Runner-up 2022 General Nonfiction Story
© Copyright 2021 by Desiree Kendrick
Photo courtesy of the author.
without doubt, the best gift I’ve ever received. A first
pregnancy comes with a variety of nuances. It’s a time of
wonder. As I reflect on my adventure, I realize there are numerous
discoveries that ‘nobody told me.’ Read along and laugh
with me, I promise not to gross you out.
Motherhood, it’s as complex and satisfying as gazing at the Mona Lisa. On one hand, the sixteenth century painting offers a glimpse at an intriguing woman, and yet the image evokes more questions than answers. What initiated that famous smile? How did Leonardo da Vinci capture her essence on his canvas without giving away the subject’s secrets? The biggest secret I’ve kept is how motherhood is one of the greatest wonders. From the moment I discovered I was pregnant, life changed. Oddly enough, I never took any photos of me and my big fat belly. Today, parents have gender reveal parties, post to Instagram and take artistic photos of their body’s transformation. Not me.
I can’t recall when I first knew I wanted to be a mother. Perhaps playing ‘house’ with my younger siblings was my first indication. I’d line up my teddy bear entourage against my headboard. If two scraggly coats were similar I was the parent of twins. Lucky me! My make-believe family would go for walks. I tucked a baby blanket into my toy pram, protecting my darlings from the cold. Tea parties were joyous feasts of cookies and juice. Family life was simple. Nobody told me giving birth to a cuddly bear was physically impossible. At five, I wasn’t concerned with biology. Nor were storks that were frequently depicted carrying newborns in diapers.
During my preschool years, my mother was pregnant, but I’ve no memory of her protruding stomach. If either of my parents sat me down to explain the upcoming family addition, I didn’t comprehend. Roll the dice and skip ahead a decade. At sixteen, my schooling included the basics. Couples marry. Couples love one another. Couples have babies. Anything outside that narrative was colouring outside the lines. I never witnessed a neighbour go through the rite of pregnancy. Sure, there were women at church who rested their white gloves on their swollen mid-section. They wore maternity smocks matching their hats and waddled to receive Holy Communion, but nobody shared any details about swollen ankles or increased burping.
It wasn’t until high school that I grasped the full picture. The biology teacher thought it educational to show our co-ed class a film in glorious technicolour. Why this film didn’t receive an ‘R” rating surprised me. His wife had just delivered her second child and he’d been present. ‘The doctor used his scalpel like a steak knife,’ he’d said, scaring all the female students. Yet, when I graduated from university, I was certain I wanted to experience motherhood. Without a steady boyfriend this would be a slow journey, but by age twenty I envisioned children in my future. When I married, starting a family was bookmarked for our lives together. My eyes were drawn to toddlers in strollers like children attracted to lollipops.
In some ways, yearning for a child is like the Sears catalogue wish list. There’s no guarantee. Timelines are flexible. Hope kept the wish alive. Some women aren’t as fortunate. Even with all the medical advances and options available to prospective parents, it’s still a personal journey filled with challenges. I’m grateful that by the time Rob and I initiated a plan the universe gifted me a positive pregnancy test.
I set the table, using the good china and the cloth napkins. Pot roast aromas filled our small apartment. The clocked ticked, marking every minute that I waited for Rob to return home. He dropped his coat at the door, kicked off his sneakers and stood starring at the table. “Are we having company?”
“Sort of,” I answered, playing coy. “They’re delayed.” I saw he struggled to grasp the occasion. “It’s roughly eight months before we need another place setting.”
Okay, nobody told me that you have to spell it out in specific terms when you disclose the news to a spouse. I couldn’t contain my smile. My hand slid across my stomach. “You, me and baby makes three.”
“Already?” His eyes enlarged. “We only started trying last month.”
“This is good news,” I replied. If my parents had told me nothing about having babies, what old wives tale was he reading? If you’re not using birth control, pregnancy is up for grabs.
He embraced me, sealing the moment with a kiss. The roast beef with mashed potatoes was delicious, the store bought cake sweet. However, the taste of joy and anticipation was the flavour that lingered. I couldn’t wait to shop for all the baby paraphernalia. Items multiplied over the months. Change table, baby wipes, stroller and terry-cloth onesies. Everything in miniature size was super cute. Precious. With all the excitement I wasn’t thinking about the actual delivery date. Although my physician mentioned a variety of symptoms I may experience, I was on cloud nine, right up there beside Cupid and angels.
Reality set in. Morning sickness wasn’t restricted to the morning. As an office worker, I rose every day for five excruciatingly long months, expecting to throw up somewhere between leaving my bed and arriving at work. My husband pointed out he rarely needed to set the alarm, my heaving woke him up. Daily accessories included a plastic bag and Kleenex stuffed in my jacket pockets. I prayed to navigate traffic without pulling over and christening the roadway. Nobody explained that my baby would reject my breakfast like a bratty toddler before I’d even introduced her to solid foods.
