Sunday night I decided to clean my desk. I’ve been avoiding it for months, working instead at the kitchen table, on the couch, even on the floor. Bleh, a tedious job. To distract myself, I powered up my laptop (the other creature I’m umbilically connected to) and called up hulu.com. Recently Hulu added the first season of Angel; for you Jossheads out there, most of the episodes are post-Doyle. I choose “Expecting,” in which Cordelia spends the night with a new guy and wakes up the next morning eight and a half months pregnant.
As you Buffy, Angel, and Firefly fans well know (Dollhouse is still eh so far, so I’m leaving it off the list for now), Joss is one of the most openly feminist writer-directors out there. So it’s interesting to see how Cordelia reacts to finding herself with a belly full of baby (actually, as it turns out, a belly full of seven demon babies).
Considering this is smart but inch-deep Cordelia, she of the short skirt and bitchy comeback, I expected the scene to be played comically, with her waddling into Angel’s office and demanding that he get rid of the thing inside her. Instead, it unfolds with an almost 19th-century sense of womanly tragedy; even the lacy white robe she’s wears hints at a Victorian aesthetic. Angel and Wesley find Cordelia lying in bed with a thousand-yard stare. She is cowed and humiliated, bespoiled, and the evidence is there for all to see. She is a fallen woman, and she’s so, so sorry about it. She never meant to let you down.
While the surprising way the scene was played cemented my love for Joss once again, it’s not even why I’m bringing it up. What struck me was the idea of waking up 90 percent through the pregnancy process. Hmmm. If I could, would I?
See, I have a bit of a patience problem. Though I’m six months along now, I feel like I’ve been pregnant for-freaking-ever. This is not because it’s been a torturous process; when I speak to other women who’ve had children, and read the books and websites that outline the various symptoms most women have, I’m having a pretty damned easy pregnancy. Morever, my impatience predates The Kid’s conception by, oh, 35 years or so.
It’s not just that I want things to happen stat. It’s also that I want so much of them. Not material things: I can skip most of those. Instead, I am an experience glutton, a curiosity slut, an obsessive for newness and knowledge and change and the unknown. When I’m in the midst of all that—most intensely while traveling—time takes on an expansive quality, because every moment is stuffed to the gills with sensory input. This glut is what I want. Now. In the daily grind it’s so easy to slip into the unexamined life, and this is what I fear most. Because then I’m going to miss something.
I’m not sure where this comes from, but I have a theory: impatience in an adult is what we call a temper tantrum in a child. Me me me mine mine mine want want want now now now!
Oh Christ. I just realized that I am pretty much Veruca Salt: I want the world/ I want the whole world/ I want to lock it all up on my pocket/ It’s my bar of chocolate/ Give it to me/ Now!
See Veruca upturning baskets of ribbons and kicking over stacks of shiny boxes? That’s kind of what I want to do when the F train (the F stands for fucking finally) takes forever to arrive.
Early on I predicted to Dr. Awesome that for me, pregnancy was going to be a lesson in patience. And I was right. Too soon I wanted to be through the nausea and exhaustion (in my defense, who wouldn’t?). Too soon I wanted to be sporting a bump. Too soon I monitored my belly for signs of movement, even though I had little idea what that might actually feel like. (Tumbleweeds. Bumblebees. Like my belly was a fish tank full of finned swimmers blowing bubbles.)
Every day I expect something new, something changed, something unknown. Because I’m on high alert, trying to pay close attention to every aspect of this process—can’t miss anything!—time has taken on that expansive quality once again. So here I am, impatient to get through pregnancy not because it’s bad but just because what’s the freaking hold-up? Yet I’m slowing down my subjective experience of it through my very focus on it.
Hey, it’s my own kind of special relativity! Einstein would be—well, I’d like to say proud, but it’s more likely he would be deeply unimpressed.
