Content warning: Not recommended for women who are struggling with infertility.
Pregnant women are smug. Pregnant women are obsessed with pregnancy and it’s all they can talk about. Pregnant women are self-absorbed.
All of these things are true and yet now I am seeing it from the inside everything makes so much more sense. I remember being on fieldwork back in July, sitting on the verandah of the house we were staying at in Arnhem Land, when I was only 2 months pregnant. It was my boss, my husband, and myself. We were talking about something work-related and then there was a pause. I started talking to my husband about plans for registering for the birth centre once we were back in Canberra. “Woah,” said my husband, “that was out of the blue.” Presumably because we hadn’t been talking about it previously. My boss laughed and said “Emmeline is always in that space. She just chooses to join us occasionally”.
And that is what it was like. I was on fieldwork when I found out I was pregnant. Before I knew, I was utterly absorbed in the project. At one point, my Dad asked me how many hours a week I was working. I said about 35. Then he asked me how many hours I was thinking about the project. I said every waking moment. When I found out I was pregnant, overnight the project was replaced by a new project: The baby project. My other boss was surprised at all the things I already knew about pregnancy when I had only known I was pregnant for a week. I shrugged. He didn’t understand. It was my new project. It was all-consuming. I was reading everything I could about it.
Of course, the pregnancy was all-consuming on a physical level as well as an emotional and mental one. Throwing up every day, often several times a day, requires a certain level of attention. Then at about 17 weeks the nausea faded away, and I got that second trimester energy surge I’d been promised. I was on top of the world. By then I was back in Canberra. We had a big deadline at work and I was smashing it out.
It was around the time of the work deadline that I first felt the baby move. Small but unmistakeable. At the time I described it to my colleague as “like a bowel movement, but at the front”.
In meditation practices, a bell is often used to regain focus in case the mind has wandered. The purpose of the bell is to bring you back to the moment. My fetus’ movements started to act like a meditation bell. Each movement required a brief moment of attention and presence. Several times a day, I needed to inhabit my body. I also started a practice of spending about five minutes each day lying in a yoga pose and thinking about the baby. I found that if I didn’t do this, I would feel scattered and unaligned. The baby wasn’t taking up the same amount of physical energy, because I wasn’t throwing up and completely exhausted all the time, but she started demanding a lot more emotional energy. My capacity for dealing with complex emotional and social situations, already not that great due to my Asperger’s, became even more diminished as my emotional attention was funnelled into the baby.
Now I am about eight months pregnant. 36 weeks on Monday for those following along at home. It seems strange to think back to those days when I needed the fetal movements to bring me back into my body and pay attention to the baby, because these days my attention rarely leaves the baby. I have cocooned into myself. Whenever I am working or out and about, I pretty much would prefer to be lying on my bed thinking about the baby. I am finding it hard to read books or listen to podcasts that aren’t baby related. I find my conversation moving back to the baby frequently, especially when I am talking to my husband.
The meditation bell is now mental as well as physical. I have a voice in my head that pipes up “Baby” fairly regularly. Something inside me is constantly reminding me to think about the baby. Maybe that “something” could be the baby herself, using the connection between us to cut through the mental chatter and remind me to be present to what is happening inside me.
So that is who I am now. The “smug”, “self-absorbed”, “obsessed” pregnant woman. The externals haven’t changed. From the outside I look like every other annoying first-time Mum. What has changed is that I now know why pregnant women get this way. Because I know what it is like to feel life inside of you, pulling you inside of yourself like never before, so that the outside world recedes and retreats, and all that seems relevant is the universe inside you.