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What It’s Like to Be Pregnant

A primer for oblivious partners

Credit: AntonioGuillem/iStock via Getty Images Plus

TThe other day I was in the kitchen making breakfast — this involves starting the coffee, then making the dogs their customary artisan slop bowls, then fielding requests from my children shouted at the top of their lungs for milk or juice or gummy vitamins or something to eat while they wait for me to make them something to eat — and my husband was relaxing in an easy chair, catching up on the news on his iPad, occasionally attempting to distract one of the boys from hollering that they’re starving or wandering into the kitchen to place a full palm onto the hot skillet, admire the cool sizzling noise, and then shatter windows with their screaming. “Wow,” I thought to my third-trimester-pregnant-37-years-old-ass self, “if he had any idea how my body feels all the time now, he’d offer to cook every meal and also sacrifice a limb to the gods for preventing his own murder by his haggard, exhausted, underappreciated wife.”

But then it hit me: he has no idea how I feel. I’m a writer, so I’m pretty good at putting things into words, and he’s an iPad addict, but he’s pretty good at listening some of the time, so I know I’ve adequately described how it feels like I’m wearing an apparatus filled with cement and I can’t find a sleeping position in which my hips aren’t screaming in pain for death (Yes! I spent $60 on the pregnancy pillow! It helps but not enough!) and my children view my baby bump as a proving ground for their headbutting valor and I walk like my hemorrhoids have grown faces, and I have weird shooting pains, likely from my skin stretching beyond its limit and the baby windmilling important internal organs, and I’m so tired that if I had one of those blinks where my eyelashes get all tangled up in each other I’d drop to the floor dead asleep and it’d take someone waving a Cadbury crème egg under my nose to wake me. That all sounds terrible, right? And hard? It is. But if you are a pregnant woman’s partner and you’ve never been pregnant, even though it seems like you can visualize the existence I’m describing, you have no idea what it’s like. You just don’t. Not until you’re the one realizing that every time you bend down to pick something up you make a noise like a climaxing hippo and have also trapped a passing stranger’s arm in your buttcheeks and the only way to free him is to bend over again, and you’re not doing that for at least another four hours.

It’d be so easy for me to get angry with my husband, to wonder why he takes me for granted, why I have to ask him to carry our two-year-old down the stairs or pick up something heavy or why he doesn’t come home and tell me he’s brought dinner and he’ll take care of bedtime, so I can sit and melt into the backache I’ve had for months and watch Chip and Jo put up some iron railing. But I love the guy, and he’s actually pretty wonderful, so I dig deeper and realize that he just has no idea.

Because women getting pregnant is seen as natural, and something a woman’s body was made for (IF SHE CHOOSES!), her difficulties while pregnant are seen as par for the course. Something she must endure, along with all the rest of the stuff she must endure all day. With my first pregnancy, everything felt new and interesting. Every blood test, every ultrasound, every fetal wallop and pain, every work meeting during which I was asleep with my eyes open while simultaneously chewing two different granola bars, all of it felt magical. Me and the baby were hurtling toward birth (him) and rebirth (me, reborn as ultra-mother, lol, didn’t happen). With my second and third pregnancies, I just wanted/want to lie down. And stay that way. Like, the other day I found myself looking forward to being in the hospital after my C-section, because I’ll be expected to stay in bed and no one will ask me to prepare food. Listen to me: being in the hospital after giving birth is a hell unlike any other. Nurses check on you hourly. Asleep? Too bad. Naked? Oh well! Taking a shit? Get ready to talk at length about its texture. That nurse is going to come in and squelch around in her Crocs and make you feel guilty for not having your boob in your baby’s mouth OR infer that your boob is in the baby’s mouth too much. With my second kid, they put me in a room by the service elevators, which dinged all night and day and which the staff liked to gather by to gossip at a volume much more suitable for a conversation you’re trying to have at a monster truck rally. My point is: it’s not fun to stay in the hospital, and yet I can’t wait. I’m excited to be in a place where resting is a requirement, where I can’t jump up and Swiffer or fold laundry or explain for the hundredth time why we don’t use the television as a dartboard, where the only thing expected of me is to recover.

Asking for what we need is hard for moms. Our hormones have rearranged our brain synapses to yearn primarily for health and happiness of the household, and we have to work at reminding ourselves that we need that stuff, too. Every once in a while, I’ll gather up the courage to tell my husband we should order dinner, or that I just want to take a bath. And he loves being told what I want! But for some reason, I feel like I’ve failed, or I’m not living up to our unspoken bargain that we both contribute equally. I look for ways to make it up to him, to re-balance the scales, when in reality the entire household rests on my shoulders, and I do plenty.

I keep thinking there should be a practical guide — one that doesn’t ask its users to fully understand what it’s like to be pregnant, but one that simply lists what a partner should do if his/her partner is expecting. Because the truth is, we’re all in our own heads, in our own bodies. I can’t expect my husband to understand what it’s like to have a cervix, so how can I expect him to understand when I tell him I’m worried one of our boys somehow passed a ball peen hammer up mine while I was sleep-chewing and the baby is using it to mine her way out too early? It’s like the friggin Shawshank Redemption up there, is my fear. Remove the flimsy poster that is my labia and the baby will be waving at the end of a dark tunnel and oh wow, that’s where my wallet went?! And my husband laughs, or says Oh man, or shakes his head in sympathy, and God love him, but he doesn’t understand shit about shit. So for him, and for all you partners out there who’ve never given birth, a list:

  1. Always err on the side of coming home with dinner.
  2. Rub your partner’s feet I DO NOT CARE if they are wizened horror shows with chipped polish from the second trimester when her ass felt optimistic about not letting herself go, get the lotion and get in there.
  3. Tell your partner how beautiful she is I DO NOT CARE if she has under-eye bags the color of a dead person and a stress-induced dreadlock that you’re positive has become sentient and talks to you in the night, muster up your courage and tell her she’s glowing.
  4. Help. Clean. The. House. They make cleaning supplies that basically do the cleaning for you. Stop by the CVS on your way home and pick those up and clean the goddamn bathroom yourself and while you’re at it say hello to the pubes you dropped on and around the toilet seat WEEKS AGO WHY IS THIS YOUR PREGNANT WIFE’S JOB and thank you. Also the vacuum turns on with the push of a single button, isn’t that wild?
  5. Learn how to make pancakes. I can’t think of anything I want more in this world right now than for someone to bring me pancakes in bed.
  6. Tell her everything is going to be okay I DO NOT CARE if she is crying so hard that her snot has made a whole new shirt for her. Pull her in for a hug and tell her everything is going to be just fine, you promise, even as you are filling your pants with your own fear poops.
  7. Carry the thing.
  8. Buy the thing.
  9. Do the thing.
  10. Remember this doesn’t last forever. One day there’ll be a baby HAHAHA HAVE FUN.

Lindsay Hunter is the author of two story collections and two novels, most recently Eat Only When You’re Hungry. She lives in Chicago.

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