I realized today — while folding laundry and feeling smug about it — why I have my babies in the late summer. It's actually not because I'm a glutton for punishment. It’s because I’ve always loved back-to-school. And having a new baby is a lot like going back for a new year in a new grade with a new teacher and new gear and new challenges. It’s a way to feel like you’re making progress.
If you’re a complete and total dork, that is.
Which I am.
School was always fun for me, and I am no longer ashamed to admit it. And while childbirth isn’t exactly academic, a person with academic affection can even turn that into something bookish. For instance, I loved getting my new backpack each fall — hence my new diaper bag with Maddie’s initials on it. I loved getting new clothes and hair accessories, hence the frilly lace things I picked up at Target today for her. I loved the new books and pencils, hence the new bottles and rattles and, well, books. I loved the new classroom with fresh decorations and my name emblazoned on some paper accessory of some kind, hence the obsession with dolling up Madeline’s nursery and personalizing every single thing that offers embroidery. And, I loved waking up early that first day of school to a new situation fraught with unknowns and cute clothes, and we all know THAT is the very definition of newborndom — except you were never really asleep in the first place.
Yes, August means back-to-school, and this time, at least for me, it means back-to-baby.
But one rather glaring difference between going back to school and having a baby is that this time, all your peers aren’t in the same boat. Back in the day when summer would end and school would reopen, you knew every kid from last year was also mentally gearing up with dread or delight for the beginning of an era. But when you’re a grown-up, all the other “kids” are doing other things with their lives; some of them are working, some are potty training their existing kids (hey, there’s a novel idea), some are happily buying houses and taking late vacations to Mexico and don’t have children at all; and some are there right alongside you, about to give birth. They are a small, specialized group, like the chess club. So in some ways, the back-to-school analogy leaves me depressed because it’s almost like having to go back to school all by yourself — or at least with a small group of other misfits — and there’s nothing very delightful about that, no matter how big a dork you are, or how much you happen to like chess.
Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about today: the loneliness of pregnancy. I should say, the loneliness of late-late-late term pregnancy because something very strange is beginning to happen to me this week that makes me feel oh-so-very “other” in a way my early months of pregnancy only hinted at. I feel like the sides of my vision are getting blurry and the voices around me are a bit distant and muffled. If someone really wanted to tell me something important, they would have to sit me down, hold my face between their hands and speak loudly. It’s not quite like being on Nyquil, though the feeling is similar to being drugged after an outpatient dental procedure: you are cocooned in your own world, you know it, it kind of bothers you, but you know it will soon come to an end and would rather just let people feel sorry for you and wait on you until then.
This phenomenon isn’t happening — at least I don’t think — because more and more people are staring at me out in public. Or because the baby is flexing her little legs up into my rib cage and flattening my diaphragm which makes breathing hard and sleep non-existent. Or because every time I walk three steps, I feel winded and wonder when it was I became so out of shape — which makes me feel to an even greater degree that I do not know my own body anymore and wish the old one would pay a visit, just for kicks. I am sure these things contribute to the feeling of loneliness, but the feeling itself, without all the distracting ribbons and bows, smells suspiciously of hormonal hijinks. (So if Dr. Oz reads this blog, then by all means, chime in at any time.)
I think the better analogy — better than going back to school all by yourself or being hopped up on Finnergen — is that of a woman about to set sail alone. The horizon stretches endlessly in front of her, the rush of the wind is speaking some language she doesn’t yet understand, her family and husband stand on the dock waving handkerchiefs and giving muffled well wishes. (Because we know even husbands can’t come with us on our body's very intimate voyage of labor and delivery.) It’s not up to her when to make sail, but when the time comes she will untie the slipknot, step into the unsteady floor of the deck and hoist a mast. Then the wind will catch and she will silently move into new waters.
Maybe this feeling of loneliness is the body’s way of preparing for the solitude of labor and delivery — and of becoming a mother all over again. The loneliness is a precursor to the solitude. And solitude can be a very sweet and spiritual thing; just ask the mystics.
Well, now that you’re either completely depressed, utterly bored, or eternally confounded, it’s probably time I lightened things up. So here are a few jokes I found online that can pull even the most brooding among us (namely me) up for air:
Question: What is a chastity belt?
Answer: A labor-saving device.
Question: What’s the difference between a nine-month pregnant woman and a model?
Answer: Nothing, if the pregnant woman’s husband knows what’s good for him.
Question: What is the most common pregnancy craving?
Answer: For men to be the ones who get pregnant.
There. Now don’t you feel better? I do. And with that, I’m off to read an old syllabus, yearn for yester-year, and do some sentence diagramming all for the fun of it. (Cue SNORT sound effect here).