When my cousin got pregnant, at the age of 24, I was 22 years old, and I learned an invaluable lesson; I have been lied to. By television, movies, books, even by those who love me most, I have been repeatedly and systematically lied to.
Books, movies, television, family and friends all give the impression that pregnancy is a contained experience. A woman’s belly grows bigger and rounder, followed by a comical scene in a hospital where the woman will blame her husband for the pain until a doctor mercifully administers drugs, at which point she will “push… push!” and then collapse in joy, gazing lovingly at her husband and the new life they have created together. That is the clean version, the Hollywood version, and until I visited my cousin when she was 6 months pregnant, it was the only version I knew.
We were sitting on the couch watching a movie. I’d brought cute baby clothes, put my hands on her stomach to feel the baby kick, oohed and ahhed in the appropriate places, and felt my job was done. But as we sat on the couch, I noticed something. Her belly was moving.
It wasn’t moving a little bit, or even rocking; her entire stomach appeared to have shifted completely to the left, as though someone had picked it up and set it over to the side. I leaned closer to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, and as I did, the distinct shape of a hand pressed itself out of her stomach, like something in a horror movie, as though it were trying to escape.
My cousin assured me this was completely normal. “Look, it’ll happen again as the baby kicks. See?” She pulled her shirt up over her stomach. I made out another hand, a footprint, and a heel. “It’s doing gymnastics,” my cousin giggled. I was both horrified and fascinated.
“I thought your stomach would be… hard,” I said. No, she told me – that’s only in the movies.
I learned a number of other things that night that no one had ever bothered to tell me. Should I ever choose to have children, I will be grateful that none of these things will take me by surprise. The crazy alien belly warp, for starters, which made stretch marks make a lot more sense – it’s as though your body is an elastic being stretched to its limit and expected to stay that way for months. “Afterbirth”, which gets mostly cleaned out if you have a c-section, but bleeds out over a few weeks after the baby is born naturally, like an extremely long period just at the time you’re the busiest and tiredest you’ve ever been. And more minor interesting facts as well, such as: pregnant women need to take exceptionally good care of their teeth, because the baby takes so much calcium from the mother that they wear down faster.
I felt after that night, and have felt ever since, that I have been inducted into a secret womanhood club, that I finally know the truth. And to this day I’m unsure if people keep these things secret because we still find the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy embarassing to speak of, or too disturbing to relay in polite company, or simply because if young single women knew the truth, they might choose not to have them. At the end, you might need a beautiful child smiling up at you in the delivery room to know it was all worth it.