It never occurred to me that panty hose wasn’t an ideal fashion choice for pregnant women. The elastic waistband left an indent on my sensitive skin. It intersected with the squiggly line that descended from my belly button. My baby bump looked like it had map coordinates!
One morning in my last trimester, I sped through traffic, sucking air and hoping to postpone my morning ritual. ‘Breathe, relax, repeat,’ my therapeutic mantra. The cop that signaled for me to pull over was likely going to regret his decision. With my belly snug against the steering wheel, I was visibly expecting.
“License and registration,” he said.
Flustered, I popped the glove compartment open and produced my documents. I cupped my belly, hoping my speeding ticket wasn’t dipping into my unborn baby’s college fund. When he handed me the citation I cursed the pregnancy gods. Why couldn’t I have vomited on cue? Then again, he may have added on a ‘distracted driving’ charge, considering my medical state. Whatever. Nobody gets a pass for having Sumo Wrestler baby sitting on your bladder. I paid the ticket.
Day after day, I powered through the changes. My work heels pinched my toes. I segued into flats as the final month approached. Coworkers joked about my expanding waistline. “Check the elevator weight allowance,” someone cackled riding up with me. “Which carpet sample has your vote?” asked my boss, tossing two selections at my feet. “Wait, can you even see your feet?”
Everyone was a comic. Funny how all the parenting handbooks and hospital brochures fail to mention a side effect of pregnancy are the bad behaviours of others. I should’ve charged a fee for anyone who dared rub my belly like a Buddha, hoping for good luck. I’m trusting the world has evolved over the last thirty years and boundaries are respected.
My husband watched from the sidelines. Rob gave me an extra pillow to support my tummy when sleeping. So kind. He also found ear plugs to mute my new habit of snoring. No one advised us we’d get little sleep even before the baby was born. Oddly enough, time slowed the closer I approached my delivery date. “Get this bowling ball out of me!” The baby keeps hiccupping, making my stomach pulse like a pumping heart. My face looked like I was storing nuts for the winter. Nope, my mother never mentioned I would fail to recognize myself under the maternity canopy. Call me vain, but I was eager to book my first post-pregnancy hair appointment. Some women experience luminous hair during this time, others not so much. I followed the unwritten rules; no hair dye, alcohol, hot tubs or sushi. As the incubator of my little person, I ate healthy, patted my belly listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber musical renditions, and baby proofed my home. I was ready.
As prospective parents, we’d completed the pre-natal classes. It’s amazing how the instructor made childbirth sound so natural and organic. After the first contraction, I wanted my money back. She’d advised staying home until the contractions were five minutes apart. I don’t remember her reminding the husbands to ensure all the clocks in the house were in-sync. Between Rob’s watch, the oven clock and the clock radio, Rob’s timing was erratic. I alternated between twelve minutes apart and twenty!
“I need to shave my legs,” I huffed, struggling to rise from the sofa.
“I doubt the doctor will be looking at your legs,” he replied.
Growling in his direction, I waddled to the bathroom and shut the door. We’d had comfort food for supper, yet I didn’t feel comfortable.
“Don’t forget the bag,” I called, before bracing myself against the wall. Five minutes later, I emerged, my legs shiny and my face flushed. “Help me with my sweat pants.”
Rob scrambled as I barked orders. “Is the stove off? Is there a towel in your vehicle? My water hasn’t broken.”
Slipping into my winter coat, I calculated the cost of dry cleaning my wool jacket, his upholstery and replacing my shoes. I paused as another rippling contraction consumed me. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I said, gripping his arm.
“It’s a little late for that.”
I scowled. He hadn’t spent five months enduring morning sickness. His bladder wasn’t impacted by a mini-gymnast testing out a new trampoline. Rob didn’t have stretch marks on his thighs resembling the logo of an ocean liner. Someone please explain to the father of my unborn child his primary role during my nine months of confinement is to be supportive regardless of my distress! Put that in the pre-natal lessons.
In the car, he adjusted the passenger seat and threw down a towel. I climbed in. He slammed the door. I fumbled with the seatbelt.
“You called the hospital, right? They know to contact my doctor?”
“Yes, you were there when I called.”
I huffed into the dashboard. He doesn’t get it. I’m here in body only. My mind is jelly. “Don’t get a ticket,” I said as he swerved out of the parking lot. I hadn’t disclosed my previous traffic violation.
The nightscape flashed like a strobe light. Flickers of coloured lights distracted me but all the buildings turned blurry. Yellow, red, green light – go!
