I took this photo the night before I went into the hospital. I look back through the photos I took of my belly throughout my pregnancy and I wasn’t really that large, comparatively. But I got big quickly at the end, especially the week before I delivered. It astounds me how much skin can stretch. I look at Huck today — he’s a bit over his birth weight — and I can’t imagine him curled up into a tight ball inside me, sucking on his toes. I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that, for 9 months, a little boy grew in there.
I spent much of my life hating my stomach. My mom called it “the pooch”. We all have it. My mom. My sister. Me. We are all small women. In fact, I’ve always felt large compared to my mother (size 3 or barely) and my sister (like size nothing). My mom and sister are birdlike, small bones, small frames. I inherited some of that but my father’s side in terms of bones – small frame, large bones. I definitely went through a chubby phase in my 20s and 30s. Chalk that up to the sugar intake, considering I got through about 25 quietly miserable years with the help of red wine (expensive Cabs to box wine on the counter for emergencies), Vodka and Bombay Sapphire Gin when I had money. It worked until it didn’t and when it didn’t, as I’ve written before, I was lucky enough to have had a crash and burn with friends who had sobriety and kindness and to whom I listened when the invitation came to surrender. My last drink of alcohol was December 2, 2012. I dropped 20 pounds almost immediately in the months following that decision. And started doing Bikram Yoga obsessively and got back to running and I lost the pooch. But it took a while to love my body. My dear friend Stacie Huckaba, an incredibly empathetic photographer, came to look at my closet to help me choose outfits for my “That Kind Of Girl” photo shoot and discovered that in the front of the closet, everything was 2 or more sizes too big for me. Stuffed in the back were a bunch of right-sized rock and roll clothes. Leather shorts. Sparkly jackets. What I called my “skinny alter ego” wardrobe. The pieces I’d buy and justify by saying “When I drop 10 pounds, I’ll wear this.” She said to me, “Speace, you’ve got to stop wearing tent dresses. You have a body. Show it off.” (and if you know Stacie and her story, which you should, you’d listen. If anyone can convince someone to love their body it’s Stacie, who has done the marathon lifting for all of us in terms of self-love).
So, after years of working on a flat (or at least semi-flat) stomach, imagine my surprise when I fell madly in love with my body at about 9 months pregnant. Not only did it hold and care for my son, but I thought it was kind of sexy. I liked that I was limited by my clothing options: I’d only bought (or borrowed) a few pieces – maternity jeans, overalls, some t shirts that came down low. I couldn’t wear 99% of my shoes, as my feet had swollen and gained 1/2 size. So I bought an expensive pair of Danish wool slippers for home (totally worth the splurge) and lived outside in Sketchers flats or Uggs. I’ve never felt so sexy in my life. And as much as I was deeply looking forward to the pregnancy being over (the backpain, the sleeplessness, the heartburn, the swollen feet), I was also sad to lose the belly.
Jamey would talk to Huck at night, through my swollen belly. He would lay his head on my skin and in a low voice intone “Huuuuuuuck…Huuuuuuuuck” and sometimes, even, Huck would respond with a soft kick. I would talk to my son constantly day and night out loud, a running commentary on my life as it unfolded during his gestation. I told him chapters from my life story, all the juicy parts. I told him of the long and winding path of destruction, redemption and miraculous circumstance that created the opening for him to be a part of our lives. I described the trees and the birds on walks. I told him about my grandmother Roro and how much she would have loved him and talked to her where she exists for me, in the cardinals and a long stretch of white-clouded blue sky. I introduced him to my Uncle Will who passed years ago. I sang to him. I made up songs as I walked for miles on the trails at Shelby Park. I wrote a lullaby to him and sang it over and over so he would know it. I sang him “Moon River” because it’s the only song I know with the word “huckleberry” in it. And when I’d sing or talk or cry, he’d kick. Or hiccup. Or move. It was something only I could feel. Jamey could see it: an alien moving across the inside of my belly. A hand, a foot, his butt. I knew how to make it happen: lie on my back, drink cold water, or something sweet. And wait. Like magic. And I felt connected to him, knowing what would wake him. He who I could not yet see. He who I did not yet know.
