I have been on sabbatical. Clearly. With good reason. I gave birth to both a novel and a child. Both are currently soundly sleeping beside me, and, looking at the two of them, each bound and swaddled, my heart bursts at its borders. I am wildly in love, and it’s the best fucking feeling in the world.
Ms. Aria Josephine Block was not planned. I was on the pill. My partner and I had just moved from Minnesota to Chicago. One of our two extremely beloved cats had just passed away and we had had four thousand dollars, our entire nest egg, snatched from our future. We were unemployed and homeless, squatting in a house whose owner, an old family friend, was dying inside a nursing home. It was our job to pack up her things and bring them to Goodwill. We were sad and deflated. The stereo was often playing a requiem and once again I had a cigarette in my hand.
Surrounded, overwhelmed, choking on self-imposed meaninglessness, I longed for something different, an unforeseen lightening bolt of unfamiliar. Then, in May, I noticed I hadn’t had a headache in five days, which for me is both a record and a signal. I had read that migraines are supposed to improve with pregnancy. Suddenly, ubiquitously, all I could feel was my uterus expanding. So we bought a pregnancy test.
We weren’t concerned about every crushing horrible thing that had happened to us; at this point the bulk of it had surpassed embarrassment and transcended to the level of comedy. And with this flash of potential good news we reflected on how awesome and amazing our relationship truly is. We had met in grad school. In class I had compared something, love probably (we were reading Ovid’s METAMORPHOSIS), to being hit with a refrigerator door. “Did you just quote Elaine Scarry?” He said. I immediately was in love. To get him to ask me out I followed him down the stairs to the bathroom. I was wearing a mini skirt with royal blue tights underneath. I thought if I waited on the stairs and started ascending as he emerged from the bathroom he would look up my skirt and fall into a frenzy of lust and ask me out. It completely worked. Our first date was thirty-six hours long and within a week we were practically living together, combining our cats and naming our potential children. Boys names were invariably harder but we knew we wanted an Aria.
And now, saying goodbye to Joy Division really made us realize how much we wanted a family. We were emotionally ready, all we needed was financial security, and that would happen. It had to. If I was pregnant we were going to make this work one way or another. We had no choice.
As we waited for that torturous plastic stick to reveal our destiny, we held hands, giggled, and were astonished at the irresponsibility of our blatant desire to see two pink lines appear. When they did we cried.
That was maybe the highlight of my pregnancy.
Not that I had a high-risk pregnancy, or even a bad one, I just didn’t so much enjoy being pregnant.
There were other moments of bliss and happiness, particularly our wedding, which was such a simple affair we did it in our living room in slippers. I did wear a white dress just because I loved the symbolism of wearing white while eight months pregnant. I also really wanted the dress Beatrix Kiddo sported in the opening scene of KILL BILL. I scoured etsy for days, and just my luck a hand sewn, close-enough replica arrived on my doorway first class from Argentina.
At that point Aria was on my sciatic nerve, I was waddling, my throat was raw from reflux, and I still could only barely stomach my dinner. Truth be told, and no one warned me, pregnancy blows. There are a thousand things that could go wrong, but even when it goes right it’s still dangerous, uncomfortable, and damaging. But it’s all worth it, friends would say. Obviously! If it wasn’t I would’ve had an abortion. Sure, it was nice to feel her kick inside, and I did enjoy watching my belly expand and that feeling of a higher purpose, but that’s all merely a consolation prize.
I was sick. The entire time. The nausea I felt in my first trimester was unlike any nausea I had ever experienced. I could taste the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone coursing through my body. Though it was powerful and relentless, I never vomited, mainly because I’ve developed emetophobia from the migraines, but I was constantly wishing I would, or could, even though there was something about the nausea that told you you could puke until it was down to bile and still you wouldn’t get a shred of relief. It wasn’t like being hung over. It wasn’t like food poisoning. It was like a super nausea gnawing away at your will.
My body was revolting against the creature taking possession of it. Every cell wanted this foreign usurper out of me. I spent three months rolling on the floor eating nothing but apple sauce.
I am only kidding slightly. I lost twenty pounds and developed an intense anger toward men.
Not Ryan. Men. The patriarchy.
Simone de Beauvoir writes,
When two human categories find themselves face to face, each one wants to impose its sovereignty on the other; if both hold this claim equally, a reciprocal relationship is created, either hostile or friendly, but always tense. If one of the two has an advantage over the other that one prevails and works to maintain the relationship by oppression.
