In honor of my son’s five-month birthday, I thought I’d share this with you.
If you want to learn a language, go someplace where they speak that language and not English and stay there for a while. If you want to learn to cook like a Mennonite, don’t buy a cookbook or watch the Cooking Network. Go find a woman who billows clouds of flour and words in low German and pull up a stool in her kitchen. Don’t leave until you are smeared with flour and she trusts you enough to hand you a spoon.
If you want to find out something about how a culture feels about children and pregnancy, go there and stay there while you grow your child. Let neighbours and strangers and doctors and children stop you and scold you, let them admire you, scrutinize you and kiss your belly. You will then start to get an idea of what they think.
My first doctor’s appointment went something like this.
“Why have you come to see the gynecologist?”
“I am pregnant.”
“Do you want to keep the baby?”
Silence then, “Yes, of course.”
“How many abortions have you had?”
Once you get past the issue of keeping the baby, the people here get pretty excited. Your pregnancy now becomes public knowledge and property. Here, there is none of this, “Let’s wait until we reach 13 weeks to tell people.” Everyone on the block knows you are a day “late” before you ever get those two little lines—“good news on a stick” as Curtis calls it. A pregnancy test is a mere formality.
Pregnancy here is a celebrated but delicate condition. Carrying a child to term is taxing and precarious. Perhaps this is why it is best to let everyone know right away, in order to gain their full support.
The entire pregnancy and the early years of a child’s life undergo rigorous medical scrutiny. One wrong move by your body and you will find yourself in the hospital. Low iron? Hospitalized. Gestational diabetes? Hospitalized. Excess weight gain? Hospitalized. Seriously. This is good, this medical attention and caution but it means that somewhere along the line pregnancy switched from a natural process to being viewed as a sickness or disease.
Because of this highly delicate state that a woman finds herself in, it is no wonder that the next 36 weeks quickly become a no-holds barred, free-for-all, advice-slinging fiesta. Everyone is invited to this fiesta and along with congratulations, the mother is “showered”, shall we say, with advice from young and old, family and strangers alike. The primary concern on everyone’s mind is how to avoid losing the baby. Sometimes there are tragedies that cannot be avoided but in the meantime, certain precautions that can be taken.
- Do not go to the beach in the first three months of pregnancy. You will certainly lose it. I do not know why but I also know if you go to the beach in the first forty days after having had the baby, you’ll go crazy. Essentially, in your child-bearing years, you might be best off avoiding the beach entirely. Half the time, the water is too cold or it is too windy and you’ll end up sick anyways.
- Do not carry anything heavy. This includes, but is most certainly not limited to, children you may already have, flimsy plastic chairs, cucumbers and purses. If the child’s father cannot carry your purse now, how can he be trusted with the all-important diaper bag later, or more critically, the child?
- In older school thought that is slowly passing but still sometimes reinforced, rest—your pelvis that is. I’ll let you figure that one out.
- Exercise is a no-no. Your body is working hard at raising a baby and is quite frankly, taxed to its limits. Some walking is fine but it is preferable to sit with your feet up. You wouldn’t want to lose the baby.
After you pass the critical first weeks and are quite visibly pregnant, the concern shifts toward not straining yourself or in bringing on labour too soon. In addition to the earlier rules, the following restrictions apply:
- Your belly is a heavy thing. It ought to be supported by at least one hand at all times. Walking should occur sway-backed with a wide gait and your free hand on the small of your back (seeing as you don’t have that pesky purse to carry). This posture affords the mother-to-be certain social collateral that increases proportionately with her girth.
- Communication with small children ought to proceed with caution. You cannot lift them, as per Rule #2. Bending down with such a belly is uncomfortable and requires that you abandon the signature pregnant posture from Rule #5. Squatting should be avoided for obvious reasons. First, how does one get up from such a position and second, you are practically asking to give birth. Right here. On this dirty floor. Please don’t squat. Ask for a chair and have the child stand in front of you. Perhaps the child would be kind enough to hold up your feet for you while you sit. Easier still, send the child to someone else since satisfying his or her request will likely be strenuous.
- Do not allow clothing to cause you stress. Stress affects the baby. There are no maternity clothing stores nor money to buy such things. As such, as long as certain parts are mostly covered, anything goes. No one will scold you for having your pants undone. If your shirt comes half-way over your belly, not to worry. If you are big enough to only fit in dresses that resemble circus tents and can hide small children and animals inside unnoticed, do not fret. This too shall pass. If you have only two things that fit, have your mother-in-law wash one while you wear the other.
