taming the alien

Since getting back from Mexico everything has seemed a bit crazy: between getting the house back in order, getting back into the swing of things at work, and visiting with family and friends, the activities have been ceaseless.  The most frenetic and time-consuming venture, oddly, has been baby-prep.

Prior to leaving, I was a bit scattered when it came to these preparations: I’d researched cribs and strollers and read an embarrassing amount of literature on cloth diapers.  I’d called a couple of daycare places and visited one of them, but other than that I’d managed to forgo making any real decisions.  Upon our return, however, I’ve felt a new urgency that appears to be growing along with my waistline.  I’ve signed up for a classes, visited all our top daycare choices, and all but finalized my registry list.  Now all I need to do is figure out the baby shower details and make sure I have a car seat, at least, by June.  Whew!

For most of my life I’ve been terrified of the idea of pregnancy and motherhood-to-small-infant, and indeed there are many things that still give me pause, childbirth among them.  Once I made the decision to actually have a child, however, the physical challenges seemed secondary–plenty of other people deal with them, and I stoically resolved to do the same.  The rumored mental and emotional changes were something else, however.

Pregnant women are treated somewhat like porcelain dolls: they are tiptoed-around and coddled and allowed the strangest of behavioral oddities imaginable–from bizarre eating habits to violent mood swings.  They are also treated somewhat more like the animals we all are–not in full control of their facilities, and potentially (probably) wild and volatile in any situation.  She’s angry/sad/happy?  It must be those hormones!  She doesn’t know what she’s doing!  Better disregard anything she says or does and put it down to her mammalian (alien?) tendencies.

This behavior has always infuriated and terrified me: to cease to be treated like a person is certainly one of the most horrifying experiences any of us could imagine, something like the dream sequence in which you know your mother/brother/best friend is about to be murdered, but no one will listen to you.

But there is another side to this fear: what if, upon becoming pregnant, or becoming a mother, I cease to be, not a person, but myself?  Would my body and my brain betray me, create of me an alien monster who blows up at family and friends for no reason, then suddenly forgoes my career and becomes obsessed with wall decals and baby clothes?  Most terrifying at all: would I even notice?  Maybe I’d just continue on like nothing had happened, and wonder why my old friends, with whom I’d gone dancing and sailing and beer-tasting on summer patios, were suddenly distant and confused.

Becoming a parent means sacrificing some elements of one’s life–this I have always assumed, and am only just beginning to experience.  I’ve given up Rochefort, caffeinated coffee, and oysters on the half-shell.  I’ve also given up downhill skiing (not a great sacrifice this past winter, but still), Pisco sours, and the majority of my wardrobe, not to mention my silhouette.  But these things are all temporary, all easily contained, and anticipated in future months and years.  What have I surrendered, forever and unknowingly, that I will only discover in some distant future?

One of my best friends, A, is also pregnant–her little girl is due a week after mine.  She told me early on that she found herself randomly blowing up at her husband, scatterbrained and forgetful and distracted.  Now, I admit readily that I’ve always aspired to be more like A: she’s smart and beautiful, but also driven and successful in her career, fit and energetic (she is a kick-boxing instructor in her spare time), and outrageously efficient and successful in everything she puts her mind to, which is quite a lot.  Her house is clean and well-decorated, she’s an excellent cook, and she wakes up at the crack of dawn every morning and accomplishes things, while I lie in bed and read books and bum around on the internet looking at more books to read.  She reminds me, frankly, of my own mother.

I told G that I wanted him to tell me immediately if I became a weird pregnant bitch–or really just different in any way.  He’s pretty observant, and honest to a fault, so I know I can count on him, if no one else, to tell it like it is and give me the bad news should I turn into an alien.  Instead, he tells me I’m sweeter than I ever was to him before (“I think maybe you should appreciate me a little less,”  he tells me last week).  I’m also, bizarrely, more organized.  Between daycare interviews, diaper research, and finally purchasing stools for the kitchen and curtain rods for our bedroom, I’m more involved and engaged in running our household than I have ever been before.  I’ve also started doing yoga, walking the dog twice a day, and singing in our local choir.  What’s happening to me?

What if we could choose the transformations in our lives?  What if the animal in us could make us more efficient, more thoughtful, more deliberate–because surely all these things are sorely needed when one becomes a parent?

Who knows if this will last.  I assume I will be just as handicapped by an infant as the next new parent, but I’ve ceased to be as traumatized by the thought of it.  So what if I’m sleep deprived and generally look and act a mess?  At the heart of it, at least I’ll (hopefully) still be myself.

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