“I feel like such a cow.”
This has been a consistent chorus in our house over the past couple of months. My wife, Sarah, is pregnant and currently bearing the full brunt of Mother Nature’s miracle. She’s full-term as of earlier this week.
The scene has played out many times in many settings. But always with the same dialogue.
She’ll be in the middle of some mildly obnoxious task — cooking dinner, folding laundry, sending work emails. Me standing uselessly nearby as if the baby might spring out of her at any moment and I’ll need to catch it. And Sarah will casually toss this line out there like a live grenade:
“I feel disgusting.”
The punctuation may not indicate it, but this is a question. And it requires a careful response. Married men know what I’m talking about.
“What? You’re crazy!” I say each time, seemingly baffled, like this is the first time she’s ever expressed any self-doubt around her changing body. “Where on Earth is this coming from?” I might throw in for good measure.
One of the things I love about Sarah is how powerful her personality is. It’s magnetic, in a lot of ways, and can shift tides with ease. If she’s happy, she’ll pull you out of the shadows and onto cloud nine with her. You won’t have a choice.
But when she’s down… oh boy. It takes a village to pull her out of it.
In moments like this, she’s not easily shrugged off. She’ll corner you. She’ll demand the truth.
“Be honest. Do I look gross?”
“Of course not. You’re beautiful.”
“But have I or have I not put on weight?”
She’s crafty. Too smart for her own good. This is an impossible question and she knows it.
Obviously, she weighs more than she did before. But it’s healthy. Natural. The kind of weight that comes about by growing a human being beneath your abdomen. Still, to say “yes” to a question that is quite clearly correlated, in her mind, in these moments, with feeling disgusting, is ill advised.
“You’re all belly,” I offer.
“Answer the question.”
“I think I just heard the doorbell.”
This can go on for a while.
Like a lot of men, though, I’m not always a great reassurer. It’s more my nature to come up with solutions. To try to fix things. I can’t help it.
So eventually, one night — exhausted, I guess, from tip-toeing around the issue; tired of being interrogated when I’m just trying to make her feel better — I propose this:
“How about we go to the gym together?”
Immediately, reading the look on her face, I start walking this back. Shoveling dozens of modifiers and explainers on top of it.
“Because I’m kind of not feeling great about what I ate this week. I would love to get a lift in. Or a run. You don’t even have to go if you don’t want.”
This defuses things. At least, I think it does. More likely she just decides to give me a pass out of the goodness of her heart.
She throws me a bone:
“You know I have been thinking about doing some prenatal yoga. Or something else we can do at home.”
Work puts her home around 7pm at the earliest. Sometimes much later. Finding time for the gym has been nearly impossible.
“Perfect!” I say. “I’ll see what I can find on YouTube.”
I scurry away while the window of forgiveness is open. Sure enough, it takes all of 10 seconds to pull up hundreds of prenatal yoga routines on our living room TV.
About five minutes later, I am sitting pretzel-legged on an old green yoga mat in front of our sofa. Sarah beside me on a purple lululemon mat. Our dog, Bailey, staring quizzically from our armchair.
I’m not really sure how I got roped into being a participant. But I go with it.
We flip through a few dozen videos or so before settling on a professional looking clip featuring an attractive Middle Eastern woman and a soothing female narrator. The woman sits beside a calm swimming pool, candles flickering around her.
“Sit comfortably in sucasa,” the narrator begins.
We’ve muscled our large, raw-wood coffee table out of the way. Sarah and her mat are squared up to the TV. Me and mine are smushed awkwardly to the side, against the French doors that lead to our patio.
“Start by placing one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Feel your baby.”
Sarah does this and so do I. She cradles our unborn daughter with a rounded hand. I cup my own belly and think about all the times I worked through lunch instead of going for a run.
We continue. First with light stretches. Then with deep squats and some more advanced maneuvers named after animals.
“Listen to the sound of your body, your breath, and your growing baby,” the narrator coos.
Sarah, eyes closed, takes deep, powerful breaths as her arms and torso effortlessly mirror those of the woman on our screen. Her brown hair is up, with the occasional strand freeing itself to fall over her face as she moves.
I steal glances and unsuccessfully try to copy her form. Some muscle I have never used before begins to burn.
The delicate sound of windchime-y flutes acts as a soundtrack to my discomfort.
“You are now breathing for yourself and your baby.”
In one move, we extend our right arm far across our body, cradling our bellies with the left, meticulously measuring our breaths.
Breathing for my baby hurts my ribs.
The next position asks us to reach down toward our outstretched toes, hold, and imagine the moment when our baby finally bursts forth from our vagina and into the world.
I decide to sit this one out.
“I just feel ridiculous,” I say.
“You don’t look ridiculous.”
“You don’t have to lie.”
“You’re doing great,” she says.
“Be honest though, do I look stupid?”
And without my even realizing it, the tables have turned.
Ten minutes in a scenario clearly not designed for me or my body has quickly reduced me to little more than a sore-muscled ball of insecurity.
Nothing compared to being pregnant for nine months in a world that won’t stop spinning with meals to be prepared, laundry to be washed, work to be done.
I imagine, anyway.
Sarah finally looks at me, my question lingering, and with full sincerity she says, “It’s really sweet of you to even be doing this with me. Thank you.”
And back she goes into the next move. One with our baby, the Middle Eastern woman on TV, and the universe.
Watching Sarah, she is amazing. Even with what must feel like a bowling ball inside of her, protruding out, pushing her body to its absolute limits, wreaking havoc on her hormones and emotions, she is pure grace.
I tell her again that she is beautiful.
And I mean it.