- Pregnant women should not stand in lines. This is strenuous, time-consuming activity, especially in the sun. The possible exception would be for a foreign woman standing in line at the bank. In this case, Princess with your hefty bank account, you can just wait your turn. Certain families have been known to take advantage of a pregnant woman’s state by sending her to stand in the ration line knowing she’ll get sent to the front and have a better chance of getting what is needed before it runs out. I suppose it is for the poor girl’s good.
- Lie about your due date. This is for your child’s protection. You do not want anyone to put a curse over that date. It is generally assumed that it is better to say that your pregnancy is less advanced than it really is so you can surprise them when the child is born “early.”
- Find out the baby’s gender. How else can you prepare for the birth of a baby with limited resources and a limited availability of clothing, etc. If you do not trust the results of the ultrasound, simply keep track since everyone can tell just by looking at you. Is your belly round? Girl. Stretched out at the sides so it is more of an oval? Boy. If you are in the country, switch that. Round equals boy, oval equals girl. Do you look prettier with a nice glow? It’s a boy. Girls rob their mother’s beauty. Has your nose grown and your face gotten fat? It’s a boy. The testosterone does it. This is free advice and often unsolicited. The only request people will make is that you bring your child back to prove that they are always right.
- The pregnant woman should not undergo stress of any kind. Society has a general responsibility to protect the pregnant woman. Friends and family have a greater responsibility. In short, do not cross a pregnant woman or upset her. She should get what she wants, when she wants it. Heaven forbid you say something to raise her blood pressure. The baby’s death or malady would be on your head.
- Do not get wet unnecessarily or irresponsibly. Bathe only when weather safely permits it. If you are not careful, you will give birth to a baby with pneumonia or lung problems and whose fault will that be but yours?
- Eat yogurt and ice cream in liberal quantities. They fatten up the baby but not the mother. The opposite rule applies with bread—it only serves to fatten up the mother and provides the child with no nutritional benefit.
I , advertently and inadvertently, found myself on the wrong side of these laws. Frequently. Most of the infractions were related to Rule #2, do not lift anything heavy, and Rule #4, do not exercise. I, admittedly, did not lift Lucas as much as I used to, largely because he was, well, larger. And heavier. My strategy was holding hands and telling stories while we walked. Sometimes it was unavoidable: he wanted to see something far away, he needed to reach something high up, he fell and needed a cuddle or had a super huge rainbow hug to give. What’s a mom to do?
As the pregnancy progressed it became both easier and harder to deal with my rule-breaking exercise. Harder because I couldn’t hide my belly under loose t-shirts or by leaning over on the bicycle, easier because, clearly I hadn’t lost the baby yet and because I’d stop mid-run or ride to talk to neighbours or people at the track when they’d call out at me. I’d explain that I had medical permission to run and to ride a bicycle, that I was watching my temperature, my breathing, my heart rate. And most of all, they heard that this is normal in Canada. There, you are supposed to exercise.
Still, they exclaimed and worried and pointed and some just gave up and laughed instead. The crazy foreigner.
Slowly, I began to do more and more exercise at home. I told myself it was because of the heat but maybe I felt safer at night on our back patio grunting out push-ups and squats and double Heismans. No neighbour ever yelled over the stone wall at me.
All this worry and caution has made me think about our other pregnant states, about the times when God is doing something creative, growing something deep within, something mysterious whose form is hidden. We want to listen to all the voices around us that say, “if you want it to survive, don’t do anything. Keep it safe. Guard it.” We want these things in us to grow and swell, to kick and thrive while we sit with our feet up and eat ice cream, while our mothers-in-law wash our laundry and while everyone pushes us to the front of the line.
If God is doing something in you, if He is growing you and changing you and calling you to a new life, don’t just sit there. Prepare yourself. Strengthen yourself. This is our natural state, as temples of a holy, creative God, to house things that push and expand and eventually take on a life of their own.
Sometimes it comes with extra weight, pain, sometimes you’ll fight nausea and fatigue. But if God is birthing something in you I say, keep moving. It is not a tumor; it is life. Run with it, sing to it, nurture it, pray for it. Whatever you do, decide to keep it. Then watch what He will do.