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40 weeks of a new life
what the books don't tell you
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

First of all, it makes a liar out of you.

You become sneaky, underhanded. For example, take alcohol. You pour yourself half a glass of wine so no one asks why you're not drinking, but then you carry it around for an hour just touching it from your lips to time to time and not actually ingesting it. You carry your wineglass to the kitchen and/or the bathroom so you can dump out an inch or so, or you "forget" it on a side table, or you make an agreement with your husband to switch glasses every now and again so he is gradually emptying both his and yours. Or, if it's too much hassle to pretend, you lie about why you're not drinking: red wine gives you a headache (which is true, but it's never stopped you before); you're on antibiotics (not true); you're hung over from last night (definitely not true); you haven't been sleeping much and don't want to pass out at the dinner table (actually, that one's not far off.)

When people ask after your health, you lie, both actively and by omission. They ask about your week and you don't mention the hour you spent on the ultrasound table on Wednesday. They ask how you're feeling and you don't say, "Actually, I had some samples drawn for a test the other day and the results don't come back til Monday so I'm absolutely terrified." You can't share the lows with them and that means they also don't get to hear the highs, like when the tests come back 100% fine and you get the good news on your voice mail and you lie to the person you're with about who the voice mail was from, because it's still the first trimester, and you're too afraid to tell anyone anything yet.

You feel like a jerk for lying to your friends and you do it anyway. They ask about your weekend and you don't mention the apartment you looked at in Brooklyn Heights that's twice the size of your current place. You don't tell them why you're turning down the cup of coffee, the steak tartare, the sushi, the champagne toast. Because these things mean telling the truth, and at least for the first three months, that's a truth you're not willing to tell.

(You also become suspicious, and observant in very specific ways. If another woman orders decaf coffee in a restaurant, you wonder to yourself if she's doing it for the same reason you are. Can you ask her outright? Of course you can't.)

You gain weight, month after month, and silently thank everyone you know for being polite enough not to mention it.

People make offhand references to "next May" and your first thought is Oh there is absolutely no way I will be able to do that in May, you have no idea and what you say out loud is, "Yeah, I'll try to be there."

But all of that is only until you can tell people. And then when you can finally tell people, you don't know how.

Family's easy; they get phone calls. But then there are ever-widening circles, and you're not sure whether to e-mail some kind of announcement, or trickle out the news here and there. You rule out posting a picture of your ultrasound on Facebook, because those pictures kind of creep you out when they're pictures of the inside of your own body. So you do a little e-mailing, and some offhand references on social media, and at some point you say to yourself Hey, this would actually be an interesting column, and you write that column, and that's how a substantial number of your friends find out.

(Hi, friends! The baby's due April 9th!)

Then, things kind of calm down. Either it's the hormones, or you're so distracted with the move that you don't have time to panic about the fact that there's an actual BABY in there OMG, or you're just so lucky that you haven't had morning sickness or hypersmell or any really life-changing side effects and so you kind of feel like you normally do, except more tired and wearing size 12 jeans.

And then, you realize what the real dominant feeling of pregnancy is, and it isn't the daily lying of the first trimester, nor the sharing-the-good-news fun of the second.

It's the fact that you have never been SO present in the moment and, at the same time, SO completely preoccupied with the future.

You're in the moment. The baby is kicking you right now. You are wearing this dress because it may not fit you in 10 days. At every doctor's appointment you're asked "how many weeks are you" and you always know, and you've never measured anything like that in your life. You're taking your pills now and not ordering that burger now and asking whether that cheese is made with pasteurized milk now and not lifting anything heavy now and managing every single aspect of your behavior more tightly than you ever have. You can't afford to ever not be aware of what's happening, what you're doing, right now.

But you're also in the future, unavoidably. You're always thinking about what will be happening, and what needs to happen, three or six or nine months out. About cribs and Moses baskets, hospitals and day care, grandparents coming to help you with something you can't ever feel fully ready for. About what it will be like to have another human completely dependent on you, from that moment on. About sleep deprivation and breastfeeding and what happens after the baby arrives. You're picturing the highs and lows, knowing it's all coming toward you. It's all on the way.

And that's what the books don't tell you. That strange, exquisite, and ultimately wonderful tension between where you are now and where you will be. You've never felt more you, even if who you are is changing by the moment, knowing that having a child means you'll never be the same person again.

And it's pretty amazing, after all.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


a little human sacrifice never hurt anybody
an unusual look at visiting peru
by jael mchenry
topic: general
published: 8.3.05

stay east, young man
is travel worth it?
by jael mchenry
topic: general
published: 6.4.08


roger striffler
12.5.11 @ 8:58a

Congratulations! Another generation of amazingness!

margot lester
12.5.11 @ 9:05a

First, congrats!

Second, great piece. You build the drama really well in the first part, so that it's easy enough to tell you're probably writing about pregnancy, but not so easy to know how it turns out. Well done.

tracey kelley
12.5.11 @ 10:55a

Heh. The call to your parents, "No, really, this time I AM pregnant! But yes, the book is doing well, too." :D

kathy carlton
12.5.11 @ 11:08a

Congratulations, Jael! A beautiful piece that perfectly describes those feelings. Best wishes for a happy, healthy pregnancy, and a lovely new baby!

katherine (aka clevertitania)
12.5.11 @ 11:17a

Aptly timed in my inbox. Sis went into the hospital last night, and they just broke her water about an hour ago. Baby Jackson - or Monkey as he's already been nicknamed - should join us any time today.

If I can't have another myself at least I'm gonna get to play auntie. :)

There are tons of things the books don't tell you, though the process of pre-viability lying is one I hadn't thought of. I guess this is what comes from having a baby when I was 20 and most of the people in my life had bailed - I didn't have to worry about hiding it.

Good luck - it's a lot of work, and you'll wonder WTF you were thinking by the teenage years, but THIS is one of the hardest (and most thankless) jobs you'll ever love.

juli mccarthy
12.5.11 @ 12:21p

I feel compelled, once again, to post this link: http://www.intrepidmedia.com/column.asp?id=979 And this one: http://pictures.mastermarf.com/blog/2009/090204-baby-instructions.jpg

robert melos
12.5.11 @ 7:13p

Congratulations! Awesome news. Best of luck.

jason gilmore
12.7.11 @ 7:57p

Great article written by my awesome friend about the awesomest subject. Lived through just about everything you described a year-and-a-half ago (well, my wife did anyway) and am still enjoying this crazy journey. Prayers going up for a safe, happy pregnancy and delivery and I can't wait to hear more!

albert garcia
1.20.12 @ 4:22p

Big congrats! My boy turns one tomorrow. It's been a great year. I wish you all the best and I will be thinking of you. I'm sure advice has been thrown at you from all angles so here's just one piece I learned in the first 365 days - pajamas with zippers rock!

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