Thursday, January 13, 2011

Putting the "OW" in Pregnancy Glow

Obviously that ain't me. This is my friend, Heidi, at the end of her sixth pregnancy, and she personifies what well-meaning observers call "The Pregnancy Glow." She had these portraits taken to capture this maternal moment and I applaud her decision.

She looks like something out of a pregnancy magazine, where all the women don't look as pregnant as they do blessed or enhanced. The dainty little orb perched on their midsection is like a little gift or tiny bonus room that has been added on to their otherwise lanky frame. A little "Oops. How did THAT get there?" said with a feminine giggle before they skip off to go running or skiing or to the next photo shoot.


It's the way every woman hopes to look when she's expecting. It's the reason I nearly killed myself with diet and exercise after birthing my babies. No. It wasn't so I could back in shape. It was so I could look fabulous in my maternity clothes the next time around. That is the oxymoronic (with an emphasis on moronic) truth.

Ow. Shudder. Shudder.

It's okay. You can laugh. I know I do. At least now anyway. After more than 68 months of being with child, it honestly gives my pregnant belly something to laugh about. If a picture really is worth a thousand words, most of the words produced by this picture are synonyms with hilarious. And pain. Hilarious pain. A few weeks into my first pregnancy as I begin to grotesquely balloon everywhere (and I mean everywhere) except in my midsection, I realized that I wasn't going to be one of those women with a charming, Lillipution-esque baby bump. I was going to have and be more of a Baby Blob. My Gestation Transformation involves feeling pregnant and swollen in every nook and cranny. I even feel pregnant in my eyelids. And, speaking of orbs, what is that orb in the middle of my face? (I can imagine my friends, tittering, "I haven't heard an official announcement yet, but I think Sarah is pregnant again. Have you seen her nose?") (We won't even get into my Lit'l Smokies for fingers.)

When I am expecting, what I expect the most is to look like my pre-pregnant self and Jabba the Hut's offspring. Last week when I waddled past the mirror, I could hear Jabba's guttural double, triple, and even quadruple-chin-surrounded, fat encased voice saying, "See fah luto twentee, ee yaba..." (Which, loosely translated, means something like, "Work that body, my slug-daughter.")

As my medical records and the blisters all over my body within hours of pushing out Holden can attest, I am allergic to being pregnant. And as these pictures prove, I look like someone who is having an allergic reaction to something (something, for instance, like looking normal and happy).

Last week, I made the trek to Walmart for the second time in four months. (The first time was to get Eric a Christmas present and it took me three days of strategizing to figure out how I could get in and out of the store without making any of my internal organs external ones.) I picked up a few items before I knew I was making a mistake and wobbled up to the cashier, grimaced in pain, leaned over the conveyer belt and let out some well-practiced Lamaze-type breaths. The cashier cheerfully called out, "Sister d'Evegnée? I think you were my English Teacher!" I attempted to lift the dumb-bells which are currently my cheeks into a smile. (See photo #3 to see what this looks like.) We engaged in what I hope was some light-hearted banter about the class and my pregnancy until I wrote the check and he asked for my driver's license. He nodded happily as he looked at the picture and said, "Yeah. THIS is what I remember you looking like!"

That wasn't the first conversation of its kind. A few months after I popped out my teensy 9 pound 7 ounce Caleb, I was taking out the trash in my exercise clothes and my neighbor gave me a slow, approving once-over and said, "Wow. You look different when you're not pregnant." (Thank you, kind sir. . . but I am clearly taken--pregnant or not.)

In my third trimester I have been asked too many times to count if I am having twins, and when told that I am not, several times the curious strangers have insisted. "Are you sure?" Wait. Just a second. . . Let me check. . . Yes. I'm sure. And well meaning women have clucked, "Oh! Have you been out in the sun?" Each time I have chuckled politely (because swollen people are required to chuckle--have you noticed that?) and assured them that I haven't. One of them even made me look in the mirror in the ladies' restroom to see for myself.

The summer I was with-Ethan, my parents decided to have a photo taken by a professional photographer. We had a large family shot and then got to pose for individual family shots. As each of my siblings and their families posed in turn, you could almost hear the perfectly pure beauty in the air as the camera clicked and clicked as if it was eating up their photogenic aura. When it was our turn, the photographer took one short look at me and yelled, "Can someone turn that bench around?" She didn't say anything to me except a terse,"Just look over your shoulder, okay?" (Which, frankly, was like asking a jello-salad to do a cartwheel.)

