They will explain away the difference. They will say it’s much harder because this time, you are also chasing a 3-year-old & can’t take the time to nap or rest or just be with yourself, but when you were pregnant with your son, you never did any of that either. They will say you are older now, that those few years make a big difference on how your body handles carrying another’s. They will remind you of the wives’ tale that girls steal your beauty & are harder on you when they’re inside, but easier once they’re born, while boys are the opposite. You’re not sure you believe any of this, but this pregnancy has been more challenging since the beginning.
Everything you didn’t experience with your son, you have felt tenfold this time around. From the expected nausea of the first trimester to shooting sciatica pain in the second to ligament pain & pelvic pressure & cramps & exhaustion & Braxton hicks & contraction-like sensations & stabbing “lightening” that pierces from where she will eventually be born through to your stomach to her moving across your whole abdomen like a tsunami.
For weeks now, you’ve felt she could come any day. For weeks, strangers have been naming & judging & objectifying your body, telling you what they think it needs without ever being asked: “Best get yourself home ‘cause it looks like that baby’s ‘bout to fall right out of you” & “You don’t look like you’re carrying a girl” & “You must be having twins” & “You should take it easy & sit with your feet up” & “You’re carrying really low” & “You want that decaf right?” & “Congrats!” & “Congrats!” & “Congrats?” & “God Bless!” & “I’m gonna report you to the grocery store for stealing one of their watermelons” & “I can’t believe you’re still doing _____________ & ____________ & _______________” & “You look great” & “How do you feel” & your only answer now is: “Still here, still pregnant” & you to get that printed on a shirt & you have two weeks to go, but your son was born around this time & so you thought that she would be here even sooner, but nothing is the same the second time around.
Other women don’t tell you that the body you thought you knew with your first pregnancy is not the body you are still getting to know. It’s been changing, a slow shifting of techonomic plates awaiting an impending quake, a deep-sea volcanic eruption that will make a new, uncharted island. You remember your first labor, every second of it, truly, you think you do. But you don’t trust yourself now: What does a contraction really feel like? Will you know when they are really coming? Will your water break like last time? Will you need to be induced again? Will the group of babysitters you’ve assembled to be on-call actually be available to take care of your son? Will they arrive in time? Will your husband, who’s been too ill to work or drive, barely able to function these last few weeks, will he be able to go to the hospital with you? & most painful of all, will you even want him there?
Admitting this question is agony because the first time around, it wasn’t even a question. The first time, he soothed your back with strong hands & kept you calm & believed you when you said you didn’t need the epidural despite the doubt coming from others. & the morning after your son was born, he brought you an array of pastries & held the newborn on his naked chest to do skin-on-skin whenever you weren’t nursing. But this time, you’ve been breaking down sobbing most nights because you want so badly for him to feel better, selfishly, so that he can be there for you, so he can help you feel better too. & you know you will want him there, want him with you because he reminds you of your own strength & endurance, reminds you are an unstoppable storm. & at least this week, he’s felt somewhat better & he even drove, so maybe he’ll be able to take you to the hospital when the time comes after all. & maybe this is why this baby isn’t coming early. Maybe she knows to stay inside until both of you are ready to care for her.
So, in these final days or weeks of being pregnant, these final moments of carrying another life inside you for what will likely be the last time, you are listening, extra hard to your own body. Listening to what it wants. Trying not to compare it to the first time or anything that came before. Listening to its desire to be in the water. To hold your son close as he flails & splashes around you & hangs off of your shoulders between fits of doggy-paddle water treading. To the way your body wants to hold your son’s longer, kiss him harder, & show him how much your whole growing self loves him even as you are less capable of doing the things he wants to feel this love. You are forgiving yourself for being unable to pick him up sometimes or keep up with him in games of tag or fit side-by-side on a rocking chair at bedtime. But you are listening, to your body & his, savoring every touch, the well of three lives within your grasp.
You’re listening too, to your body’s urge for stillness, when stillness & quiet are the most challenging things for you to handle, to be alone with. You are forcing yourself to breathe & find your mat & let someone else tell you what to do for an hour. Listening to the way you hate losing control, but must come to terms with its loss. Listening to your simultaneous need for rest & pushing limbs to a breaking point until your mind finds an inability to think. You’re accepting the fact that you feel better when in motion, like a hurricane, but that you need to make room, make time, for the eye of the storm. & you’re welcoming your body’s raging lack of grace & balance & order & hearing its new, off-kilter rhythm, swayed by nearly 30 extra pounds of bone & blood & body, moved by a storm you’re feeding inside you. You are a full moon, listening & pulling the tides & torrents of waxing bodies in your orbit. You are listening, trusting the way your body knows to tempest & glow.