This essay first appeared at Good Mother Project on October 19, 2016.
I sit at my desk drinking cup after cup of herbal tea. Invested in the talk radio streaming through his earbuds, my officemate doesn’t notice the change from my typical thermos of black coffee.
We offer sparking water, still water (straight from the tap), or an IPA to our dinner guests. Their desires are varied, so my preference for seltzer goes unnoticed.
My jeans fit well. My postpartum tops are all on the flowy side, so my increasing bosom may just as well be a new bra.
I’m not trying to mask my present state, it is just a habit. One I’m starting to break.
I have had three first trimesters. They have all been similarly awful.
The first two periods of nausea and exhaustion I did my best to keep it to myself. I did not share the about the discomfort of my physical symptoms. I followed the rules:
“Don’t tell anyone until at least twelve weeks. Just in case.”
I faked my way through work, happy hours, and early morning church.
The first time, after following the rules, I birthed a vibrant girl.
The second time was a “Just in case” – a missed miscarriage, discovered at 12 weeks – right after we told the world.
Keeping something a secret doesn’t alter the truth.
Now, the third time, I’m not so quick to blindly follow society’s expectations. I am finding more and more places to stop masking the first trimester. It’s so much easier to breathe this way.
I’m still playing the part at work. I put on my mask, which sometimes looks like a bag of Cheerios, to keep the nausea at bay. The mask is a walk around the block during my break – the movement keeping me from falling asleep and the alone time limiting occasions during which I might ‘slip up’ in conversation.
I rip off my mask the moment I get home, sinking into the couch and begging my daughter to cuddle instead of climb. I request ‘burgers or steakums’ for dinner. I go to bed with the two year old. The dust piles up a little thicker and I don’t bother to pre-make breakfast – who knows what I’ll be hungry for in ten hours anyway. My husband is patient and caring; he deserves someone who can watch an entire episode of The Get Down without falling asleep.
I put my mask back on in the grocery store. When the cashier asks, “So, when is she going to get a baby brother?” I force a smile and say, “Oh I don’t know, we’ll see…”, allowing my words to drift into the universe, as though I’m waiting for it to respond.
In a way, I am waiting for the universe to respond. Will she become a big sister this time?
The mask is off when I write, when I get a good vibe from a stranger at the library, when I hold a seven pound newborn.
The mask is on when I accept a promotion, when I chat with the neighbor, when I post on Instagram.
“Nothing to see here. Just a happy family doing life. I feel fantastic and definitely didn’t just puke three times in the bushes while taking out the trash.”
The mask is off when I am with my people. I tell my friends and sister immediately, asking for prayers for peace, and growth, and energy. They understand when I start a statement, “If I’m still pregnant…” or “Hopefully in May.” There are different rules in this space.
This time “just in case” is the reason I take off the mask, not the reason I put it on.
I keep taking it off, because no matter how long my body hosts this round of life’s greatest possibilities, it should be celebrated. I take off my mask because my friends know I wouldn’t turn down a glass of Malbec for any other reason. I take off my mask because my sympathetic husband prepared a second meal after I gagged over chicken, and he deserves credit.
I keep the mask handy – slipping it on when it feels comfortable, slipping it off when I feel safe – but long gone are the days of twelve-week silences and solitary celebrations.