Pregnant with different fears

Posted by jdg | Thursday, January 10, 2008 |

This pregnancy is, of course, different from the first and I don't just mean the unexpected shock of increased flatulence. Physically, it seems like there are many differences, and I hope Wood is able to write about them soon (maybe even this afternoon? tomorrow?). I am hoping to drag her out of hiatus by mentioning the flatulence. Did I mention the epic flatulence?

To make any sense of this, I need to take you back to the halcyon days of 2004, when two married 26-year-olds were childless and loving childless life in San Francisco. All was well until the girl was informed by a rogue obstetrician that she had a wonky uterus and it would take her many months, maybe even years to get pregnant. I believe his exact words were, "You're a lawyer so you think you can control everything. But you can't control this and you need to get it out of your head that you can just do this when it fits into your career." This set off a frenzy of reproductive activities in the coming weeks, and soon the boy who was once sure he didn't want to be a father until he was 36 found himself a decade earlier surrounded by urine-spattered positive pregnancy tests stacked like cordwood around his grungy apartment. One evening after he got home from his law firm job he sat in the closet and plotted an attack on that obstetrician, lifting him by the collar of his lab coat and saying, "What about the wonky uterus, huh?" Slap him around a bit maybe. Knee him in the groin. Then, coming to his senses, the boy wondered if he could sue him instead. Causes of action danced in his head.

The truth is I was terrified. I didn't know any fathers. The only men I knew in San Francisco with kids wore Façonnable shirts and listened to the Kronos Quartet. Although I knew I loved kids, I wasn't so sure about babies. I'd never held a baby. The only babies I'd ever even been around were at weddings or other events with enough post-menopausal women to ensure that no male my age would ever get close to one. Now my wife was pregnant, and at such events babies were suddenly thrust into my arms and all the post-menopausal women gathered around to stare at me like a Roman mob waiting for an emperor's thumb, like a royal court watching a taste-tester who'd just bitten into the king's crème brûlée. Was he fatherhood material? Will he be ready? Would he drop it?

Several friends of ours have had their first babies in recent weeks. Visiting them, I remembered the advice I'd given them six or seven months earlier: "Don't listen to anybody, especially me. Pregnancy takes a long time partly so you have plenty of time to ruminate on all this shit for yourselves." Standing on their thresholds, removing shoes, seeing them bleary-eyed in the afternoon, still in pajamas, everything stained by breastmilk, I realized I haven't been thinking near enough about how my own life was going to change again. The entirety of my wife's first pregnancy was characterized by my extreme anxiety. This one, I'd say, has been characterized by the absence of it.

Over the last few days, we have taken advantage of the warm days by spending the afternoons hiking on Belle Isle. With the kid and the dog running together up ahead, I had plenty of time to myself to think. I knew that part of my fear with the initial pregnancy was the loss of my self. I had lived so many years bent inward, thinking only of what I could accomplish, defining myself by my career and my aspirations. That's what I was taught to do anyway, wrap my identity so tightly around what I was accomplishing and where it would lead that I somehow came to believe all that stuff was actually who I really was, or that such concerns would lead to eventual happiness. I could never have anticipated that this would be what I would be doing one day, chasing a little blond gingerbread man through the woods on a warm workday afternoon. I never could have imagined being seduced by parenthood as I have been, by the selfish joy abandoning that old self brings.

This change didn't sweep across me suddenly at any point during the first pregnancy; it didn't fill me like some mighty, pentecostal wind on the day she was born. When Wood first got pregnant and I was so frightened, I think it was partly because I was sure I didn't want to feel like this about a kid. I was so entrenched in that old identity I couldn't believe I could ever undrape from it and escape. I knew things would have to change, and that's always scary. I still have anxieties, concerns that I am ruining any chance at a career. But I can only hope that there will be enough years to try to recapture what I've lost by leaving the working world, and trust in the fact that there will never be any way to recapture any of this.

It was sixty-some degrees in January. The air was filled with the smell of the false hope of spring. I pictured myself with my son in a sling, my 3-year old chasing the dog, me yelling at her not to follow him into the cattails. It was summer.

And now the only thing that I am really scared of is somehow losing this.