On pregnancy and predictions
Why should I find out the gender of my unborn baby when random people on the street can predict it for me?
On the rare occasions where I put on real clothes and waddle out of the house, strangers look me up and down and shout their predictions.
“Can I ask you a question?” said a kitchen crew member at Churchill’s Pub taking a smoke break in the alley one bright morning. “Boy or girl?”
When I said I didn’t know, he told me it was a boy. I could only guess he thought I was carrying low, which is apparently a sign. I didn’t have the heart to tell him everything hangs a little lower the second time around, and instead I said I’d drop by next year to let him know if he was right.
At the dentist’s office for my semi-annual mauling, I mentioned the baby’s sex was a surprise as the hygienist led me down the hall to my chair. “BOY,” someone behind me said authoritatively. I whipped my head around but I couldn’t spot her in the fluorescent-lit maze. Could she really tell with a passing glance?
When I tell people the baby’s sex is a surprise, most react with shock and horror. “I could never,” they say. “I’m type A! I had to know.”
I consider myself to be a planner too, with a fetish for the illusion of control. I’m at this very moment fighting the urge to write out a to-do list for the remaining seven weeks on an 11x14 sheet of paper with a corresponding backtrack schedule. But I confess I don’t see much about what you can plan when you know the gender beyond outdated color schemes for nurseries and onesies. It’s not as if my baby is going to arrive without a car seat, bathtub or bassinet!
Then there’s the other kind, who congratulate me for my supposed self-control. “Good for you!” they say. “It’s one of the few surprises left in life.” But I don’t consider myself particularly disciplined, either. If it feels good, history shows I’ll usually do it.
It’s true when Julia popped out in the tub on the fourth night of labor, and they fished her out of the water and held her up to me and all I could see without my glasses was a huge vagina (one of the many things they don’t tell you about childbirth being that babies often come out with swollen genitals), it was a top ten moment for sure. But I can’t say that’s really the reason, either.
I simply never thought it was unusual to be surprised. Neither my parents nor my in-laws found out. Most of my close friends didn’t either. For every story I’ve heard of people being thrilled by the news, there are others who cried with disappointment in the ultrasound room. So my mom’s advice to simply plop the baby in someone’s arms and introduce them seemed smart, whereas if you share the gender and name beforehand you’re opening yourself up to the peanut gallery.
It wasn’t long before that very commentariat, however — mostly Southern women who just wanted to know whether they should buy me a sleepsack with trucks or bows — let me know it was not the order of things.
And so I rely on strangers.
A hostess at Fire Street Food when I arrived for my takeout order that could feed a family of four yet was intended only for me of course, popped the question. “What do you think?” I shot back.
She looked at my face, then asked me to pull down my mask for a moment which I obliged.
“You’re still pretty so I think it’s a girl,” she said.
Wait a minute, you’re thinking, did Allison just write this entire post to tell us someone who works for tips gave her a compliment?
What can I say? It was obviously my favorite prediction, and she got something out of it too.
Whatever the outcome, the odds I’ll do this again are low, my dreams of having four girls like in Little Women (or like a praying mantis) notwithstanding. The times that I felt pretty during this pregnancy are lower still.
Everything happened sooner. I knew I was pregnant on the first day it could show up on a home test, and the symptoms quickly followed. The nausea, exhaustion, heartburn: everything was dialed up just a hair. Whether that’s a factor of my age or already having a toddler is impossible to say. Or is it another predictor?
Throughout it all, I’ve been expected to adhere to the rigorous standards of patriarchy that, cute stories aside, give people license to comment on my body in public places. I’ve been expected to maintain the same level of capitalist productivity. I’ve been chastised when I am not perfectly polite and pleasant, no matter how I’m feeling.
As I enter the final weeks, though, I can feel it beginning already: the gradual downshifting, the retreat to my chrysalis. My body has a will of its own, and is already rising in the night and falling asleep during the day according to a rhythm only it knows, completely unconnected to the outward demands of career and the relentless inner critic.
Soon, I will transition back to pure biological creature, a metamorphosis I acclimated to with stunning ease the first time around. My brain will downshift from ticking to-do list to fuzzy static, like the sound of the baby’s white-noise machine. I will feed them from my body, carry them constantly like another limb, and sleep in the interstices between wakefulness and dreams, fueled by instinct. Everything will change.
In the meantime, I had a few pictures taken, probably the last time I could rouse myself out of Lake maternity pajamas and into an Ann Mashburn dress.
The photos aren’t meant to put a madonna-like glow on everything, although thanks to my photographer’s magic tricks, they may look that way.
Instead, they’re meant to capture this liminal phase, this question suspended in the air. The time before I found out what the rest of my life would be like. The moments before I finally met my baby.