NOTE: In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a blast from the past. (Originally published in my weekly column, Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, 1992)
With ten kids, my mother was pregnant for 7 1/2 years of her life. But she never made the cover of Vanity Fair—with or without her maternity clothes. Maybe that’s because in her day, pregnant women only appeared in maternity dresses made by Omar the Tentmaker out of 75 yards of black polyester with a contrasting bow at the neck.
My own views of pregnancy have changed over the years:
Age 5—With an Irish-Catholic mother, I think natural childbirth is what happens when you use the rhythm method of birth control.
Me: “Where’s Mommy?”
My Father: “Well, naturally, she’s in the hospital having another baby.”
Me: “You don’t mean…”
My Father: “Yes, I’ll be doing the cooking for the next few weeks.”
Me: “Eeeuuu. Yuck.”
Age 12—Flower children get tie-dyed clothes and love beads. Omar’s clients get polyester maternity pants with stretch tummy panels. At Our Lady of Plaid School for Unwed Girls, we get the facts of life:
Sister Mary Sex-Ed: “Remember girls: teenage boys are raging masses of single-minded hormones. And they smell bad.”
Class: “Eeeuuu. Yuck.”Age 23—Girls are supposed to be doctors, astronauts, construction workers, anything but mothers. Omar opens a chain of Quiche Shops out on the West Coast.
Prince Charming: “Marry me and bear my children.”
Age 33—We ask not for whom the biological clock tolls; but we would like to know how it got attached to that time bomb. Suddenly, our professional jobs, apartments, cars, size 7 wardrobes are meaningless. The only status symbol that counts is stretch marks. Omar starts a catalog of maternity tents for professional women (made out of 75 yards of black polyester with contrasting neckties and boxy jackets).
Best Friend: “Trevor and I have something wonderful to show you.”
Me: “What is that strip you’re waving at me?”
Best Friend: “Our home pregnancy test. I’m so happy. I’m also going to throw up.”
Me: “Eeeuuu. Yuck.”
Age 35—I’ve bought stock in Omar. Thanks to the glow of pregnancy, people assure me that even though I look like a Volkswagen in a black tent with a contrasting bow at the windshield, I have never been more beautiful.
Natural Childbirth Class Teacher: “Welcome to the Miracle of Birth. I’m going to stand up here with a perfectly straight face and tell you some real whoppers. Childbirth Whopper #1–To have a natural childbirth, all you need to know is how to breathe. Our mothers didn’t know how to breathe, so they had to have their babies with…DRUGS!”
[Reality: Five minutes into Stage 1 of the Miracle, and I’m breathing like a Mack Truck and yelling, “If I don’t see someone in surgical scrubs giving me some serious drugs RIGHT NOW, I’m outta here.]
Natural Childbirth Class Teacher: Childbirth Whopper #2– If you do all of these incredibly obscene exercises, you might not need an episiotomy.
Class: “Episi-what-omy? We thought all we had to do was breathe. We want to see that contract again. Eeeuuu. Yuck.”
[Reality: 2 1/2 months of exercises and you still spend weeks on an inflatable donut.]
[Reality: Welcome to the world of pediatric antibiotics which cost more per ounce than your engagement ring.]
Natural Childbirth Class Teacher: “Nursing Whopper #2– Nursing burns up calories, so you lose weight as you nurse your baby.”
[Reality: kiss those size 7s goodbye.]
Natural Childbirth Class Teacher: “Nursing Whopper #3– Nursing helps your baby’s jaw develop perfectly, so your child will never need braces.”
Age 47: I sat in the orthodontist’s consulting room. In front of me was a case full of plastic casts of his patients’ problem mouths, starting from one that was absolutely perfect and progressing down from there. I picked up the last one, which looked like it came from a cross between a chipmunk and the Missing Link. On the back was the name of my nursed-for-twelve-months daughter. But what could I do? Our Declaration of Independence guarantees every American child the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of perfect teeth.
Orthodontist: “Here’s my bill.”
Me: “Eeeuuu. Yuck.”