The readings and discussions this week have made me realize how little I know about my own mother’s childbearing. Fortunately for me, she is only a phone call away. I explained to her that we have been discussing pregnancy and childbirth in this class and I ask her what it was like to be pregnant with me and my siblings. She begins by saying that every pregnancy was different, but that her pregnancy with me was the most different. She was sicker than she had ever been, carried me straight out in front of her while my siblings settled lower in her womb to give her the appearance of having a spare tire of sorts.
She spoke nonchalantly about the delivery, as though it were hardly worth mentioning. They were all pretty similar– no worse than a really bad cramp, but once each baby was in the birth canal the pressure from the baby’s head numbs you. She attributed these smooth deliveries to a high pain tolerance and great Lamaze and meditation training.
When I tell her about our readings, about how the preganant woman’s body is sometimes described as being a container of some alien being or an alienated being split from the fetus (Young, 2005), she pushed those suggestions aside, rehearsing instead a description more aligned with Lyerly’s (2006) explanation of the mind/body and maternal/fetal connection in pregnancy.
She says that the most nerve-wracking time is during Month 9 when we would settle in and get comfortable. During that time, she might not feel us move for a few days at a time. In thinking about those fearful moments, memories of her only miscarriage rush forward.
She was 12 weeks along but something didn’t feel right. She had already had three children and so she knew what her pregnant body felt like. She predicted that she was going to miscarry and then, when the blood came, she was angry with herself for being right.
“It was like a death,” she says. “Every time you’re pregnant you have a dream for that child. You imagine what kind of a relationship you will have with each other. And so when it’s just gone… it’s like a death.”
My mom went into mourning for some time after the miscarriage. As she talks about her emotional suffering afterwards, I think of the precariousness of pregnancy. I think about the unique connection a woman has with the growing child in her womb.
She says, “Your dad didn’t lose the baby. I lost the baby.”
I think of the shame that women often feel in their bodies. The responsibility, the fear of failure.
“Your dad felt that his role was to be strong for me. He wasn’t mourning. He didn’t have a relationship with the baby. I had been in physical contact with it.”
She talked about how, with the other pregnancies, whenever we moved, she put my father’s hand on her stomach, so he could experience that movement also. I think of Young: “She and only she has a privileged relation of feeling with the developing fetus. The pregnant woman feels the weight, position, and motion of the fetus as part of herself yet not herself. Others have access to feeling this developing life only by contact with and through her” (p. 61). My mother mourned the loss of my unborn sibling because she lost a part of herself. My father– a compassionate, outwardly-loving, kind man– could not relate.
Her stories are powerful and I hear the strength in her voice as she narrates. My mother is such a strong woman, and I hang up the phone with the realization that there are a million questions I have never asked her. Yet. I can only hope I have a million more opportunities to tap her maternal wisdom. I am grateful.