Me? We? I'm reading Rebecca Walker's memoir about becoming a mother, "Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence." It's a tough, sad read, mostly because her relationship with her own mother, the much-loved author Alice Walker, is so fraught.
But what struck me today was something she said about feeling the baby as part of her. She says, "I sense his awareness more than ever, that he's waking up and taking things in." She feels his consciousness as a part of her, and it's not until his birth that she feels that they become two.
I was surprised that wasn't my experience with Penelope, and it's not how I feel with this one either. I thought I would feel the same way, but from the moment I realized there was another being inside me, I felt her as separate, independent. I feel close to my babies, I feel like I am fiercely protecting them and like we are in this together, but they are their own people taking up residence inside me.
Being pregnant and going through childbirth – this is the ultimate exercise in being utterly out of control. Not just of what would happen – would I have morning sickness? What food would I crave? When would my energy flag? – but of my intellect, the very self I had spent a lifetime building. When I was in labor, I wasn't a feminist, I wasn't an intellectual, I wasn't a comic, I wasn't a wife. I was an animal whose body was in charge, and it was going to do what it needed to do, like the weather or a tidal wave. The "me" I had spent a lifetime building was incidental.
When Penelope was in me, she'd poke and kick me to shift my position. Once, I remember rolling over and going "Ow!" because something got folded over inside me; she helpfully wiggled around till it got straightened out. And on one memorable night, as I lay on my side with my head in my husband's lap, she literally kicked me off the couch; I jumped up, yelling words that babies shouldn't hear, and stood there, freaked out, clutching my belly, as she flipped over and got comfortable again, like a puppy padding around on a doggy-bed before settling down for a nap.
Then, of course, she made the decision to make her exit early. Not much I could do about that but respect her decision, help her along, and do what I could to support her in the aftermath so she could breathe, eat, and exist on her own. Good blueprint for a life of motherhood, no?
This baby also already feels like herself, even at 20 weeks inside me. It's not that I feel her personality, like she's judging me through the porthole of my bellybutton. It's more in how different I feel with this pregnancy, how I see her growing at every ultrasound and marvel at how she's doing that without my even thinking about it, how she wakes and kicks and sleeps at times of the day that I can't predict or understand.
My daughter lifts my shirt and kisses the swelling she finds there, puts her mouth against it and hums, and I wonder if my other daughter can hear it, if she reaches for her sister already. But I don't know, I don't feel her awareness. She's got her own ideas, and I'm going to spend a lifetime finding out what they are. Shaping maybe, helping, but ultimately respecting her separateness. Can I do that?
Well, it's not like I have much of a choice – no matter how much I'd prefer to be the boss, I'm just not.