The women are crowded into the dressing room, peeling wet swimsuits from their rounded bellies. An unusual cross-section of women – a technology specialist for the school district, a yoga teacher recently moved back home from life in the tropics, a couple of my high school classmates. One woman, 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, is in the middle of a divorce from her addict husband. “It’s better this way,” we assure her. She is stoic, accepting the way things are.
A set of pregnant sisters has come to swim class tonight. “Are you excited that your sister is pregnant too?” one woman quietly asks the older of the two.
“No,” she shakes her head. “But I’m coming to accept it. I’ve been planning my pregnancy for years – hers wasn’t planned. She always gets all the attention, being the younger sister.”
While pulling on clothes over still damp skin, a woman says her husband’s afraid she’ll turn in Regan from The Exorcist during labor. “Hmm,” I say, from the vantage of my second pregnancy. “Are you planning for a natural birth?”
She says she is, though she’s decided on birthing in the hospital rather than the associated birth center. “I need a big room for all my friends,” she says. “They’re weird so I don’t want them hanging out in the waiting room. Some of them have been to one too many Rainbow Gatherings.” She laughs. “Plus, where would they smoke in the birth center?”
“Hmmm,” I say again. I want to say that her friends certainly won’t be smoking in the hospital’s maternity ward, but I just smile and nod.
My first night in class there was just a small group, 5 of us, and one of us expectant mamas cried as she talked about the C-section that was scheduled a few days away for her breech baby.
“I just don’t want to be cut open,” she said.
But aren’t we all about to be cut open, our hearts exposed, in the process of bringing a new life into the world?
We think we are preparing for the marathon of labor, when really, it’s the parenting that we should be saving all our strength for. It’s parenting, more than giving birth, that’s the test of a lifetime.