People have been asking me, pretty much every time I go out in public, “So how’s the pregnancy going?”. I’ve discussed this with other parents before about how once we venture into this whole process, the ways that we are vessels trump everything else about who we may have been. Good friends have shared with me the ways that they grieve themselves in the place of becoming “that kids mom”. Especially living in a place where it seems like the attitudes that are most commonly held around pregnancy and birth are that it is a magical and beautiful thing, it’s hard to be a guy who isn’t really feeling that awesome about it.
Answering the “So hows’ pregnancy?” questions become complicated with the wondering if each is a scenario in which I am interested in having an honest conversation about depression, gender dysphoria and all the ways that those things compound the symptoms of pregnancy or if I wish to just keep it simple with a “so far, so good” and carry on my way. I am also bluntly aware of the ways that my pregnancy has been in a lot of ways, “so far so good”. In comparison with other folks I’ve connected with online, I’ve had a pretty easy go. But now I’m into the 3rd trimester, the home stretch and I will be real that it isn’t really that pretty. I often will use humour, making jokes at my own expense to make some space for honesty while keeping some amount of self preserving guards up. I hope that this update can find itself to you with some balance of that humour along with some raw vulnerability. I don’t want to contribute to the sea of same old; whimsy and wonder and excitement and some expectation that pregnancy is just that for everyone who experiences it. I want our dialogues about reproductive labour to include nuance and recognition of the ways that for some of us, getting through it is tough.
The place where my ribs join at my sternum is pushed to it’s max. Lot’s of people have told me things like, “oh you are carrying really high” or “your height allows for lots of room for baby to grow in the space that is already there.” I can say this much, the baby is ‘riding high’, and by that I mean the space it has grown to fill reaches very much into my rib cage. While the human body is exceptionally adjustable to circumstance, the area inside the rib cage doesn’t actually change that much. I know from breaking down deer and elk roadkill that the space in there is already pretty jam packed. We’ve got lungs, which especially when fully inflated as in the deepest of breaths, take up a lot of room. There are also heaps of other imperative organs in there that just barely fit as it is. I am reminded of those 3d puzzles where you can really only fit the organs in their place in one specific order and arrangement. There isn’t a whole lot of room just waiting for something to grow up into the non-existent “space between”. I recently went to have a massage/osteo appointment in hopes that some magical release could happen relieving the pressure in the middle of my chest, which is at its’ absolute worst when I cough, sneeze or experience any other extreme pressure. My body worker is incredible and did help, but the pain sits so deep that it was really hard to get to. We pondered over the ways that this could be a re aggravation of damage caused to my ribs when I used to bind my chest, now pushed back to its edges with extreme pressure on the inside and additional weight from the double sized tits. Figuring out how I feel about my chest is rife with deep and complicated feelings. I am grateful for delaying top surgery knowing that I will be able to nurse my kids. I also feel a level of dysphoria about my body that is hard to explain or even understand. With the amassing pressure from the inside and outside of my chest the decisions I have made in the past, and choices that exist in my future all weigh heavy with almost every single breath.
The additional internal pressure on my organs is an acidic reflux/heartburn that has stopped refluxing all that much and actually just feels like a semi-permanent coating of vomit through the entirety of my esophagus. It doesn’t really relieve pressure at all when I barf or burp, but rather just reminds my mouth of the unfortunate burning that the rest of my digestive tract is experiencing. My mom carried me and my sister in a similar way and said she can still remember that feeling 30 years out.
Speaking of barfing, the other day I got up, put on clothes and stepped out of my trailer to brush my teeth. I quickly gagged on my toothbrush and while I didn’t barf, the gag actually caused me to piss my pants. I’ve heard this being something that happens (uncontrollable pissing oneself) to folks often after birth, but I haven’t even given birth yet. I did a bit of reading and apparently what I have to look forward to in the next couple months as the wee one continues to get bigger every day, is that they will grow less into my lungs and more into my bladder. Hoorah. Good thing I have such an abundance of pants and shorts that fit comfortably right now. Ha.
