Published on March 31st, 2014 | by Sara Finnerty2
SARA FINNERTY on the Hell of the First Trimester
I have been trying to learn to surrender control and listen to my body for years. I’m not very good at it. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY everyone says now that I am pregnant, so I try. SURRENDER everyone says, PREGNANCY IS A CRASH COURSE IN SURRENDER. I read that somewhere.
So I surrender. I surrender my stomach, hardening from the inside, stretching, cramping, expanding.
I surrender my breasts, these painful hanging things that already aren’t mine anymore, that hurt in cold, in heat, with every step I take. I throw my hands up. I give in.
I surrender to my swelling and blooming body. It is not up to me when I will feel normal and healthy again. I give up. I yield. I am nauseated all day. I have never been so tired.
I surrender my eyelids and eyeballs and breath. I surrender my brain which can no longer think in details. I surrender my body over to something not myself–to a higher power? The white noise of the universe? The pure mechanics of my body? I surrender control over the life of my baby, it is not up to me if it lives or dies or is sick or mentally ill or is a boy or a girl. I’ve been told you can’t control anything outside of yourself. That your business ends at your nose. I’ve been trying to learn that I don’t have control over other people, god or the universe, that the only things I can control are my self and my body but right now my body and what is inside of it is exactly what I can’t control. I surrender. I give up.
I will listen to my goddamn body. I will close my eyes when I am tired I will sit when I need rest I will eat when I am hungry and I will not, I cannot be the woman I was, the woman I have always been. I need to surrender her. I need to give her up because she is gone.
I have a formula to keep sane. If I don’t stick to it I degenerate into a neurotic melodramatic bipolar panic stricken disaster. I need to work. I need to write. I need to write almost every day. I need to shove myself into the world. I need to hike, run, bike, swim. I need yoga at the very least twice a week. I need Al-Anon at the very least once a week. I need time with my friends. I need the occasional half a bottle of wine.
But I surrendered my formula because I had to listen to my body and my body was saying ONE THING A DAY. My body said, listen you go ahead and write for two hours but after that you are done. You will vomit, take a nap, eat, take another nap, be dizzy every time you lift your head and then you will just give up and go to sleep. And forget about TV because you will have crappy nightmares about whatever it is you decide to watch, unless it is Project Runway, which is the only TV you can watch because Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn have some sort of mysterious narcotic effect on you.
I am not supposed to talk about being pregnant. I only tell a few people and even that is looked down upon by the cloud of What You Are Supposed To Do. You are supposed to wait for the first trimester to be over. THE INTERNET AND COMMON DECENCY says you will jinx the hell out of the existence of that baby with every person you tell so I am supposed to just go around pretending everything is normal and not tell anyone about MY FORBIDDEN SECRET. This is really about the chance of miscarriage and it makes people TERRIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE to tell them you were pregnant and now are not so we are supposed to lie and cover up and hide this insane nausea and exhaustion and confusion and fear and this inability to surrender how much I want to be this cool cucumber of a pregnant lady and birth a super chill babe who never cries and always obeys but I am having trouble remaining calm. It is only after I google, “Why Can’t I tell people I am pregnant?” and read in an online forum a comment from a woman who said, “I had a stillborn at 30 weeks. There is never a safe time. There are no guarantees. If you want to tell people, tell them. If you are happy and want to share your news, share it. If something happens later, let other people worry about being uncomfortable. It’s not your problem.” This stranger gives me permission to surrender the voices that tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. And surrender to myself, to figure out exactly what it is that I want.
It is so easy to listen to those voices in your head and from the culture around you. Surrender is giving up and giving in and handing over and we are not supposed to surrender. We are supposed to strive to be our best and to best everyone else. Anything less is failure.
For most of my life, I listen to the voices that say You Are Not Trying Hard Enough or You Are Not Good Enough. I listen to the voices in my head, and in advice articles that say you must write every day. Three hours a day. Eight hours a day. All days even when sick. In the morning, away from home, at home, in a suit, in pajamas. I used to declare that I wouldn’t marry until I published a book and when that proved impossible I downgraded to a print publication and then I just stopped caring. I wanted to get married. I wanted to learn how to love, to commit, to trust. I lowered all publication expectations until something snapped. I gave up. I kept writing, I wrote novels and novellas and stories and essays but I cared less what happened to them. I unclipped the latches I’d secured to the way I thought my publishing life should go. I surrendered to the white noise of the universe, a higher power, the machine of our bodies.
I will always be a writer, and no one can take that from me, not a lack of a published book, not a missed writing week, not a few months when I briefly can’t bare to submit to any more journals, and not a baby.
Before I knew I was pregnant, for days I had been feeling as if my insides were both softer and harder, full of a churning red and purple spinning galaxy.
I peed on the stick and my husband and I stood in the bathroom, staring as the screen went from a blinking clock to YES in capital letters and lest we be confused, a giant PLUS sign. I went to the living room and buried my head in pillows while my husband maniacally clipped his nails.
Sometimes the surrender is easy because my body is doing it for me.
It’s harder to surrender the things you want to control but cant.
I texted my mother a picture of YES + because this is not the kind of news I can deliver over the phone. She needs to be able to look at the text, pretend it isn’t there, look at it, pretend she read it wrong, look at it, convince herself its just a prank. She doesn’t handle change well.
But I can’t help it. Twenty minutes later, I call.
