By Annette Martel and Kelly Hagen
When I was pregnant with Snickerdoodle Happypants (not our daughter’s real name), I was pretty dramatic about it. I had terrible nausea, and I didn’t have the perspective to realize that I wouldn’t feel like that for the rest of my life. I felt like an alien had invaded my body and was devouring my insides. Turns out, it’s true what they say. The minute you first meet that kiddo in the hospital, any suffering you endured during that nine months is instantly erased by the incomprehensible amount of love you feel for your little miracle.
As I write this, I’m just barely into the second trimester of my second pregnancy. This time, it’s a little different. Although the nausea hasn’t subsided in the least, I do know it will end eventually, even if it’s six months from now. The severe exhaustion? Well, I expect that should end in about, what? Twenty years? But I have to say, as much as I love sleep – and I really do – I love being a mom even more.
Honestly, it’s the greatest surprise blessing of my life. For most of my life, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to be a mom. And, honestly, I was fine with it. I had never bought into the idea that you should follow the “normal” script for life, just because that’s what was popular. I figured this just probably wasn’t in the cards for me. But one day, I met the love of my life, and it suddenly was in the cards. I feel so lucky, because I know there are people who would love to have children, and for one reason or another, it’s not in their cards. We play the hand we’re dealt, and I’m grateful for mine.
That’s what I remind myself during this pregnancy. Sometimes it feels like the ultimate burden to have your body taken over for nine months and doing the exhausting work of making a new human being. Simultaneously, it’s truly mind-blowing to think of what the human body is capable of doing, without putting any thought into it. Sure, there are times when I get jealous of Kelly, because he gets to sleep comfortably through the night, without being surrounded by a fortress of pillows. From time to time, I grow weary of being the “preferred” parent, because if Snugglebutton Letitgosinger (also not her real name) spends time with me, she gets to also spend time with the baby.
These are the times that I remind myself of what a gift this is. I sometimes feel like I got almost a whole extra year with our first child, which Kelly was only peripherally present for. That extra time is something I get with this kiddo, too. When Baby starts moving and kicking, I feel every moment of it. It’s a lot different than when you put your hand on someone’s belly and feel a kick. For all the good and all the discomfort, I get to experience every single moment of it. That’s when I remind myself that, although Kelly may have a leg up on me in the sleep department, he doesn’t get to experience it with the nearly the same intensity that I do. And that is what I should really be dramatic about: how lucky I am to have this experience at all, let alone twice in a lifetime.
So I saw this video one time on the Internet where they let two guys feel the pain of baby labor by hooking them up to electrodes, and recording the results, which was two grown men weeping and flopping around like fish on dry land. And when I saw that, I thought, “Well, I see no need for me to go through that.”
They don’t have any science experiments to reproduce the pains of the preceding nine months of pregnancy for men, though, as far as I’m aware. I watch a lot of viral videos, so I feel like I would know about something like that happening.
Instead, some men go through “sympathy pregnancies,” which sounds like a bad idea. I don’t really want to be the guy complaining about how swollen my feet are to my pregnant wife, because I’m pretty sure she’d strike me with something blunt. In my head, I picture it being a large, frozen fish, because I still have the fish-flopping metaphor stuck in my head.
Anyway, I used to work in crisis communication, and the lesson I was taught in communicating during a crisis is “empathy, not sympathy.” So the goal I set for myself – in order to survive this pregnancy without getting struck by fish – is to empathize with Still Sweet Annette, and not sympathize and just say “sorry” a lot.
I can’t understand what Annette is going through completely because I don’t have a human being growing inside of me. Tacos. That’s all that’s inside of me. Lots of tacos.
But I can understand she’s uncomfortable and tired a lot. In fact, I know she is, because sometimes I hear her vomiting off somewhere in the distance. And so I empathize and realize that I need to step up my game and do more around the house to buy Annette some extra time to do that sort of thing, free of interruption.
She’s tired when she gets home from work. No problem; I can cook dinner. I know how to make upwards of 12 different food products, so we do a lot of cycling through those 12. And, sometimes, that means mixing-and-matching in different combinations. Peas and pancakes. Frozen pizza and Lunchables. A glass of water and chicken nuggets. The possibilities are endless.
You’re starting to understand why Annette’s nausea is lasting longer than it should, aren’t you?
I can brush our daughter’s hair, help her brush her teeth, assist her in picking out an outfit that comes at least somewhat close to matching in color, get her dressed, drive her to preschool, or maybe even take her to see the Lego Movie (everything really is awesome!) when I can, to give Mommy a little window in which to nap or vomit up whatever it was that I made us for breakfast.
I want to say it was waffles, but I always seem to mix in more mayonnaise than I should.
But I’m doing it. I think both my girls recognize that I’m working pretty hard. Hopefully. And I can do even more! I just learned how to operate the washing machine last week, and if I can just figure out what that nearly identical machine sitting right next to it does, I bet that would help us out a bunch, too.
And I do not complain, because that’s not empathy. Nor is it sympathy. It’s just asking to be fish-whacked.
Columnists Annette Martel and Kelly Hagen are married, have one daughter and another baby on the way, and try to never have fish in the house because one of them has a weird fear about that sort of thing. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you so choose.