of his day so I could snipe at him. I wanted to share the aggravation. On Sunday night, August 23rd, we had an argument after he returned home from his regular prep-for-the-work-week deal that he’d done for years. He retreated upstairs while I decided to sleep on the couch downstairs where it was cooler. At about 11 pm, pain woke me. Labor? At long last? I lay there all night, waiting for regular intervals to happen, dozing, communing with myself. At around 7 am, I got up, showered and went upstairs to wake Michael. We called the doctor, who told us to come right in for an exam. My pains were still somewhat irregular and I was over 9 centimeters away from being ready for delivery. Sent home, I told Michael to go to work until our appointment later in the day. I remember making fried eggs and toast which felt like a homey thing to eat. Around 4 in the afternoon, Michael came home and picked me up to go see Dr. Brodsky. My pains were about 6 minutes apart but I was still far from ready to deliver. The doctor told me to do some moving around. We went to a little mall on campus to play pinball. The weather was steamy. As I shook the machine, water was streaming down my body. Not one to let an opportunity pass, we went to a small shoe store and I bought an expensive purse I couldn’t really afford. Then we went home to wait. Hours passed. By 10 p.m. I was 23 hours in and I was exhausted. We called the doctor who advised us to go into the hospital.
I got settled into a birthing room, attached to a fetal monitor and appreciated the air conditioning. Michael and I dozed on and off without much new happening. At seven in the morning, Dr. Brodsky showed up to examine me, found I wasn’t progressing and ordered a pitocin drip to stimulate my labor. And it did. I spent Tuesday having contractions every 90 seconds, sweating and watching Michael eat roast beef sandwiches and Hershey’s chocolate bars. I felt so slimy, I got up, dragged my equipment with me and took another shower. I had the switchboard block calls from my mother which were really distracting. Meanwhile I was starving. The nurses said I couldn’t eat in case I needed surgery because of the risk of food aspiration. I told them I never vomited and needed fuel to continue this work. Finally I was given jello and broth. At 7:00 p.m. Dr. Brodsky arrived to check my progress. I was at three centimeters after 12 hours of pitocin. In the birthing room the benign-looking decor hid the instruments of intervention. He was going to break my water which is kind of like being meat on a shishkabob. You also need to use the bathroom a lot. At 10:30 p.m. Dr. Brodsky came back in to check on me. Four centimeters. He sat down on the bed, took my hand and said, “dear, I don’t think this is going to work.” At this point, I was ready for anything to end this impossibly long labor. Clearly I had a baby who preferred to stay put. Then things happened fast. They took Michael away to clean him up and get him gowned. I was also washed, catheterized and given a spinal block before we were reunited in the operating theater. Dr. Brodsky introduced me to the resident who would assist in my caesarean. I had an oxygen mask over my face but was able to tell her I thought that meeting someone who was going to rummage around in my body was odd. Michael was sitting by my head, holding my hand. A little drape prevented me from seeing my lower half. I was asking lots of questions. I felt as if a line was being drawn across my abdomen which was actually an incision. The anesthesiologist asked me if I ever stopped talking. I said no. I asked Michael what things looked like. He said I looked like a scene from the television show “Mash.” I felt my stomach collapse. I asked Dr. Brodsky what I had. He said, “a big fat baby girl,” who was hustled off to be examined by a pediatrician while I was being repaired. They told me she weighed 10 pounds, 9 ounces and was 23 and 1/2 inches long. All I could think of was that she’d already outgrown all her newborn clothes.
After I spent time in recovery, I was returned to my room where Michael met me. Then our baby was brought to us with a pink bow taped to her head, which Michael promptly pulled off. My first impression was that I thought her ears might need to be pinned back as I examined this stubborn little girl whose legs stuck out from under my arms because she was so long. Michael sat on the bed with me as we marveled at what we’d made. Now we two were three.