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.


Nicole said...

I love you Sarah. I'm proud to be related to you.

Joseph and Mary + Six said...

Sarah, this post made me laugh through streams of tears. You ARE beautiful!!! The sacrifice you make for your sweet children is amazing. Thank you for inspiring me today!

Karin said...

I have always looked up to you
Sarah. I think you are amazing and that you are one of the best people I have had the privilege to know - thank you for being willing to do the ultimate to bring the gospel to someone!

Alison Coutts said...

Dearest Sarah,

You do now, and always have and will look beautiful. There is always a glow about you, and your willingness to bring wonderful children into this world, despite all that you have to go through, to make up for those of us who cannot, is much appreciated.

Tiffany said...

Per your usual... uh-mazing! *sigh* Though I'm a little disappointed to learn that your pregnancies are un-rainbow-fied. Oh, wait. I all ready knew that :-) MISS YOU!!!

Jerrile said...

My dear Sarah,

I know I came to you many times telling you you were killing me. But I want you to know how much I love you. Not because you taught me at school but because of who you are. I relate to you so much my dear dear sister and I mean that in the dearest way. I guess that was way to many dears, but I needed to do that so you would feel what I feel in my heart. I too struggled with pregnancy not to your degree but I would put on weight and never seemed to get it back off, I had to have c sections and was constantly having people saying "Oh, you chose to have them the easy way, well my daughter (or wife) was a real woman." I would cry and cry over the inability I had of not bringing my children into this world naturally. But I too know with all my heart that I was a missionary to six wonderful spirits and now number 15 grandchild is coming in May and I have another opportunity in supporting their missionaries in teaching them the gospel as well.

I am in awe in the grateful dedication you have to our Heavenly Father. I have my Grace Shall be as your Day sign up in my room as I still have many struggles I am blessed with. One of them is still now employment after 18 months since graduation. And yet I am told it isn't time yet.

I wish we could have had lunch after I was no longer your student because I feel we would be great friends.

As I read your post I looked at the side bar of your different pictures of your children. And I thought to myself, oh but the Lord has truly blessed her for her sacrifice. I knew you would come to that at the end because I know that is how you feel as well.

Have a great day. Grace shall be as your day. I am coming to love that phrase more and more each day.


Dacia said...

You are so awesome Sarah! I loved reading this post because it's so true that it's SO WORTH IT!!

p.s. my pregnancy photos are hidden way too :)

Eden said...

Sarah, you make me laugh and cry in the same paragraph. I think your description of missionary life as "painfully perky" nearly did me in. I had to share it with an old companion b/c we have often talked about ourselves in the same way.

Also the description of family photos cracked me up. I have been in almost the exact situation described when you say; "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." Too funny. See all recent family photos and sibling family photos as reference.

I feel like you are a kindred spirit every time I read your writing. Love you. And lots of peace (and comfort) your way during this pregnancy.

Leah Grow said...

I love you Sarah what else can I say , I love you

Kristen said...

Oh Sarah--- I know you don't know me, but I sure love you. Thank you for making me laugh (and no...not at your pictures, but at your darling wit).

Anonymous said...

oh sarah i love you! i too, think you are beautiful - pregnant or not. i can totally relate to the being pregnant everywhere syndrome. i look at pictures of me pregnant and my neck, face, toes, basically every part of me is bloated and swollen. not pretty. anyway, you are brave and inspiring and i love your post!

Lylene said...

You are amazing in so many ways and I admire you in so many ways, not the least of which is your willingness to go through what you do for your sweet little ones.

Rachel said...

Once again, you leave me laughing out loud. It really is a joy to read good writing. For you, I can't wait until that baby is in your arms instead of your belly. I hope your family is surviving OK. I'm impressed that in the thick of it you can still realize that it is worth it.

Cara said...

You paragon of motherhood, you. I wish you and I lived in the same town--you could do my kids' birthday parties, and I could do your kids' science fair projects. :) And we could laugh together at ourselves. Thanks for being such a good writer. :)

Cara said...

PS. I have always wished to be cute-pregnant, but alas, I have always been more on the blob side, too. sigh. By month six or seven my babies were always so low that people would make remarks like, "Wow, it looks like that baby is ready to fall out!" Um, thank you?

The Ricks Family said...

Ah, if it makes you feel any better I was haveing a HORRID day but you made me laugh...out loud. Not the pics, just you...that didn't come out quite right:-) Thank you , I needed this.

Mel said...

Jiggling giggles, nonstop tears and giant gafaws--thanks for all of it. The Jabba part -- can't stop laughing about it! I love reading your posts! You are an awesome mom and so, so talented. I can relate to the pregnancy thing so well. I never was very graceful about it either. I want to pinch people like Heidi! (not really) This too shall pass and the babe will all be worth it, as I'm sure you know.

Julia DeBry Andersen said...

You don't know me, however I feel an instant connection to you because of you pregnancies. My mom just emailed me and all my sisters your blog (7 of us all have 3-8 children) and it really hit home. I cried an laughed and had to show my husband your blog. I hope you don't mind that I have become a follower, It is so nice to meet someone so like myself, and in the same phase of life. Although as of yesterday, I have non sticky floors (for a day or two).

Helen Macfarlane said...

Found your blog through Mel, and so glad I did. At first I was awe inspired by your writing and wit, but that was soon overshadowed by the reality that you've done this six times. Now THAT is awe inspiring!

Mrs. Olsen said...

Okay, I had no idea. You are ALLERGIC to pregnancy? AND you are prego with number SEVEN? You seriously have some eternal vision going on there Sarah d. I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming birth.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

My daughter, Ande, sent me this post. It is one fine piece of work on so many levels. What a gift you have -- for learning, for sacrificing, for teaching. What a great read. Thank you. Thank you, too, for being such a great role model and teacher for Ande.

Erin said...

Sarah--Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm trolling your blog tonight as I just noticed it today. Every time I think about you from Budge Hall, I picture you smiling. That's how I always remember you--positive, ready to meet the world, and ready to go. I'm so happy for you and for having seven kids. I'm the oldest of 7 and loved having a big family. Having married at 30 and having my first at 35, I don't think I'll be having seven, much less 3, unless I'm lucky. And life is so weird that way--the only pregnancy symptom I ever had was rhinitis and excessive fatigue. Nothing else. I don't say that to brag in any way just to wonder why someone like you who is such a wonderful mom has to go through the pregnancies that you do. Because of my relatively easy pregnancies and deliveries, if I had married at your age and wasn't working, I would have tried for at least five. That's how many I always wanted. I hope we cross paths again. I would love to see you again--over 21 years after I first met you! Wow.

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