This lovely specimen was taken moments after Holden was born and, while I'm clearly not myself, you can see the relief in my face. That is, if you can find my eyes! My goodness. What was I thinking? It looks like I've given birth to a pair of glasses rather than a baby.

I made quite a spectacle of myself. . .

Apparently I was paying homage to my Dad's look circa 1978. Even though these pictures were taken twenty years apart, the eye-wear makes them timeless.
Why would I do this to myself (and to my face?) The picture on the left was taken a year ago. I like my face well enough. As faces go, I think it's a keeper. Why would I force myself to go through such a mucky metamorphosis?

(Uh-oh. I feel a thesis coming on. If you have an aversion to sentimental conclusions, you might want to stop here. Honestly! What did you expect, though? I'm an English Teacher!)

Years ago I was a painfully perky Sister Missionary in France, energetically pedaling my way through the French Countryside on my purple bike, sharing chocolate chip cookies, home-made cards and rainbows with everyone who crossed my deliriously cheerful path. I was in love. In love with France. In love with the people. In love with the message I was sharing.

One evening my French companion, Soeur Piquet, and I had an appointment with Madame Nicot, an eighty-something-year-old woman we had been visiting for months. Madame Nicot was full of European grace and French charm and I called her my Grandmère Francaise. She spun stories about her childhood and I ate up every perfectly pronounced word, perched on the edge of my seat, eyes gleaming with wonder. She served us hearty crêpes, laughing as she whirled the thick, creamy batter with her whisk. We made her smile, kept her company, and taught her about The Book of Mormon. I could see in her face that she believed what we were saying and wanted to know more. That evening we knew that it was time to ask Madame Nicot if she wanted to be baptized and I was exhilarated because I fully expected a "Oui."

Instead we got a "Non." No to baptism. No to coming to Church again. No to any more visits.

I held it together as Soeur Piquet and I slowly pedaled to our rickety apartment a few blocks away. But when my companion went to the bathroom to get ready for bed and turned on the water, I collapsed to my knees and flooded my bedspread with the tears I refused to wipe away. I cried and prayed simultaneously, asking God to help me understand and to help me be a better missionary,

Finally I cried, "I would do anything--anything at all--to help someone have the Gospel."

Fast-forward a few years. I was draped across our couch in our miniscule newly-wed apartment, alone and moaning. I was only a few weeks pregnant, but felt like I had been injected with a large dose of everything awful. Even the simple act of inhaling made me vomit. I felt like Atlas, bearing the weight of a world of fatigue and misery, and I couldn't conceive of how I was going to survive the next few minutes, not to mention months of that cruelly ironic form of torture. I watched people walk by and was in awe that the world was populated. Every person seemed to be a miraculous representation of maternal endurance.

As I groaned and clutched my stomach, a picture formed in my mind.

It was a Sister Missionary, her thread-bare a-line skirt and knee-highs crumpled underneath her as she clings to her bed, leaning on it for support as much as to conform to a position of prayer. I could hear her despite all of the tears--past and current.

I would do anything--anything at all--to help someone have the Gospel.

I heard my pregnant self let out an audible, "Oh."

Anything? Yes. Even this.


I'm lucky, really. I know that. If you know me at all, you know that I know that it's worth it. That goes without saying. The way I feel about being a Mom compares with that painful perkiness of my missionary days. I am in love all over again. It just feels so good to laugh at myself and the hyperbole of my affliction.

I've been hiding all of these photos for years, thinking that years down the road I could possibly pretend to myself that I had been gestationally elegant, even willowy with just a touch of middle-roundness.

But the reality is just plain awesome. Hilariously, painfully, wonderfully awesome.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nostalgia

I'm feeling about ten percent better these days. That means that I still feel like a parasite-infested, flu-bitten, over-stuffed automaton most of the time. But there are moments, however fleeting they may be, when I actually feel like a person.

During one of those moments, Eric whisked me away to grab some Thai food and I was able to see one of my former students, a favorite female freshman who is now a fresh-faced, light-filled newly returned missionary. She mentioned that when she received my Christmas card from last year (which is actually my ONLY Christmas card from ANY year) that it was soggy and unreadable. I told her I'd e-mail it to her. Early this morning, when the pregnancy insomnia kicked in (again), I found myself sitting in the dark, the only one awake in my house-full, enjoying the silence.

