The Creature Within

Pregnant lady with stuffed toy

One pregnancy thing no one can quite prepare you for (at least no one prepared me for) is the third trimester baby-moving. It’s so far beyond the sweet butterfly wings of quickening. And even the late second-trimester gentle nudges. Now, my visibly, pretty much constantly shifting belly—an area I once had some semblance of control over—inevitably reminds me of Sigourney Weaver and her alien spawn. In, you know, a sweet way.

At night in bed I am glued to Belly TV. “That was an arm! A leg! A head! OMG, it’s so crazy.” Anyone listening might think I was watching the Sci-Fi channel with headphones.

I make my husband feel and watch with me and he is similarly tripped out by the undulations that look very much like a cat squirming under a sheet. “What do people with multiples do?” he asked yesterday. “I don’t know,” I answered, “but it must feel like a sack of puppies in there!”

This is all excellent, of course. As my therapist said, “You want an active baby.” But I keep flashing back to the woman with twins I met, eight months along, who said she was no longer afraid of labor. She was getting the breath knocked out of her by the constant tussling and kicks to the ribs and just wanted them OUT, NOW. I thought she might be exaggerating, or that it was a twins thing. But after a few swift kicks to some of my sorest pelvic ligaments this week I’m beginning to see how this is really nature’s way of moving things along, including fear.

If the ultrasound print-outs and the growing belly weren’t evidence enough, watching my body move without me makes it abundantly clear to my whole brain that I have a human being growing inside me. I wasn’t quite getting it before. And this is simultaneously awe-inspiring/magical and woah/a little creepy.

I think all of these responses—which I likely share with most first-time pregnant women (right?)— are because I’m fundamentally in denial that I’m an animal. Sure, I eat, sleep, poop, pee, have sex, and respond to pain and pleasure just like any other mammal, but there’s a part of me that is so disconnected from my animal nature that pregnancy, birth, and labor sometimes seem downright weird. Even though they’re the basis of our existence and a species. I assume that’s why we’ve so heavily pathologized and medicalized birth—it’s freaky-deaky to be reminded that we’re basically gorillas a step or two removed. So we often ask women to birth on their backs and quietly please and automatically offer pain meds and cut them open, sometimes for medically questionable reasons. We shuffle the animal out of the room—or muzzle her.

But from all I’m learning about natural labor it’s actually essential that we welcome the beast into the labor and delivery room—she’s the one who will go instinctual and guide our body through the process with movement and sound. One book, The Big Book of Birth, says “If you care about the wallpaper in the room you’ve come to the hospital too early.” That’s because our inner primate (or tigress or lioness) hasn’t entered the equation yet. When things get hard and fast and heavy—assuming everyone’s health is good—the beast will know what to do and dĂ©cor is not anywhere near her agenda.

Just like the creature in my belly who is a bit shocking for a human who forgets she’s an animal, this transformation from woman to birther is intense (a word I use sparingly, but seems apt) for all involved. And it makes sense that a first response would be to sanitize things a bit—literally and figuratively.

But what I’m learning is that there’s a little creature inside me, and that’s not some sci-fi movie (which, hello, was based on birth fears, of course). It’s the flow of life to life. And to best tend this critter, I have to touch into my inner creature and release her ancient, limbic wisdom and knowing—and maybe growls and pants and all-fours crawling—to allow this boy in me into the world.

I need to get into my animal. From her mama-bear, not-thinking, totally-present perspective, this whole labor thing looks perfectly normal and it’s pretty clear that the only “crazy” or “alien” thing is our denial of that essence. Ruff! Growl! Grrr! Rowr!