There is something daunting about publicly claiming an achievement, parenthood, that isn’t actually yours yet, says mom-to-be Dana Norris.
I’m five months pregnant. My uterus has grown to the point that anyone who looks at me can tell that I am with child. I’ve told everyone that I see in person on a regular basis that I’m pregnant and I’ve called those folks who are far away to let them know, but I haven’t told Facebook. Because there’s pregnant, and then there’s Facebook pregnant.
When I tell people that I’m pregnant in person I’m usually greeted with joyous exclamations, hugs, and sometimes even fist bumps. All of the positive attention makes me feel wonderful because it’s incredibly gratifying for people to so actively celebrate my life choices, but it also perplexes me. I know that an announcement of my pregnancy on Facebook will be greeted with numerous electronic likes and smiley faces and well wishes. But I also feel that this level of celebration is akin to when I win a writing contest or get a promotion—people congratulate me as though I have just accomplished something very big and important. And I know that being a parent is very big and important work, but I also feel that I haven’t actually accomplished that quite yet.
For me, simply being pregnant isn’t an achievement.
I first started trying to get pregnant over a year ago. I was immediately successful and I congratulated myself—I did so good, letting those sperm up there! But then I quickly miscarried and was devastated. So my husband and I returned to trying, and trying, and trying, and months went by and my anxiety grew. I started to think that a simple pregnancy wasn’t going to happen for me. Whenever I met someone with a baby I would immediately ask, “How long did it take you to conceive?” and then either be buoyed (six years!) or crushed (two minutes!) by her response.
And during this time of worry I would see pregnancy announcements on Facebook. I would like them and comment “Congrats!” while also giving my computer screen the middle finger. Because part of me was so happy for these newly pregnant people, but part of me was also jealous and bitter. Why isn’t my body working?
I coped by diminishing the act of getting pregnant. I started to tell myself that fertility is chance, like finding a good parking spot or making it onto the train just before the doors close. It’s nice when it happens but it also doesn’t reflect on you as a person. Separating “pregnancy” from “achievement” was the only thing that really gave me comfort. It’s biology, it isn’t merit based, it has nothing to do with your worth as a person.
And this helped me get through each negative pregnancy test, each awkward conversation with people who I had, in my early moments of blind confidence in my fertility, told that we were trying to conceive. Later, these folks would check in with me, “So? How’s it going?” and I would have to report the truth, “It hasn’t happened yet,” and then we would both frown in quiet disappointment.
And after 10 fruitless months I bought a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility and made an appointment to have my fertility tested. And ladies who want to get pregnant: Please go right out and buy this book and read the chapter on cervical mucus because it is fascinating. Did you know that the fluid that comes out of your cervix can tell you about your ovaries? So I started examining my underwear and, soon after, pregnancy occurred. And maybe it’s because I finally unlocked the secrets of my vaginal secretions, or maybe it’s because I relaxed when I had my first fertility test, but it’s probably, actually, chance. A sperm caught up with my egg during the precise right time and the first domino fell and then the second domino fell and the pregnancy took hold.
Yet I wait to tell Facebook. Part of me would love to share the experience of pregnancy on social media. It’s a confusing, strange time and there are so many odd things I’d like to post about.
Like how in the first trimester I was suddenly nauseated by tomatoes and spinach and blueberries and egg yolks and cat food and chicken breasts and cheese curds and grocery shopping and certain shades of blue and those long curly, upper lip hairs on 14-year-old boys. Like how I could sleep for 11 hours, wake up, eat breakfast, and then take a nap.
Like how now, today, I can start crying at any second, like a super power. I’ll feel fine, totally normal, and then I’ll read some terrible news story or my husband will suggest a restaurant I don’t want to go to or I’ll realize I haven’t had anything really good for dinner lately or I’ll be watching “The West Wing” and will notice that all of the characters are so incredibly good at their jobs and then, suddenly, I am sobbing.
Like how each week the pregnancy websites tell you the size of your baby in relation to a different kind fruit, “Your baby is now the size of a raspberry!” “Your baby is now the size of a grape!” even though those two fruits are the same size.
So why don’t I just go ahead and post? Telling Facebook about new developments in your personal life is something that gives a lot of people pause. I know of several relationships that existed for months, if not years, before they became “Facebook official.” I was deeply amused the day that Facebook notified me that my parents, who were wed in 1973, had just updated their relationship statuses to “married.”
But there’s something daunting about a comment thread below your life choices. There’s something unnerving about telling everyone in your electronic life about something that is so precious to you and yet so tenuous. There is something daunting about claiming an achievement, parenthood, that isn’t actually yours yet.
And because I’ve lost a pregnancy I’m acutely aware that being pregnant is no guarantee of having a healthy baby. Publishing a Facebook pregnancy announcement also creates the environment for a possible Facebook pregnancy retraction, a moment where you must announce that you are no longer pregnant.
But then, assuming that things work out, I can’t hide the fact that I have a child from social media forever. So after the 20-week ultrasound I finally updated my Facebook status to reveal that I am pregnant. The congratulations and likes rolled in. I read the happy responses and I smiled and closed my eyes and sent these well wishes forward in time, to a peaceful afternoon sometime far in the future, after I have managed to do the work of labor and pull a new life from my life.
A day in the future after I have spent all of my time attending to this first few months of this new life, after I have not slept for weeks, after I have managed to accept and integrate the complete upheaval of becoming a mother into my life.
A day in the future after this small person has grown and I have somehow shown him how to be decent, how to not be selfish, how to take care of those around him, how to listen to himself, how to navigate the world with dignity and kindness and grace.
I hope to one day accomplish all of these things. So I thank you for your congratulations—in advance.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories in Chicago. She has been published in Tampa Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Rumpus. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University. She performs around Chicago you may find a list of upcoming shows at www.dananorris.net.