“You must be tired.”
“You must be hungry.”
“You must be in for a big surprise, I think you’ve got twins in there!”
“You and your husband must be thrilled!”
Every day, someone is telling me that I “must be” something: feeling an emotion, dealing with hormones, or know I’m safe because I’ve made it this far.
It’s a small phrase, but one that lands heavily. Every week, I am approached by complete strangers with questions and observations and assumptions that my sizable belly and my story are for their consumption. I understand that people become excitable around pregnant women, for the promise of a cute baby and this opportunity to offer their opinions and their own stories or advice. But must I?
Often, it feels like an expectation or command much more than it does a statement of what is assumed. I’m expected to be tired, and hungry, and hormonal. I cast no stones, I fully admit I’ve said similar things; but for some reason, this week, it struck me that the strange emphasis felt like a demand to conform to all the things that people (usually those who have not been pregnant themselves) have learned to expect. I learned that if I disagree, people are thrown off; they don’t know how to respond. I am clearly not one of those women who glows with pregnancy; my skin breaks out, I’m out of breath after a set of stairs, I can’t hide the waddle anymore. There is no grace to my presentation to the world observing, and yet, when I have the audacity to say, “Actually, I’m feeling good, thanks,” the person who has just expected confirmation of everything they know about pregnancy is taken aback. There is usually some exclamation of confusion – a huff, a little stutter leading into their next assumption, which can be either far less confidently expressed, or simply barrels over my answer with their clearly superior insight.
This week, I had one person ask how much longer I had.
Since I know my plan and didn’t feel much like getting into details with this person charging towards her next meeting, talking to me over her shoulder, I simply said 7 seven weeks. The response delivered by her profile was “Well, you must be relieved to be almost at the end, and know you’re in the safe zone now.” There’s that breathtaking word again, safe. I made my own small noise of confusion before replying, “Well, no, I can’t really believe in a safe zone anymore.” And as she sailed off into a conference room, she tossed back, “Well she’s got surfactant now, what more can you want?”
The heavy door closed behind her, sealing her off like an airlock, protected from the angry air swirling around me. I felt like barging into the room asking exactly what makes her so sure? And yeah, I want a whole lot more than surfactant, I’ll tell you what.
I kept on course, made my way to the car and onward to therapy.
Catching up from a week away, I told my counselor about last week’s scare with our daughter, the terror that lay barely banked inside of me, unsoftened by hot tears from these careless comments. We talked about how I feel perpetually pregnant, and am having trouble believing that I will return home this time with a living baby, not with the smallest urn, marbled and cold inside a tiny velvet box. She asked if I had tried visualizing what it would look like, and I just can’t. Every time I try, all I see is Oscar’s closed eyes, feel those 7 pounds and one ounce in my arms as clearly as the day I held him. So I told my counselor about Oscar; how beautiful he was, his little hand curled up on his cheek, tiny perfect mouth, and long little feet that filled up the card they gave us with his footprints. How gently we cradled him, wonder and awe at this perfect tiny person momentarily eclipsing the devastation. I told my counselor that I have no idea how to imagine for and welcome this baby into the world, and she said that was OK. She said that I wasn’t expected to just know and do things like that, when our beautiful son came into this world without a cry.
That was balm on a wound I didn’t realize burned. I knew that I had been angry at the comments of my coworker. I knew I was frustrated with people telling me what I must be feeling and experiencing. I hadn’t realized I needed a reminder that those who mattered would never place such expectations on me. As I drove back to work, I recalled all the amazing people who joined us in our grief, sat with us, touched us on hands and knees and shaking shoulders. At that point, no one knew what to do. There were no expectations.
One of the small weights of guilt that I carry with me slid off my shoulders that day.
I might still bristle when someone tells me what I “must be” feeling, but I don’t need to take the command. I don’t need to meet their expectations or make them feel comfortable. I need to be there for myself and my family, for those who don’t assume but ask and accept, and practice my own acceptance.