I have this image in my head of myself, what I look like, which doesn’t seem to change very quickly. At least, it hasn’t managed to keep up well with the advanced stages of pregnancy. I’ll walk past a mirror or reflective window and be stunned at what is looking back, all four chins and forty inches of midsection which haven’t yet been incorporated into my mental image. This lag in my brain feels understandable to me considering so little about my life (if not my body) has really changed. Last night, I came home after class, talked to friends, had dinner, checked my bank balance, watched some TV, and went to bed. This week, I met two huge deadlines, fought with my husband, filed papers for a client, gave relationship advice, turned in an assignment, felt betrayed by a friend, and had a heart-to-heart with my mother.
The majority of my obligations and my stressors have absolutely nothing to do with my being pregnant. However, I have been noticing lately that my interaction with others (and mirrors) has a lot to do with it. This may be because I’ve been winding down my responsibilities to prepare for the very large responsibility headed my way in early May – having less “roles” to play may mean that people see me primarily in the most obvious role. But I can’t help wondering if it’s more than that. For instance, someone told me the other day that she didn’t want to ask me for help because I was pregnant. I hesitate to think what level of my brain people believe has been shut down pending delivery. Further, she cut me slack because I was pregnant, not because I was busy or stressed or otherwise engaged. My assistance to her would have had zero connection to my pregnancy other than the dispensation I was unknowingly granted. And sometimes it feels like every dispensation these days, requested or otherwise, necessarily requires some nexus to my pregnancy.
I can’t stop thinking about Mrs T.* In 2009, she went before a judge as an undocumented immigrant HIV+ black woman convicted of falsifying documents and all he saw was “pregnant.” Ignoring sentencing guidelines, her date of release was scheduled to coincide with her due date to ensure compliance with anti-retroviral medication to prevent HIV transmission to the fetus. She was given an unnecessarily longer, more restrictive (and insulting) sentence by virtue of her gestational state. I don’t mean to imply any direct correlation to my situation is appropriate, especially when our only noticeably common traits are pregnancy and womanhood, but I do feel a lot more empathy considering our shared experience as the in(di)visible.
The next time you see a pregnant woman or girl, I strongly encourage you to embrace her wholeness. By this I mean realize she is everything at once – female, student, spouse, creditor, friend, attorney, taxpayer, editor, partner, swimmer, driver, homeowner, daughter, consumer, and everything else, as applicable. She is realistically subject to everything she normally has to deal with in addition to aches, fatigue, swelling, anxiety, shoe-tying, etc. Particularly in the later stages, when her womb has been effectively annexed by the fetus, the state, and by horribly unforgiving gravity, I implore you to remember that she is so much more than pregnant.
*Chapter Note: For more on Ms. T, and to share her story with your chapter, check out the RJ 101 Easy-Event-in-an-Envelope.