I didn’t know whether I wanted kids. That’s what I’m talking about in essay I read at Boulder’s Listen To Your Mother Show. Here is a link to my talk, “The Joy of Pregnancy.” It seemed fitting that I should talk about pregnancy on stage, just two weeks shy of my due date. You will note I am very short of breath for the first few lines. This was due to a mixture of nerves and the exertion of walking across the stage with what would turn out to be a super size baby crushing my diaphragm.
If you prefer to read it than listen to me talk (this is my preference), you can read the essay below.
Despite being ambivalent about watching my own talk, I am thoroughly enjoying watching all the other Listen To Your Mother talks. Go big or go home, I say. (About Listen To Your Mother, not my formerly enormous pregnant belly).
I don’t like to do things halfway. (Except washing dishes. I have a bad habit of not noticing stray bits of crud hanging out in the edges the frying pan). I’m committed to watching every single talk of every single Listen To Your Mother Show of the 2014 season. There were 32 shows in 2014, each with 12 or so talks. That’s a lot of talks. I’m going to have to be creative about how and when I listen, but I’m doing it.
I’ve downloaded the You Tube app on my phone and I listen when I am tidying the house, pumping (breastmilk, not iron), on the treadmill, in the car, on a walk, hanging laundry on the line, or (half-assedly) doing the dishes. Since the shows went up on the Listen To Your Mother You Tube Channel at the beginning of this month, I’ve listened to Portland, Boston, and I’m in the middle of Austin. Having co-produced the Boulder show, I know it backward and forward, so I can check that one off my list, and I saw the Denver show in person. Only 28.5 shows to go!
So far, I have been struck by the local character of each show. There are the obvious differences, like the accents. But there are more subtle differences, too. One of the speakers in Atlanta closes with an amen. One of the memorable pieces in Portland’s lineup reminded me of something you would hear at a poetry slam. Meanwhile, one speaker in Boston made a joke about The Vatican. I’ve been tweeting out some of my favorite talks when the stars align such that I hear one that I especially love and I have an uninterrupted three minutes and two free hands to type the tweet, include the link, and mention the speaker, which is no small feat.
Is anyone else with me here? If you want to take on the challenge of listening to every single talk of the 2014 LTYM season, let me know. Last one done is a rotten egg! I happen to know for a fact I am not the only person crazy/LTYM-obsessed enough to do this. Fellow co-producer Kate Hood of the Washington DC show is all over this. She is, in fact, the one who inspired me to take on the 32 city challenge).
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The essay I read at Boulder’s 2014 Listen To Your Mother Show:
The Joy of Pregnancy
“You must be thrilled!”
“Are you soo excited!?”
“I am so happy for you!”
Friends, co-workers, and strangers wearing nothing more than a towel in the gym locker room alike were efferversent in their enthusiasm over the impending arrival of my firstborn.
I would nod and smile to indicate, yes, I am just as excited as you think I am supposed to be. And what was not to be happy about? It’s not like we hadn’t planned it. We- ok, I- had been planning it since about our fifth date, at which point I felt compelled to tell my husband
“If this gets serious, we would need to raise our children Jewish. I hope that’s not a deal breaker.” I felt we had a real connection and I had no time to waste! I was 29 and not getting any younger.
He was a fifth generation Coloradan, a WASP who had never known a Jewish person in his life.
A year later, we were engaged. My diamond ring glinted in the afternoon sun, as we took a walk on one of the first warm-ish days of spring. We were discussing the details of our wedding- ok, I was- Dan was patiently listening- when the conversation veered from the wedding to marriage itself.
“You want kids, right?” he asked.
I liked the idea of a family in the abstract. But now that the details were coming into sharper focus – Dan would be the father, and we would live in a small-ish house (the only kind we could afford in Boulder)- I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a mother.
I liked our long Saturday bike rides, our lazy Sundays, eating cereal for dinner if I felt like it. Kids- the ones Dan had agreed to raise Jewish- would change all that. Dan made it clear that that my not wanting kids would be a deal breaker.
So I called my trusted advisors with my burning question: How does one determine whether to have kids?
My sister said of course I didn’t know if I wanted kids- at this point I was still living alone in a one-bedroom apartment. She said that surely once Dan and I moved in together it would be easier to imagine having kids with him. My sister, however, had no children herself.
My best friend assured me that the love you feel for your child is like the love you feel for your husband in the honeymoon stage of your relationship, times ten. My best friend also suffered excruciating pain with breastfeeding, post-partum depression, and the end of her marriage, by the time her son was two years old.
My mother seemed not to even understand the question.
“How can you not know? I always knew I wanted children.” I was envious of my mom’s certainty about her life’s path but her input only made me more confused.
Shortly, I received a call from my dad. “I hear you have some reservations, about having kids. Don’t be scared, honey.” I know he meant well, but I questioned his credibility. See, it was the mothers, not the fathers, who had me terrified of parenthood.
It was 2009 and mommy bloggers were making headlines. Intrigued, I added a few mom blogs to my Bookmarks. My voyeuristic curiosity quickly morphed into borderline addiction. Like a blog reading zombie, I mindlessly clicked on one horrific tale after another. I read about a toddler who vandalized the brand new stainless steel appliances with a Sharpie, a mom’s confession that one of her kids annoyed her, countless burnt out moms’ fantasies of going to the supermarket alone, and perhaps most terrifying of all, the fear of failure as a mother that permeated nearly every single blog post.
Mommy blogs were more compelling than any Stephen King novel, and every bit as scary.
We discovered I was pregnant at a bed and breakfast in California where Dan and I marked our one-year anniversary. Over dinner, we toasted to our good fortune- he with a craft beer, I with an overpriced mocktail.
At the restaurant, I cried. Twice.
I worried that the beginning of this pregnancy marked the end of us. Or worse, the end of me. Upon the appearance of the blue positive sign, I felt joy and relief, tinged with despair. I remember tossing the test in the trashcan, lacing up my running shoes and thinking “There goes breaking 47 minutes in the 10k this summer.” What other goals would I have to put on hold to accommodate this new life?
Normally a sound sleeper, I struggled with nightmares and insomnia throughout my pregnancy. When my daughter was finally born, I held her body, slick with mucous, in my arms, and fell in love.
That first week, I watched, in awe, as she fell fast asleep on my husband’s chest. My sister had been right- Just because I couldn’t imagine us as a family didn’t mean that we weren’t meant to be a family.
Eventually, I got back to running, at first just two or three miles. After those 30 minute jaunts, I’d return home, already missing my baby. My best friend was right. You love your baby with an unimaginable ferocity.
I remember nursing my daughter when she was just a few days old, while my mom sat by my bed. From her chair she offered nursing tips and kept me company. I asked her, “Did you- do you- love me as much as I love her?”
My mom looked at me with a knowing smile and said, “What do you think?” I realize now, that if she ever had doubts about becoming a mother, they were long forgotten, three children and three grandchildren later.
So now, I find myself exclaiming joyously over other women’s pregnancies- particularly first pregnancies- with the same enthusiasm that, when directed at me, evoked anxiety and dread just two years ago. And while I can’t speak for everyone else- not my friends, not my co-workers, and certainly not the half dressed strangers in the gym locker room- When I see a pregnant woman, I feel like the universe is about to share an incredible, amazing secret with her. The sight of a pregnant woman conjures my joyful recollection of meeting my baby for the first time, the pride of creating a family with the man I love, and of course, the ecstasy that comes with being able to go over an hour without having to pee.