I never considered myself a parent until I actually had a baby in hand, but from a biological perspective, the physical act of mothering kind of starts with pregnancy. Pregnancy for me was paradoxical; it seemed hard, not for the faint of heart, and yet, most women of a certain age had done it. I had new respect for women in my life, who all the sudden seemed hardcore just for getting through pregnancy and birth.
Pregnancy seemed like such work. Every once in a while I’d run into someone who would look at my belly with fondness and say something along the lines of “Isn’t it fun? I always loved being pregnant.” And I think I must have answered them with a blank stare like…lady, you and me are different.
Every pregnant woman on the web is smiling, doing yoga, and/or eating salad/cutting vegetables. It’s all a lie!
I mean, sure, the conceptual part of pregnancy was fun. I felt proud of what my body was doing. I think I’ve never actually felt more confident and comfortable about the way my body looked than when I was pregnant, which is weird, because there’s something freakish about it, the swollen belly, the salami nipples, all the veins and stretching. And it was exciting to contemplate the baby at the end.
But day to day, moment to moment, I just felt bad. And I had a totally normal pregnancy, no actual vomiting, no bedrest, nothing complicated. But I felt like complaining all the time. I didn’t, at least I don’t think I did , because I know the complaining pregnant woman is something of a cliché and I had enough self-awareness to know that no one wanted to hear me bitch about my voluntary condition of pregnancy.There were times when I just felt sorry for myself and had to throw a little pity party. I remember being nine months pregnant, drawing the shades of my classroom at lunchtime, laying my head on my desk and just spending the lunch period that way, musing on whether it was more funny or more embarrassing that my students had to talk to my protuberant belly button when I stopped by their desks to help them with their work.
When I felt tired and nauseous and sorry for myself, I thought of every other woman who has ever been pregnant. Which is, like, a lot. I thought of that evolutionary line of women, from my mother to her mother to my great-grandmother and her mother, etc etc, doing that evolutionary backwards march in my head back to the earliest human women, and then back further still to our primate ancestors. And I wondered, how has evolution shaped this process that seems so far from ideal? And while evolution doesn’t necessary engineer ideal or perfect solutions, how have women evolved to bear the weight (pun intended) of gestation in such an asymmetric fashion? The man contributes a cell, a really puny one at that, joining the woman’s egg to make a zygote (fertilized egg). From that moment of conception, the woman then foots the energy bill 100% for that growing fetus for nine months when boom, out comes a baby* that is 50% the father’s genetically even though the father only contributed one cell (directly). Seriously, if you’ve never contemplated the apparent unfairness of this, think about it. It is crazy. But I say apparent unfairness, because if women really had a bad deal evolutionarily, being a woman would theoretically be selected against, and you would drift away from a 1:1 sex ratio of females do males. Which doesn’t happen.
So. More on pregnancy, it’s energetic costs, what it’s like in primates, to come.
*Spoiler alert: birth doesn’t actually happen like boom, you’re done. Wish it did.