Anyway, it makes a lot of evolutionary sense to have pregnancy unfold over time. First of all, of course, because nothing in nature, at least on a nonquantum scale, happens in an instant; every event unfolds over time. But the relatively long gestation period common to the mammals with the highest intelligence—including our primate relatives, elephants, dolphins and whales—also encourages a slow, subtle bonding process between mother and fetus (at least in humans; I can’t say I know how a whale mom “feels”). And that’s pretty crucial, considering that the offspring of highly intelligent mammals aren’t prepared to be independent for years and years. That’s a lot of time to invest in caring for the young.
Before you think I’m saying “Nature” planned it this way, let me just say: “Nature” didn’t plan anything any way. But it’s certainly an advantage for the propagation of the human race for we pregnant hairless apes to begin feeling all soft and fuzzy toward the youngin while it’s still in the womb, rather than view it as an unknowable Other or, worse, an invader. (Which does happen frequently enough, by the way. Not all women want children, or want them at the time they get them.)
And for all my impatience, this is what’s happening to me. I’m, um, starting to get to “know” this protoperson inside me—when he wakes, when he sleeps, how he reacts when I eat spicy food or drink cold water or gorge on a jelly donut. (Mmmm. Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?) And I’m increasingly feeling the soft and fuzzy toward him.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve started, um, talking to The Kid. Not carrying on conversations—I’m not exactly soliciting his opinion on the economic stimulus package—but I do find myself verbally responding to his movements. An impressive series of what seems like Cirque de Soleil acrobatics will have me laughing and asking, “What are you doing in there?” (“Building a bird house,” Dr. Awesome mystifyingly suggested the other night.) The comforting little thumps I feel first thing in the morning while still in bed, when I roll over and he rolls over and, I like to imagine, we both yawn, makes me murmur, “Good morning, belly kitten,” and give the bump a rub. (What can I say, we have three cats. We see things in terms of kittens.) When I haven’t felt him move in a while, sometimes I drum the hard, round volleyball that is my abdomen and urge, “C’mon kid, do something! Perform for me!”
Which is kind of rude, I guess.
Many people have asked, “Are you excited?” Well, no. I haven’t been excited. That’s a feeling I get before a long-awaited vacation or dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, or when a favorite band walks out on stage and I know they’re going to to rock my face. This growing-a-person thing—it’s an entirely different matter.
Others have urged me, “Enjoy every minute of it!” I’m sorry, but what the hell does that mean? This comment was particularly galling to receive in the early months, when vomiting was a 24-7 possibility and I constantly felt only a single nap away from a coma. Even later on, when most women feel better, I don’t see how—or why—one would “enjoy every moment” of pregnancy. I mean, it’s not a waterpark, for chrissakes. I’m not on a log flume. I’m growing a person inside me. And anyway, is nonstop fun the end-all be-all of existence?
Mostly I’ve been fascinated. Pregnancy is providing some of the new and changing and unknown that I crave. A lot of this has been physiological: I’m fascinated, for instance, with the purple network of blood-dense veins now visible beneath the skin on my chest, which, ancient-treasure-map-like, all point to the tips of my breasts. I’m fascinated with how firm and hard and strong my belly is; it’s like a freaking bomb shelter. But much of it is emotional, too, as with the growing familiarity with The Kid, or the unexpected humor and peace there is in watching Dr. Awesome put headphones on my belly and blast Yo La Tengo. (“The Kid likes phat beats,” he says.) And I can feel myself acclimating to the idea of being a parent, of looking out for someone all the time until he can look after himself a bit.
So, just like Cordelia, I don’t think I’d want to wake up 90 percent into a pregnancy. I wouldn’t have time to adjust. Maybe this is a strange admission coming from someone who wants today and wants tomorrow and doesn’t care how but just wants it now, but there it is.
I really need to learn how to be patient if I expect to be any kind of decent parent. Yet for the moment I’m tempted to thank my impatience for keeping me alert. If I weren’t so wired to want something to happen all the time, if would I be paying attention so closely?