“Sara, is this a joke?” She is despondent, like I have inoperable brain cancer and will shortly die.
No, ma. Not a joke.
“Listen I can’t deal with this. I have the plumber here. I can’t talk.”
My mother believes marriage and children will ruin a woman’s life. She wanted for me to live the dream life she never got to have: get a doctorate, remain single and childless, and never have sex. When I was little she popped a video called WHERE DID I COME FROM into the VCR, sat me in front of the TV and left the room. A couple years later, when I asked her what a blowjob was, she frowned at me for a few moments before she said, “The most disgusting thing you could ever imagine.”
For years I’ve been trying to surrender the meanings I attach to words like Mother. Father. Brother. Grandmother. Uncle. I have been trying to strip away the expectations and hopes I have hooked on to these words. They are just words that describe a relationship, not its content.
Soon my mother starts to call the impending baby, bunny rabbit.
She sends me a list of the top ten dog names of 2013. This is her way of saying she is starting to accept it.
I ask her what she wants to be called. “Nonna? Nana?”
She looks at me like I have lost my mind. “Um, my name. Liz. The baby can call me Liz.”
Some days I think I have surrendered. I will write when I can. I will listen to my body. I accept everyone as they are.
But then I get up to pee in the dark in the middle of the night and suddenly am convinced my sweet husband will leave me for someone who never birthed before and therefore does not have a floppy vagina. Or I will never write again because I can’t possibly write when I am sleep deprived. Or the Baby will inherit every mental illness and predilection for addiction that runs in our families and when they are 15 and doing drugs and having sex in their bedrooms will I take the doorknob off the bedroom door and put bars on the window? I mean what do you do? You cannot trust teenagers. If we live in suburbia will they do drugs and fuck out of boredom and if we live in the city will they do drugs and fuck to be cool? What about when they are 5 and want an iphone or whatever it is that will be around in five years? Will it be computer/phone implants directly into our skin that will give us all cancer and we’ll never have enough money to pay for cancer treatments and we’ll die as a family in a postapocolyptic desolate fire ravaged parched and gray California. What do I surrender exactly and to whom? To what?
So I try again. I surrender. I give up. I throw up my hands. I will take each day as it comes. I will listen to my body but–
My body lies.
My body is damp and heavy and depressed because I am not keeping to my formula. I am tired from the baby farming, yes, but maybe I am also tired because I have given up. I have surrendered the wrong things. I have surrendered too much.
The greatest poet to have ever lived, Bruce Springsteen, has a song (a poem) called No Surrender. Since I was a teenager, it has been my anthem, to remind me never to give up, on my life or my idea of myself.
“When our young faces grow sad and old and hearts of fire grow cold, we swore blood brothers against the wind and now I’m ready to grow young again and hear your sisters voice calling us home across the open yards well even we could cut someplace of our own with these drums and these guitars. Well we made a promise we swore we’d always remember, no retreat baby no surrender.”
I remember being nine years old and feeling intense anxiety upon learning SE Hinton was 16 whens she wrote the Outsiders, because obviously I had to be a published best selling novelist at 16 too. Only the young are fresh and forward thinking enough to be innovative and on those lists, “25 under 25” “30 under 30” “5 under 35” and what’s after that? What list do I get on? Would I even make the top 150,000 writers who are unknown and not yet dead? The answer is I would be lucky to get on that list because there are writers who wouldn’t even make it. I have to let things go because I don’t want to forever live in unmanageable highs and lows. Surrender may have the stigma of passivity but with that comes peace. It doesn’t mean to stop caring. Surrender means to care very much about exactly and whatever is within your peaceful control in that particular moment. Surrender means to whittle the world down to a war you are able to oversee.
I will never surrender the way the work of writing makes me feel. Both tortured and blissed. Writing is devastating and makes life worth it and holy and beautiful and writing is my way to god and hell all at once and I don’t have this baby yet but I imagine he or she will make me feel this way too. This baby will be heaven and hell. Will be a practice in surrender and no surrender, in figuring out where that line in the sand has shifted to today.
Last summer, my husband and I were hiking in Capitol Reef National Park. It was early morning and cold. We were the only ones on the trail. It ascended quickly, through crumbling switchbacks so that the vastness of the park and its red rocks and purple mountains glowed in the early morning sun. We hit a plateau and the quiet isolation of the park seemed to go on forever. There were no cars, no people. We circled up and up to chimney rock. My husband rounded a bend ahead of me and I paused to be alone for a moment and look out behind me at the landscape of red walls and endless desert and the black empty road that stretched up to the horizon. I was so high up but I felt so safe, so sure of my body and my legs. I felt complete peace. I could not understand why I regularly felt stress, anxiety, pain, anger, heartbreak, disappointment. Those emotions seemed so unnecessary. It seemed so obvious that all of my unhappiness is either self-imposed or the result of accepting outside expectations. I don’t need any of it. There is a well of happiness and contentment in me and it is dependent on nothing. No success will access it. No accolades. No amount of money. For now I only stumble upon it by chance or luck or an intense hike or yoga or in the middle of a rare and spectacular writing session but I suspect there are many tunnels that lead to my well. I want to learn how to get there. I don’t want to build my brand. If there is a game I don’t want to play it because it is not a game that matters. Not to me. I surrender the game. For now. I surrender and I will never surrender.