She sleeps when I sleep. I wake with a sore side, with 7 or 8 pounds of new life curled up in hibernation inside me, which my grateful torso carries into the kitchen at unknown-AM to taste the refreshing tart tinge of a grapefruit like a lover to my lips. I wake regularly like this, in preparation, not grumpily as I once would, for my maternal bodyclock is rearranging itself like an army of clever ants ready for her demands once Earthside. Back in bed, plumping my 5-6 pillows higher than ever, my hands wait for the reassuring stir, shake and stretch of my mini-me before we both fall back into simultaneous slumber.
Red fruits rule my tastebuds’ menu. I walk like I’m old. My bump size is incredible, extinguishing my former fears by sitting its wieldy weight right over their flames. Surreal looking, even funny, it is something we hurry to document with whatever photography efforts we can exert in this last unknown quantity of time. Now officially ‘out of office’ even though I live in it, thanks to internet shopping we are now as housebound as we want to be. But even in low gear, my to-do list is like a lawn that every day I try keep mowed, forever creeping up with an inch of a duty I will trim off in earnest to be scot-free for The Arrival.
I didn’t think I would post again before birth. But the weeks between my last post and the imminent arrival of our rainbow daughter have become a whole new level of experience I need to put into words, because the words have already been written in my head. It’s a time that seesaws quiet boredom and the most physical intensity yet. A woman has a whole 6 weeks when she can give birth anytime: an impatient waiting game, but the last relaxing period for a massive milestone. A safe zone, or at least the relatively safest zone an expectant mother reaches. It’s given a name in fact, by a profound post I read:
The last days of pregnancy, sometimes stretching to agonising weeks are a time of in between. Neither here nor there. Your old self and your new self… one foot in your old world, one foot in a new world. Shouldn’t there be a word for this state of being, describing the time and place where mothers linger, waiting to be called forward? (The Time of Zwischen)
Articles like that one make my heart sing. Writing that wishes not to accuse, but to uplift. Sentiments that come from beside a fireplace, not from atop a soapbox, but they also seek to question with an anthropological dexterity. “We don’t have a reverence for the vulnerability a woman experiences at this time”, says the author, “our language and culture fails us.” Her words strongly remind me of prolific birth writer Sheila Kitzinger, who died a few days ago. When you find yourself exploring how language itself poses limits to our expression – and therefore our aspirations – you truly go beyond, unlocking the back door of a house of culture we live in, into a mostly untrodden secret garden, thinking deeper than most dare. For there are simply galaxies of things we haven’t made words for. Said Sheila: “What a pity it is that the English language is so poor as to have only one word for pain.” That epic difference between the pain as a sensation of destruction, and pain as a sensation of production.
And pain is part of Zwischen, ahead of labour itself. My belly rises and hardens like two fists pushing out a coat hood, tightly, almost alarmingly, as her head shifts and burrows further, corkscrewing deeper into the basement of my body ready to emerge on any given day or night. It gets the most unnerving when accompanied by a gang of other sensations all at the same time having a party in my pelvis, with relief settling down the next day. My body is busy, as busy as the dancing discoball of dawn chorus we hear every 6am as Spring’s hand colours in our garden with bees, petals, and a washing line of clothes we can finally hang out in the sun.
I once described her movements as piano music; now they are voracious orchestral clashes, nudging out my pelvis and plucking my inner thigh muscles like harp strings as she beckons her imminent entrance into this world. At this stage it is much more intense than with Evan, because he was compromised by his condition (Potter’s Syndrome / BRA). As I fall to one side with a slapstick spasming buttock I am in awe of every woman who has ever been pregnant. Still, there is scope for altering perception to the occasional pain of her movements simply by attitude: to melt into the pressure of her digging her leg deep into my flesh by remembering how much I craved this stage, to feel her thriving and healthy. Because this pain is not one of destruction. Indeed, as Sheila illuminated, what a pity that something positive can only be commonly described with a negative word.
They are growing pains for both her and I. Not just every twinge, but every worry of yesterday in this pregnancy has helped purge the way to be stronger tomorrow. That is the beauty of pregnancy, but of all of life itself. We can achieve the seemingly impossible, just bit by bit, lesson by lesson; each little growing pain can add up to have us reach the sky.
This is the importance of the time of Zwischen, it is the last but vital obstacle course on the ascent to birth, with the potential power to transform a woman’s frigid fear into relaxed nonchalance on that first labour surge. That woman who mothered Evan comes back to remind me that throughout his labour she was never scared. She, who is myself a year younger but who had to grow a lifetime wiser, go through first-time birth and look death in the face, imparts confidence onto me now.
Now I shelter his sister, who was once a tiny leaping porpoise of promise, now I sit back and can feel every big crawly limb. One leg ripples down my inflated abdomen like an iron bar gliding down a sheet of silk; soft warm skin stretched to its limits, becoming now cracked and slightly worn, the space between each hair follicle growing wider than my smile when I think about meeting her. One night I catch her leg sticking out motionless from my belly, dozing in a sprawl, like a huge spider laying lazily in a hammock it’s fast outgrowing, basking in the last and first paradise before the responsibilities of full human life begin.
Corkscrew (self-portrait from 2012)