In college, it happened every year: One or two of my girlfriends would get into a relationship and drop off the face of the earth. She’d stop accepting invitations to hang out; her AIM profile would be filled with sappy song lyrics and maybe the date she and her new boy made things official; whenever we did see her, it would always be with him, as if their relationship mandated that they never be separated by more than 10 feet. When her name came up in conversation, we’d roll our eyes and shake our heads, a silent ode to our fallen comrade. If and when they broke up, she’d sheepishly resurface, never acknowledging her disappearance; the rest of us wouldn’t either, except for maybe a passive-aggressive comment or two as we reacclimated to her presence. Soon, it would feel as though she never left – unless, of course, she met someone new and absconded once again.
I never wanted to be that girl: the one whose life revolved around a boy, who made time with girlfriends feel like a second choice, whose presence could be counted on only if she were single. (Though in fairness to that girl, these traits aren’t entirely her fault, given that our society encourages women to define themselves by men at every turn. But I digress.) And I did my damndest not to be her, prioritizing time with my ladyfriends when I was in a relationship, even if it meant stretching myself too thin. Getting married, in many ways, made my life simpler: Instead of needing to schedule time with my husband and time with my girlfriends, I only needed to plan for the latter, since the former became the default. After several years of marriage, I was proud to say that I had managed to partner up without losing my own identity, my own interests, my own friends. I had a rich and full life with my husband, but I also had one of my own, both of which I prized. I could be married and still be my own person.
Not surprisingly, I took the same attitude when it came to parenthood. If and when I had children, I would not be that mom: the one whose world revolved around her children, who had no goals or conversation topics apart from them, whose email signature read “Proud Mommy of Mabel (7) and Angela (4).” My children would be a central part of my life, but they would not be its sole focus. I would have my own identity, my own interests, my own friends. I would be a parent and still be my own person.
I’ve now been pregnant for a little over 6 months, and I’m happy to report that so far, I think I’m doing a passable job. For the most part, I’m still reading the same kinds of books, listening to the same podcasts, writing about the same topics I was before; most of my conversations focus on topics other than food cravings and baby names. I will say, though, that even though my son is still firmly ensconced in my uterus, maintaining my own identity is harder now than at any point in my life pre-pregnancy. Countless factors are pushing me, and anyone who’s expecting, to make my life entirely about my unborn child.
First, there’s the fact that my body is no longer under my control. After 32 years of existence, I had gotten pretty familiar with it – how it works, how it responds to things like food and exercise, how much it can handle before it fatigues. But since getting pregnant, nothing works in quite the same way. A night of poor sleep can set me back for a week. To my chagrin, I need to be more careful about what I eat than I did before; my body now (understandably) latches on to every calorie in ways that it previously did not, which means that pregnancy is far from the eating free-for-all I secretly hoped it would be. I regularly wake up to completely new and unexpected symptoms: inexplicable breakouts, raging heartburn, cramping calves. And that’s not even touching food aversions, nausea, or vomiting, which I was lucky to avoid for the most part, but the majority of women are not. When your body feels like it’s been hijacked by the tiny being growing inside of you, and the symptoms of this takeover are constant and unpredictable, it’s very easy to feel as though you are no longer your own.
Then there’s the fact that having a baby comes with an absurd amount of stuff, at least in our society. In the months leading up to childbirth, an expecting parent needs to collect a stroller, a car seat, a crib, a mattress, sheets, blankets, a chair that rocks, a changing pad, a carrier, clothes, bottles, all kinds of breastfeeding paraphernalia, diapers, a diaper bag, a diaper pail, wipes, a bathtub, a monitor, and maybe a bassinet and a play yard and a swing and a humidifier and a white noise machine and on and on and on – more stuff than you’d ever expect a person that small to need. And not only is there a ton of stuff, but there are a million brands hawking a million different versions of each item, so you then have to decide which one (if any) is right for you and your specific context – research that takes up plenty of time and energy and headspace. I put off this process as long as possible, knowing that it would be overwhelming and all-consuming. It has been both.
And then there are all the other decisions that need to be made: Maternity leave, if you’re lucky enough to have it. Paternity leave, if you’re even luckier to have that. Whether parents or relatives are coming to help, and if so, for how long. Whether you (and your partner, if you have one) want to return to work in the same capacity, and if not, how you will adjust your finances and lifestyle accordingly. Child care, and how you will pay for it. Moving to a home that’s more baby-friendly. How you will pay for all the aforementioned stuff and where you will put all of it. How you want family members to be involved in the day-to-day raising of this child, if at all. Squeezing in all the things you want to do that will be much harder to do once the baby is ex utero – traveling, eating at nice restaurants, going to concerts, sleeping. So not only does your baby take over your body, it also takes over your mind – to the point where there may not be much room to think about other things.
I feel this very keenly, not only in my personal life but also my professional one. On many mornings, I sit down at my laptop to write and find myself drawing a blank. Usually I write about whatever’s been on my mind, whatever issues I’m trying to process, but right now, those issues center mostly around stroller reviews and finding a place with a washer and dryer in-unit – stuff that no one wants to hear about, which I know because I don’t want to hear about them, even as a pregnant person. I wonder if this struggle is only beginning; I don’t aspire to write about babies or parenting, but I wonder if I’ll find myself unable to write about much else in the coming years because that’s all I have space to think about.
So here I find myself, trying to enjoy being pregnant and all of the excitement that comes with it while attempting to keep an identity apart from my (still unborn) child. It isn’t easy. I’m not sure how much I should be allowing myself all the time and space in the world to prepare for this baby and how much I should be trying to contain it, to keep it within bounds so I can actually write and produce quality work. I’m doing my best to make room for this little person and to stay me, whatever that means, even as my life is changing more significantly than ever before.