Jamey would say, “I can’t wait to meet him.” And, although I felt exactly the same way, there was a small part of me that was hesitant. I didn’t want to meet him. Yet. I wanted him to stay inside me longer. To stay safe and warm. And all mine. He, of course, was never all mine. He was Jamey’s too. And really, he’s his own. But for 9 months, he was inside me, feeding off me, needing me. And that made him mine. Not like a pet or a stuffed animal. Something I owned. More like a grace given. A forgiveness. A prayer. Remembered words and melody. Something that lived and breathed in my bloodstream that nobody else could hear or see or sense. I was his translator. My invisible friend.
I would wake at 6am each morning and go to the room we’d been making into his nursery with the crib and the changing table and the nursing chair and gifts from the baby showers washed, folded and stacked. I kept my meditation books there on the table with the light, next to my journal and pen. I would wake early and put on a sweater and go sit in that chair and read a meditation of the day. Then I would pray the prayer I say first thing every morning, the prayer I say to the air, to the trees, to the breathing universe, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, to a God that I’ve created in my own imagination who may or may not look like the one my parents lent me long long ago. Sometimes I just say the words in a mechanical way, a memorized set of sounds, because it’s a routine I believe in doing even if I’m not sure I believe the doing will DO anything. I’ve learned to trust Acting my Way Into Believing rather than the opposite. Then I meditate. For 10 minutes. Or 20. Or 45. It didn’t even matter if I spent those minutes fidgeting and fighting the silence. I did it anyway. And all this doing brought me closer to my baby, living and growing inside me. He was even more all mine in this morning ritual. He was mine and God’s and all the rivers and the trees and the bees and the air. This ritual was connecting me to “Mother”, a quality that I was sure would not come naturally to me. Not the job or the title or the identity, but the quality. Nurturing, listening, healing, loving. His body. My body. Our soul. Our breathing. All together in union with a power way greater than I could even imagine. Some unifying force that glued all beings. Like love.
I was falling in love.
So, it felt like a secret I shouldn’t say aloud that, in the few days after Huck was born, I could sense a grief somewhere in that post-partum emotional soup. I missed him being inside me, all mine. I didn’t want to share him. I wanted him back inside me for a few months. I had some things to tell him before he opened his eyes to the aching world.
But he had to come and my body was ready and bursting and when they laid that tiny body next to my head laying on the OR gurney and he curled up in a tight ball, crying, scrunching his face against the light and the cold of the world, I wanted to apologize for having him ripped from the warm ocean and I wanted to wrap him up in the warmth of my voice, his one familiar thing of this alien world. I leaned my head toward his and said softly “Hi my love, I’m your mommy.”
The thing is, there is nothing unique about anything I’ve been writing about. What is astounding is how common all of this is but how unique it feels to be going through it. I am not the only one to have a beautiful newborn in my arms in the hours after the birth and still grieve the pregnancy. And maybe grief is not the right word. Maybe it’s more akin to a homesickness. That muscular pull at the skin around the heart when you long for something you haven’t yet lost. For me, I knew that this was a one time deal. At my age, I was lucky to have gotten this far, to have carried a baby at all. There is no second pregnancy for me. So I’m grieving more than just the experience of gestation. I’m grieving Time. I don’t want to write, “if only I’d done this earlier…” because I could have done this earlier, many many times, but I didn’t. I chose not to. Because it wasn’t right. Because it had to happen this way, at this age, with this man, with this boy. And that is one thing I know to be true. Even if it’s some kind of poetic thinking not grounded in any scientific fact. It’s a better story for me to tell myself.
But then, it’s 4:25am as I write this and I’ve got a perfect baby on my lap, holding him tight, his skin to mine, as he feeds off me and his sleep-filled eyes flutter open and he looks up past my breast to my face, searching for meaning in the shapes and lights that constitute me to him right now, visually. He can hear my voice. He knows my voice. He knows my scent. And in the dark of the early morning light, he is still just all mine.