Pregnancy, a sickness really, left me weak and vulnerable. In other words, I was at a disadvantage, and though I knew that this state has been what had kept women oppressed since the dawn of people, I never quite felt it so acutely until now. And I was pissed. I began devouring narratives, particularly those of crappy television, and becoming more and more irate with each innocently misogynistic joke or the turgid bulk of reminders beaming our objectification. We are rarely protagonists, and when we are it’s still in the vein of chick lit, something to do either with love or motherhood. Though shockingly all of the pregnancy movies I watched were about men coping with the impending change, as though it were their show. Women are still written as passive, or obversely, as males masquerading as “strong females,” à la Starbuck or Lisbeth Salander.
Also, my hatred of organized religion started rising to a level of an obsession as a I tallied all the truly awful headlines shouting at me from around the world, particularly in the east. It didn’t help that A SUBURB OF MONOGAMY, my novel, deals with a Catholic mistress struggling to admit that she’s an atheist, that she never believed, that her god had marked her a second class citizen.
Ultimately all this, and that I was getting so much mail sent to a Mrs. Ryan Block, made me finally decide not to take Ryan’s name. (We also decided not to hyphenate because Block-Borders sounds too anti-immigration.)
Women didn’t escape my ire either. So many of them happily signing themselves up for this, not caring, or worse, wanting to be enslaved. So many of them following a book that refers to them as property, that calls for their own limitations, and advises brutal beatings and killings for those who step out of line. And yet so many of them stupidly tout that feminism is a dirty word, that whine about the death of chivalry, that say they enjoy being the fairer sex, all in the name of vanity, lust, and a fear of rejection. Yes, I hate a lot of women too.
And I felt all this hate growing inside of me as though it were Aria’s sinister twin.
This festered and manifested in physical discomfort.
I was unable to concentrate on much anything other than what was happening, and what would happen to me. I was becoming a mother, and I could not wrap my head around that.
I never felt “one” with Aria. She was always separate, her own person, an alien occupying my uterus.
My body was no longer my own. In a sense I was giving up my individuality for the benefit of my baby, for the benefit of the species that demands this abdication in order to ensure its future. I was a servant, and yet, I felt empowered. I became a waddling contradiction. All at once I was alienated from myself and completely consumed with myself. Growing a baby was greater than my ego but also incredibly narcissistic. I was creating someone I hope outlives me. I was creating someone I would die for. In a sense, I was preparing myself for my inevitable death, but also, deeper in my subconscious, I was in denial, thinking that I was cloning myself, that through my child I would live forever, that what was happening was not mitosis, more like I was asexual, splitting myself, undergoing meiosis.
Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was how exhausted and stupid I had become. I could sleep thirteen hours and still be tired. I developed the memory of a goldfish. My analytical skills evaporated. I’d miss obvious connections and insights. I’d reread old books and instead of making new connections I was impressed at what I had already written in the margins. So I took a break.
And now I have a baby. A fiercely independent, adorably curious, dangerously intrepid baby who’s eager as hell, often impatient, and sometimes lazy. She has her father’s eyes and my nose. When I look at her I am so unbelievably inspired to make this world better for her, for all little girls. In her room I had framed a poster of a little girl in knight’s armor, wielding a sword and riding a stallion. Underneath her it reads, i can save myself. And I want to teach her that, Yes, Aria, you can save yourself.
All of this is the basis for my next novel, a young adult fantasy with more than “a strong female lead,” with a real person filled with contradicting and dynamic thoughts and feelings. A human being in search of values, dealing, coping with her own temporality and authentic self. Because women have existential crises too.
She has changed both me and my work forever. Not to say I’ll stop running my literary erotica journal, Omnia Vanitas Review, whose next issue is due out in a month or two. I’m just so full of love and joy. I’m beyond ecstatic and grateful for this baby who’s now strapped to my chest (Moms, if you don’t have a Moby Wrap, get one!), sleeping, but facing me with the most adorable, wonderful little face. And though pregnancy does totally suck, cuddling with your baby may be the greatest thing ever. Even now, as I type this, I know I will miss it forever once it’s gone.
Someday maybe I’ll write about our protracted, hellish labor and delivery, but that is an entirely separate affair.
This all has been one utterly amazing experience. One that has been oppressively time consuming and often very painful, but one that has made me feel so alive! And I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.