The gestation period of the human being is conventionally held to be 280 days. Nine months to get used to the idea, which is a good thing, because some of us, like me, have a lot to get our heads around.
Those of you who’ve read my previous musings on the subject of children will know that I’ve long been ambivalent. When babies are brought to the office, other women cluster around them like pigeons; I’m the one who flees. I’ve long bristled at the suggestion — almost always from men — that having children of my own will somehow make me complete, and fix the unhappiness that prompted so many of my posts on this platform.
So, at that moment on August 27 last year, when I was hunched at my desk and the second blue line appeared on the Clicks home pregnancy test held discreetly so my colleagues wouldn’t see it, I knew that this changed everything. Everything. My first response was: fuck. No more travel. And also: fuck. No more wine.
(You’re probably wondering, as some people have asked, whether the baby was planned. She was a surprise, but not a big one; having stopped taking the Pill meant that this development was always a possibility, even with the geriatric eggs from my exiled ovaries.)
When it was confirmed by a blood test a few days later that I was six weeks’ pregnant, on my 41st birthday, I had already completely realigned my personal compass. Life alters irrevocably from now on, the next twenty years are mapped out: I knew this right away. I went out and bought a very expensive box of pregnancy vitamins, and I have been taking them religiously ever since.
The emotional journey has been bumpy. My instinctive first response to this revelation, the most immense thing I will ever face, was … resentment. Resentment at how unfair this all was. It takes two to create a new life, but the physical burden of bringing a baby to term is completely one-sided. Only one of us had to give up port and smelly cheese. Biology, I discovered, has a way of pulling non-traditional women like me into line and reminding us that brains and bolshiness can only hold reality at bay for so long. My mother was thrilled by the news, and still reminds me at every opportunity about the evils of drinking, and loud music, and social media, all of which have taken on a new and terrible urgency now that I am with child.
The first three months were hard. I was lucky — no morning sickness at all — but there was fear and doubt, and those ate away at my thoughts like termites. At my age, the probability of chromosomal disorders, miscarriage and other problems was very high. I maintained my feelings for the baby in a holding pattern, knowing that if the nuchal translucency was too thick, or the shape of the head was wrong, that I would be faced with the possibility of having to terminate a future person, and all the terrible emotional fallout that would entail.
The scans came out fine, and now I am 27 weeks into this journey. The baby, according to the app on my phone, is the size of a cucumber and weighs just under a kilogram. She can recognise my voice, and the butterflies in my stomach are kicks from small feet. We have a name in mind, inspired by a character in my husband’s favourite movie. Every day, I try it on her for size, to see how it fits, how it will be shortened, how others will tailor it to make it more convenient. I imagine her first smile, her first word, first day at school; the first time she tells me she hates me and wishes she hadn’t been born. I am excited and afraid at the same time.
I have changed. Different things interest me. Now I read Facebook status updates about projectile poo and the challenges of parenting, knowing that I can’t just scroll past; that this is going to be my life, too. I care about electric breast pumps and worry about where to find a lactation consultant because, it turns out, it’s very easy to get breastfeeding totally wrong. I have signed up for the Baby City newsletter. Gaviscon is already a major food group.
This week I could have been in Paris. I’m not, because I thought about it and realised I would rather spend the money for the air ticket on the baby. There are curtains to order, repainting to be done, a compactum to be found (never mind the cost of giving birth itself; how much medical aid will cover is always something of a lottery). Also, I have a lot of work to get out of the way, so that by the time I go on maternity leave, I won’t have to answer emails.
(I haven’t quite thought through the challenge of changing nappies, something I have never done in my life before. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Projectile poo and all.)
Over the next three months, I will graduate to full-on whale mode. There will be more scans more regularly. I’ll need to make a final decision on birth method — my gynae says at my age, a Caesarean is recommended — and prepare myself for sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, never not worrying — in short, never being the same again.
Here, finally, is the one emotion I did not anticipate when I first squinted at the tiny window in that white plastic stick: relief. (Yes, really. It’s the strangest thing.) A letting go, a release from the nagging feeling that somehow I was letting the side down. My sister has two daughters; my sister-in-law has just given birth to her second son and, guess what! I’m part of the club now. No longer the drunk divorcee weeping at a christening because of a mean tweet; I’m … normal. Doing this a little later than everyone, granted, but doing it nonetheless.