“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
To catch you up where I left off: A few months ago, I underwent an enormous existential transition. In a trifecta of life changing events, I went from being a married woman in her 30s, working full time and unsure of what the future held, to being pregnant, 40 and separated from my mate.
Pregnancy is an overwhelming and consuming event for most. So, like most other pregnant women, I was completely exhausted by my first trimester. I mean, like, crazy exhausted. Like, if I have to stand or bend over to pick up that sock or bathe myself, I will literally turn to dust kind of exhausted. And, like many other pregnant women, I coped with this exhaustion at my full time job. Also like others, I hid my early pregnancy from my peers. But because the first trimester of my pregnancy was hijacked by other events, my reasons for doing this went beyond the typical “its too early to tell” thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy about my pregnancy. This was something I had wanted for a very long time. But, I was also sad – a feeling that was amplified by the crazy tide of hormones taking over my body– and, I was worried.
I was worried about being old, alone, broke. I was worried about being worried. What would all of this extra cortisol do to my unborn child? I was worried I might never again find someone who would want me because now, I would be a fat pregnant lady with tons of baggage who would, in a matter of months, graduate to be a fat mother of a broken-home infant attached to my bosom like a calf to an udder.
Despite all of my concerns, sooner or later, with the support of the few kind people who knew my growing secret, I became more happy than worried, more excited than sad (some of the time, anyway). But as I peered out from the stupor of pregnancy fatigue and emotional overwhelm, it was quite clear that I had some big decisions to make. This was no joke. The pregnancy was just the beginning. I was going to be a mom. I had to decide what to do with myself now that the support system of my marriage had imploded. My financial circumstances were such that I could no longer continue living where I was without the aid of my husband or a roommate.
A roommate?!! After a 10 year live-in relationship, it was nearly impossible to imagine suddenly living with a stranger – or even a friend — as I grew in size and changed shape according to life’s new plan for me. It was equally impossible to imagine leaving the cozy little house my husband John and I had been renting to move into yet another temporary situation already dominated by someone else.
As I considered these troubling conditions, I thought about other aspects of my life as well. I had a job which provided health insurance, but I was working an awful lot and not making much money. What would happen as it got less and less possible for me to put in the hours and my paychecks got smaller and smaller?
I had a car that broke down, repeatedly, in a city where I had a 45 minute one way commute to work.
Between paying the bills, the daily naps I required, caring for my pets and managing the division of my exes and my belongings (conscious uncoupling, anyone?), I barely had a moment to even begin emotionally processing this new state of affairs, let alone consider, with any depth, my progressing pregnancy and the parenting that would inevitably follow.
Something had to give if I was going to be able to start over as a single woman, be a good mom to my little baby and save some money. And so, I began to seriously weigh the possibility of moving back home.
Home, the place where I grew up and where my parents still live, is Rhode Island. I left my home state as soon as I was old enough and adopted a somewhat nomadic lifestyle for many years following. I spent time living in Eastern Europe, Alabama, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
In my younger years, RI felt like a tomb to me. It was a small town that never offered the excitement I craved or the opportunity to stretch out the way I wanted to. All my travels and relocations strove to take me to places where I could pursue my passions: travel, culture, acting, writing, art, in a way that I never felt able to in RI. I called Providence a fly paper town – a place where people get stuck. I loathed the provincialism and conservatism of the place. Once I left, I couldn’t imagine ever returning. It felt like it would be an admission of defeat, the ultimate failure, to go back. Like it says outside The Chelsea Hotel (where I briefly lived) “you can’t go home again.”
Then, at some point after being away for so long, I began to enjoy my visits in a new way. I began to feel nostalgic for the rituals of my youth. I began to miss my parents more and more. My last move to Atlanta had been an effort to be closer to my hometown while still living in an affordable, cosmopolitan “big” city. John and I always said moving to Atlanta was the only practical decision we ever made…and it failed miserably.
Shortly before I got pregnant (and turned 40, and split up), John and I were already considering moving out of Atlanta. We were talking about going back to NY, the place we met and the town where we both felt most at home. Maybe we were trying to get back to a place in our relationship that worked… But as I perused Craigslist for available rentals, I found myself typing in “Providence” in the “property for sale” field.
So, when everything hit the fan a few months later, I had to admit as I was considering my options that Rhode Island was quickly becoming one of the more appealing ones.
And so it happened that within a couple of months’ time, I went from my 3 bedroom house in a cool neighborhood in Atlanta to living in my childhood room in North Providence. It was a surreal change for sure. But what else was new? These days, surreal is the norm for me and nothing could evidence that more than planning a nursery in the room where, as a teenager, I hung Guns & Roses posters and cried that I was missing Jane’s Addiction at the first Lollapalooza concert because I was grounded.
But maybe there is a poetry to this strange fate. As my mother accompanies me to each of my pre-natal appointments, I am reminded of all the seemingly significant events of my adulthood she was not a part of because I was so far away. As my father buys special “organic” groceries because it is what I like to eat, I am reminded of the profound generosity of these people, my parents.
My parents gave me everything: my life, my childhood. They gave me space when I needed it – 17 years of it, in fact – inquiring after each new chapter of my life with unfettered enthusiasm, as if it were an adventure and not a deprivation. They visited me everywhere I lived, uncomplaining, gamely sleeping on couches and futons, trying new foods and pastimes and generally just going all-in on whatever my lifestyle happened to be at the time. They never nagged or harassed me about my flighty ways or gave me guilt trips about their lack of grandchildren when most of their friends already had some. They supported my artistic endeavors in any way they could. Basically, through their uncompromising dedication to me and my fiercely independent ways, my parents more than earned a right to be a bigger part of my life.
And here we are. I am back where I was when last I lived under their roof. I need them. I can’t do it without them right now. Maybe, after all the vacations we spent together far from their home, all the tourist-attractions I called home, maybe the last phase of growing up is going back to the start and finally letting my parents back into the daily routine of being me. This might be the ultimate preparation for sharing my life with this new little person I am growing.
Despite all the baby books leading us through the biological formation of our fetuses and all the comparisons to fruit and all the “on this day, your baby has eyelashes” talk, it occurs to me that maternity, the nine months of growing a baby, is not really about the building of a body, a compilation of cells and DNA factors. It’s not, either, about preparing your own body for the trauma and wonder of delivery. With a mere three months of my own pregnancy left, I think nature mercifully gives us this time to figure out the best way to be unselfish, now.
And what could be better preparation for that than delivering ourselves to, what for most of us are the most unselfish presences in our own lives, our parents? In the process of unburdening ourselves of the protections against our parents, which we form as adults to foster our own independence, we truly learn to become parents.
First you get born, then you get re-born, then you give birth.