When I was young, my mother would periodically make comments about how she had been a different person before having kids. We would tease her about her untameable curly hair and she would say forebodingly, "Just wait until you get pregnant; mine used to be wavy like yours." When her allergies would act up, she'd say, "I never had a problem with this until I had you kids." I remember looking at her blankly for a moment, befuddled by the idea of her existing before we did and then, unable to compute such a concept, I would drop that whole existential chasm and go off and play with my fellow body-snatchers.
When I was pregnant, I remember having my own out-of-body moments, feeling like an anthropologist observing this bizarre terrain formerly known as My Body. Although I had a healthy, easy pregnancy in general, there were dozens of little changes -- you know, your feet swell so much that they look like they belong on a Muppet or Sesame Street character, at odd moments throughout the day your body gets furiously pummeled from the inside, everything takes twice as much energy as it used to. Individually, these changes were too insignificant to discuss with my ob/gyn and too standard to elicit much more than an eyeroll and a 15-minute history of their pregnancy horrors if I mentioned them to someone at work or a friend. So I quickly learned to not share them and just experience these little shifts in how my body functioned on my own.
I was left with a huge feeling of disconnect, though, pretending to everyone else that everything was normal for me while feeling that my body really had been taken over by something unknown. (Which, of course, it had.) This was when I first had the thought: How have so many women put up with this so quietly for so long?
For, despite the extra public courtesy (doors opened, shopping bags carried to the car, you need never stand on public transportation again), while one is pregnant there is precious little concession to the fact that you are walking around with another BEING inside of you. Things are, in fact, very DIFFERENT. Not continually, not all the time, but nonetheless, most non-pregnant people do not scan every new environment they enter to determine the best place to puke should the urge arise. Call me a whiner, but as the weeks and months wore on and the changes became greater and greater (for goodness sake, you can't even breathe easily in the last trimester!) the thought that this is what women have done for all these years filled me with a sense of dazed awe. How have pregnant women managed to function business as usual?
I am reminded of all this because since my son was born, my menstrual cycles have become regular. This may seem like no big deal to the average woman, but let me put it this way: For 37 years I enjoyed menstrual cycles that were very short, somewhat infrequent, and at their worst involved a little extra desire for chocolate, a slightly greater tendency to cry, and a desire to get a full eight hours sleep instead of the usual six or seven. Now, my cycles are like clockwork every 28 days and for the first time, I believe that I am experiencing PMS as women across the world have experienced PMS from time immemorial. Bloating to the point of nausea, fatigue, rage, breasts swelling to the weight of sandbags, for 7-10 days out of every 28. This is the "usual," right?
Again, my only thought is: THIS is what women have done all these years? I have that slightly dazed feeling all over again. Surely not, I think, surely this is not what it could be like for women everywhere throughout the dawn of time because something so insidious, so debilitating -- wouldn't there be national campaigns about it? Wouldn't celebrities be wearing little pins to raise awareness of our plight? Wouldn't there be millions of medical dollars dedicated to fighting this adversity? Instead of late-night jokes about it, wouldn't someone be handing the makers of Midol a Nobel prize?
I thought that pregnancy was a temporary condition; I was an anthropologist visiting a foreign land, but I would be going home in just nine short months. I hadn't really believed my mother when she blamed her body's failures on having kids. Some of the changes get plenty of press, of course -- weight gain, Kegel exercises. But curly hair? Allergies? PMS? Once again, the cliché Your life will never be the same after you have kids takes on new meaning for me. My days of virtually hormonal-free PMS are over. Once again, my admittance into the Mommy Club gives me unexpected insight into what it takes to be a woman. And, I have to say, I'm very impressed with us.
Alicia and her family live in Vermont.