“Ahhhh!” My panting alternated with wincing squeals. I’ve no idea how long my mother was in labour with me. She could’ve prepared me for this moment. At the very least, given me a bullet point presentation on what to expect. How she produced seven children is mind boggling! I made a note to rethink my goal to have three kids. I focused on my breathing. In preparation for childbirth, I’d even visited a hypnotist, hoping for birthing strategies. All those relaxation exercises, imagining a sandy beach with palm trees swaying flew right out the window. Rob was driving so fast those images never returned.
After screeching to a halt, Rob darted from the vehicle. “Take my arm,” he said, pulling me from the car.
I don’t recall the walk past the Emergency room doors. Nor do I remember giving my name or medical details.
An attendant in scrubs produced a wheelchair. “Go park the car. We’ll take her upstairs.”
Overhead announcements and nurse chatter overlapped. I was at the finish line. Nine months of baby steps for me, concluding with one giant leap into motherhood.
They settled me in a room. A heart monitor was attached to my stomach. The steady rhythmic sounds were soothing. My water still hadn’t broken. A discussion ensued among medical personnel. Rob entered the room and stood at my bedside. He’s naturally pale but looked faint. A nurse asked him if he was okay. What the heck? I’m the one about to drop the baby hippo who’s been tap dancing inside me.
“You’re doing good,” someone coached me from the sidelines. I ignored the third-party encouragement and maintained eye contact with Rob. He got me here; he would darn well take those last steps with me. He swiped my damp hair off my forehead. The nursing staff promised to return. Fine. Unless you’re relieving me of my agony your prattle annoys me.
I considered myself lucky. Elephants carry their babies for almost a two year period. Baby elephants are cute. They wiggle their trunks and meander learning to walk among the herd. I had a toy elephant from childhood that I would gift my child. An intense contraction disrupted my daydreaming. Rob stroked my arm and whispered nonsense. He had no idea what a contraction felt like. I clenched my jaw. Seahorses became my favourite animal. The males give birth. My nails dug into his hand.
“I’ll get you some ice chips,” he said, leaving me alone in the bed.
I focused on the overhead clock as the second-hand clicked. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… Sigourney Weaver had it easy! That alien she delivered didn’t torture her for twelve excruciating hours. All three movies combined were barely over six hours.
The doctor arrived. I spotted his balding head and followed instructions. In a matter of minutes a blanket of bliss warmed me.
“Dad, you want to cut the cord?” The physician offered the clamps to Rob.
The soft cries of my newborn were a thousand times better than any elevator music. I basked in the afterglow of delivery. Nobody told me all my hormones would spike, like a teenager set loose at a Rave. When the swaddled babe was set in my arms, I instinctively pressed my lips to her fuzzy head. Her face was splotchy. Her tiny fingers wizened. She was perfect. A plastic hospital bracelet circled her wrist. We were no longer attached by the umbilical cord and yet we’re joined forever. Nobody told me the abundance of joy I’d feel cradling this miniature human. My closed lipped smile contained my emotions.
Although I wasn’t looking my best after giving birth, I was eager to capture the moment in Kodak colour. Welcome to the world, baby! The scent of baby hasn’t been trapped in a designer perfume bottle, and yet nuzzling my infant’s supple skin was intoxicating. Heaven. Decades later, I read researchers believe the newborn scent induces a release of dopamine, and subsequently influences mothers to stay within reach of their baby. There were no adequate words to describe what I felt as I transitioned to the role of mother. Regardless of all the discoveries I encountered during my first pregnancy, I still had a million ‘first-times’ ahead.
I was the cheerleader who jumped for joy with my daughter’s first steps. No tears for me when she sat in the classroom for day one of school. Seize the day, little one! Education is your key to unlock the world. Photos captured her first dance recital where she twirled in her pink tutu. A proud mother clapped when she crossed the graduation stage and got accepted into university. We practiced interview questions prior to her first job. I’ve watched her mature from a young girl to an independent woman. Lucky me. My need to squeeze her tight and sign texts with ‘love Mummy’ is still instinctive.
From my perspective, motherhood is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s uncharted territory, with mountains to climb and experiences to savour. The rewards and joy are in the journey. On the day she was born we took numerous photos. I wanted to remember every little detail. Centuries earlier, before cameras were invented, new mothers weren’t as fortunate to document the day. In Italy, during the sixteenth century, if you were married to a wealthy nobleman, you might hire a painter to commemorate the birth.
Historians believe the Mona Lisa is a depiction of noblewoman Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. It’s believed the art was commissioned to celebrate the birth of the couple’s second child. We will never truly know what Mona Lisa was smiling about in that masterpiece painting. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s enjoying the glow of childbirth. I believe some learned person told her the smile of motherhood is priceless.