I re-read that letter and felt like the old me was speaking to the pregnant me. I needed it. So, as egotistical as it may seem to quote myself, I'm going to post the letter here, partly because that old me is so different from the "now" me that it almost doesn't feel like me. (Did you follow that?)

PS I also posted some BP Recipes on my Recipe Blog if you'd like to cook up something new.

I don’t send out Christmas Cards. I send out Birth Announcements. We’ve been married eleven years and we’ve sent out six birth announcements, which keeps the friends we really care about in the card loop.

This year, though, unlike any other year of our marriage, there are no births to announce, no babies to nurse, and no raging pregnancy woes to prevent me from sending a card. Weird.

Even so, I’m not sure I can compose a Christmas letter in keeping with standard procedure. I have so much to beam with pride about when I make those birth announcements—not only the new baby, but the fact that we all survived the ten months leading up to the announcement and we’re still smiling. But, I’m not so sure about this kind of Dickensesque look back over the past year. It’s enough to make a goal-setting, neurotic, hyper-analytical, enabling, introverted Mom like me go into painfully philosophical fits of seasonal soliloquy. I guess I’ll take solitude in the fact that some people will take a look at the font and the length of this epistle and just give it a skim.

Here’s my deal. This year in d’Evegnee Land has been full of familial fits of giggling at the dinner table, new resolves to take a crack at a whole new us, and some genuinely peaceful moments of both self and group introspection and epiphany. But at the same time, my glance at the past makes me cringe. The soundtrack to our lives is so much more “Carol of the Bells” than it is “Silent Night.” Most of our laughter revolves around embarrassingly low-brow bathroom humor. My goal to shed a few pounds left me standing at a gas station last winter with my pants around my ankles, feeling the biting Rexburg wind whishing past my bare knees, the woman at the pump next to me screaming “OH!” as I struggled to regain my britches and my composure (I’m always happy to give the longer, one on one, more Sarah-logue-like version). We scurry in to Church a bustlingly loud and disruptive five minutes late every week, even though we live right across the street from our Church building. We fight. We shout. We cry. Peter wears his Buzz Lightyear shirt for days worth of filth and accumulated toddler residue before he’ll let me wash it. Eve has an inch long scar on her face where Peter swiped at her with his overgrown claws. We arrive at any event much more than fashionably tardy with trails of miscellaneous matter on our clothes, small gobs of food in our hair, and cheerios clinging to our shoes (and that’s just Eric and me!). Even now, my poor offspring have been strategically plopped in front of the TV, a bag of chocolate candy at their sugar-saturated fingertips to buy me enough time to write this. Sometimes I feel like I am in a storm of dirty laundry, sticky floors, and personal dissatisfaction.

So why am I writing a Christmas letter? Well, as I mulled over my potential holiday greetings, I realized that the thoughts in my head weren’t exactly chock full of fa-la-la and warm-like-cups-of-cocoa cheer. I almost chucked the picture in the envelope and called it good. But then I remembered what Eric told me about the crooked sign I put on our door in my frenetic rush to contribute to the gleaming festival of holiday lights and magic that is Rolling Hills Dr. The sign is cheap and tacky. And it just has one word in bold letters. At the end of his cold walk home in the snow after a shaky day, Eric looked up to see that word hung haphazardly on our door. He told me that when he read that word he knew that no matter how he was feeling at the moment, things were going to be okay. Just one word. The word I had almost forgotten. The word is JOY.

My life is a jumble of well-placed, carefully chosen chaos. I am full of weaknesses and flaws and immaturity. And both despite and because of all the hiccups in my plans, wrinkles in my clothes, and dishes in my sink, I can “Be of good cheer” (3 Nephi 1:13) because of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. That’s why he was born—not to praise us for our perfection, but to aid us in our weakness. My hands ‘hang down” and my “knees” are “feeble” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5), but He helps me create joy in the doorway of my home and the doorway of my discouragement, even in this stressful season and stressful life. He came for me and my family with all of our foibles, contradictions, and idiosyncrasies this year and every year. I love knowing that I have someone who knows about all of what I failed to do and be in 2009 and loves me anyway. And not only does he love me, but He reaches out to me and offers me the power of His healing. And that gives me plenty to write Home about.