One of the things that impacts the fit of pants and shorts is that this kid is really active. While I was at the massage the other day, my body worker commented on how busy and active they were. To which I sort of chuckled, because at that time they seemed really still to me. I can often see them rolling around, hiccuping, kicking and flailing about. They run and dance and swim as much as the space allows. Which I will remind you is not really space, it’s my body, which was pretty already full of organs doing important jobs. A part of me appreciates this, because it’s a great counter to the paranoia that wonders if they are still alive and doing their thing. Another part of me feels like my body has been invaded by the bug implant thing from the matrix and it’s making its’ way through me.
Carrying around the extra weight of a kid who I understand probably only weighs about 4 or 5 pounds at this point, but also their swimming pool, their nutrient snack bag and all the other fun stuff my body has generated to support their growth is heavy. I imagine anyone who has experienced rapid weight gain, during pregnancy or otherwise could sympathize with the ways that feet start to tire when experiencing more gravitational pressure than they are used to.
I think the weight shifts and changes in blood volume may also be contributing to the cramping I experience in my legs, which I have become accustomed to as a part of my multiple snack missions that punctuate my sleep. I have to rotate blood back into my cramped legs before I can get up to feed myself while sleeping. I try to not kick my partner while doing this and wonder if it will persist post birth if I will worry about kicking the co-sleeping spawn with my blood dead legs.
I must eat while sleeping. Multiple times. If I go through the whole night without getting up and stuffing my face at least once my blood sugar gets too low and my whole day is shot. I have gotten quite adept at snacking and immediately returning to sleep. All the places that I sleep must have snacks nearby. Sometimes a few spoonfuls of yogurt will do it, or a toast, or a bowl of cereal, but skipping the snacking in favour of sleeping through the night is not possible. I guess there are ways that this is a good training for the baby to be on the outside.I hear they will need to eat multiple times throughout the night too, it is one of the things that when people talk about the “REALLY BIG CHANGES”, like not being able to sleep through the night cause baby has to eat, I understand that I am already on my way to getting that that cause this kid hasn’t let me get through a night without a feeding in about 6 months already.
Which brings me to the parts of this that are actually some of the hardest. The things that other people say, the commentary, the warnings, the judgements, the thinly veiled scepticism and the praise and flowery descriptions of their perception of what I am going through. I haven’t had a lot of people express the “it’s such a beautiful divinely female process” and “womanly wonder” types of comments my way. I think I have also sidestepped a lot of the nonconsensual physical contact that lots of pregnant folks get in the way of belly rubs and all that. My sneaky belly and full beard confuse enough people enough of the time that such interactions are the exception.
But when they happen they cut. I am reminded that the ways that I feel are not currently reflected in my bodily expression. I actually have gratitude for the tattoo that reaches down my ribs because without it I don’t know that I would recognize myself in a mirror. The levels of bodily dysphoria I am experiencing could be predicted for a person of a more masculine gender presentation, but a big part of the problem is the assumptions. I don’t think that my body experiencing these things is more womanly or female or feminine etc. My body is capable of growing a new human and it’s a weird and fascinating thing, which I don’t necessarily gender from my own perspective of it, but it sucks to be reminded that pretty much everyone else does.
I don’t know if I’ll sign up to do this again. That’s one of the perks of having the family structure that I have, we could conceivably conceive the 2 kids we are hoping to welcome into our family without either of us having to go through all this twice. But who knows, the body releases all sorts of hormones to make the experience seem most memorable in the ways that it was magical and special; evolutionary developments that help us come back to do this over again to maintain or grow our population. Maybe when I am holding this kid on the outside, smelling their head (that’s a thing right?) and making faces with them I will be ready to arm wrestle my partner for the chance to do it again. They might not agree so easily as being the second to all this is a labour of its’ own.
I don’t know what sort of shape my body will find its’ way into after this is over. After I’ve nursed a couple of kids I might be ready to revisit the idea of top surgery. I might seriously contemplate a return to hormones. But as for now, those choices are still far away. I am in this transition of it’s own. The process of becoming a papa. A seahorse parent. A bearded gestational walking talking human incubator. An exceptionally tired, definitely hormonal, acid burping, urine soaked wild one carrying on with this ancient tradition in the best ways that I can.