May 5 2015

Why Being Pregnant Is Incredibly Weird

Full disclosure: most of the time, I kind of love being pregnant. (If you are now gagging yourself with a spoon and grappling for the red X in the corner, that’s cool. No judgment.)

But you know what? Pregnancy is incredibly weird. And by that, I mean that it is incredible, and also weird. The “incredible” factor generally involves various epiphanies containing the exclamation, “My body is capable of what?!” And the strangest part is that it exists within these two extremes simultaneously, this insanely awesome thing which is also the most unfathomably bizarre thing.

Allow me to attempt to fathom.

curly hair

WEIRD: My hair and nails suddenly have superpowers.
In real life, I lose about a million hairs per shower and my nails peel and break. During pregnancy, I can’t keep up with either of them. Unless I want to gouge someone’s eye out, I have to literally clip my nails every ten days or so (something that wasn’t necessary since I was a small child). And the number of strands in today’s shower? Four. Of course, most pregnant women will make up for this at about three months postpartum, when your body goes into hyper-shed mode. Last time, I lost so much around my hairline that when it finally started growing back, it looked like I had bangs. Frizzy, curly, unruly bangs. (Also weird: while the hair on my head is sprouting like gangbusters, my eyelashes always get noticeably shorter while I’m pregnant. Fascinating…and not so cute.)

INCREDIBLE: My uterus is reusable.
So picture this. You have an organ that is approximately the size of an orange. Within nine months, it balloons to the size of a watermelon. Don’t you feel like that would be a one-and-done situation? But nope. It just shrinks back down and gets ready to do the exact same thing another time or two. Or three. Or ten.

Organic Crispy Chicken Strips

WEIRD: Cravings.
Since when do I like fried chicken? Since both pregnancies, that’s when. Truth be told, I’m a red meat kind of girl; give me a steak every time (medium rare, please). But when I’m pregnant, I bypass the filet and go straight for the chicken strips. My wallet thanks me, but I’m confused.

INCREDIBLE: My body knows not to attack the baby.
I have spent the last twelve years of my life within the petri dish that is a high school. After the first couple years, man, your immune system gets trained. (“It makes gainz,” as my seniors would say.) It is totally miraculous that my body can tell the difference between invaders — stuffy nose: bad alien. Fetus: good alien. The craziest part to me is that it not only knows the difference, but that it then kicks into high gear to help the good alien grow — without a single conscious effort on my part. Sure, I take prenatals and try to eat right, but at no point do I peer into my womb and say, “All right, guys. It’s time for the arms. And don’t forget to double-check that circulatory system.” This tiny person just gets BUILT, while I am sleeping and teaching and playing Hide-and-Seek with Peaches. Yes, it’s science. But if it’s not also proof of God, I don’t know what is.

Of course, I know this isn’t the case with one hundred percent of the pregnancies out there. There are women with overactive NK cells, for example; and I myself have a negative blood type which requires me to get RhoGAM shots to protect the baby. But it’s still something that seems amazing every time I allow myself to sit down and really think about it.

WEIRD: There is a stranger in the mirror.
Most days, thankfully, I feel relatively normal. I mean, it’s getting a lot more difficult to put on my shoes, but at this point in the pregnancy I just feel mostly like myself. Then I catch a profile glimpse of myself in some reflective surface and I’m like, “Wait a…who in the SAM HILL is that?!” It’s a crazy thing not to recognize your own body. I don’t feel all that huge yet, but guess what: there’s my belly, and it begs to differ.

INCREDIBLE: When Peaches rubs that belly and says, “Hi, baby brudder!”
I’m pretty sure my daughter is too young to understand what’s actually going to happen in a few months, but my heart melts every time.

linea nigra

My linea nigra when I was pregnant with Peaches. I’m almost 34 weeks here.

WEIRD: The linea nigra.
Um, my stomach just divided itself in half with a faint, tan Sharpie. …Thanks?

INCREDIBLE: I am never alone.
I really, really enjoy my alone time. I need it to recharge. But there is something so beautiful in knowing that my baby is with me wherever I go. Especially now, in the middle of a life change so drastic, it’s such a comfort to know I always have company. When it’s just me — in the car, or at night now that my husband has moved to California ahead of me, or when I finally leave the only home I’ve ever known — it isn’t ACTUALLY just me. I know my job is to protect this child, but somehow it feels a little bit like he’s protecting me, too.

WEIRD: My organs are in the wrong place.
When my stomach growls, I can feel it rumbling almost where my heart should be. That’s not so normal. Let me tell you, things are getting shoved around everywhere.

INCREDIBLE: People are a whole lot nicer.
When there’s a pregnant lady involved, people seem to go out of their way to be friendly. In general, I find that they initiate more conversation, they offer up their seat, they rush to hold the door. There are more smiles. The other day, when I was extolling the virtues of this to Al, he mused, “Shouldn’t we always treat everyone that way, all the time?” Touché, Al. Touché.

WEIRD: Baby movement.
THERE IS A HUMAN IN THERE. Sometimes I forget about that, and then he punches me in the bladder.

INCREDIBLE: Baby movement.
By far, this is one of my favorite things about being pregnant. Those jabs and nudges reassure me that he’s safe. His movement helps me feel connected — and it’s a way for Al to feel connected to the pregnancy, too, now that the kicks are strong enough to be felt through my skin. It is a reminder that I am carrying an actual life, one that will be wholly separate from me too soon, and that I’d better enjoy this while it lasts.

When I have this baby, I will only have been pregnant twice in my whole life. That’s a really short amount of time to experience something so beautifully bizarre. Look, my whole world is crazy, and I could really use a glass of wine right now (will someone PLEASE invent a pill that prevents alcohol from crossing the placenta?). But this is something I don’t want to wish away.

About Melissa

Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA actress and former high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when she was six months pregnant. She is the winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and a past winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize (selected by Susanna Kaysen, author of Girl, Interrupted), the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer's inaugural personal essay contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. She has been shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was recently selected for The Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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