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When You're Not Glowing in Pregnancy

Photograph by Twenty20

Many of my friends are pregnant right now, in various stages of hormonal bloom. Although I feel a twinge of warmth when I see a tiny baby on the street, asleep in a sling or gazing out with wondrous eyes, it’s immediately squelched by the thought of another pregnancy.

I remember hot August days in late pregnancy— exhausted, enormous, and grumpy as a bear. Complete strangers would approach me and put their hands on my belly, violating what felt like my personal boundaries.

How people love talking to pregnant women, telling them whether they’re carrying a boy or a girl, observing how big (or small) they are!

While some mothers receive this attention with gracious civility, I growled like a she-wolf. I hated being asked when I was going to “pop,” as if I was a balloon or a kernel of corn. Surely anyone who understood even the basic facts of labor knew this was the wrong metaphor.

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No one would dare come up to a non-gestating adult, stroke her stomach and remark on her size. Yet I too (when not pregnant) have felt the magnetic pull to an expecting woman’s belly. I know it speaks to our human longing for connection—we want to lay our palms on the visible miracle of creation.

But when people touched me, I felt as if I had lost the privacy of my selfhood. At the bitter end, when I was a week overdue with my first baby, I stopped going out in public at all. No more trips to the market— I snuck out at odd hours to the farm-stand down the road, where I anonymously left money in a box and filled my bag with fresh veggies and bread.

Either way, I was not myself while pregnant.

Normally a gregarious person, I retreated inward. Perhaps this was my instinctive way of preparing for impending motherhood, or perhaps it was a response to my father’s sudden death only weeks before, which shocked me into private grief.

Either way, I was not myself while pregnant.

Now it seems likely I was suffering from prenatal depression, a condition I didn’t even know existed. I wish I’d been able to read Andrew Solomon’s 2015 cover story for the New York Times Magazine, "The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy With Depression” or talk with my doctor about possible treatments. Instead, I grouched along in inexplicable sadness and rage, getting through the days while challenging everyone around me.

A lifelong athlete, I lost my balance—literally and figuratively— with a baby growing at my center. Core strength yields athletic power and stability, and I felt mine displaced by another being. Yes, I was enraptured by the sound of the fetal heartbeat echoing from the Doppler like a steady drumbeat. Yes, the fluttery kicks on my inner walls were miraculous. But I would have appreciated them for a month or two, rather than nearly ten.

There’s a cult of pregnancy in pop culture these days, an obsession that has generated a billion-dollar industry. Products like body pillows, belly butter, and chic prenatal couture bombard women long before they start outfitting their nurseries. From "Knocked Up" to "Baby Mama," from Kim Kardashian to Bristol Palin, society is fascinated with pregnant women— provided they are gorgeous, cheerful, and get their figures back within six weeks.

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Some young starlets seem to view pregnancy as a strategic career move. But I wonder, did Kim actually enjoy being pregnant? What about the much-maligned Britney Spears?

Now when I feel the illogical longing for another child, when I want to smell a newborn’s downy head or nestle her into the crook of my arm, I remind myself of the dog days when I was “great with child,” as one nosy stranger once described me.

I stretch my own body to the sky and give thanks. I’m not expecting anything but the return of more sleep to my life. I feel blessed that my energy is flowing outward now, into my creativity, into the family I already have.

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