Illustration: Gianni, age 4
NEW MOM explores the brilliant, terrible, wonderful, confusing realities of first-time motherhood. It’s for anybody who wants to be a new mom, is a new mom, was a new mom, or wants really good reasons to never be a new mom. To get started, we asked writers what it feels like to be pregnant. The fifth response, by the writer Catherine Chung, is below. Here are the first, the second, the third, and the fourth.
For the first five months I had terrible morning sickness, sometimes vomiting over 30 times a day. Everything made me sick: the computer screen, the television, reading, light, motion, noise. I lay on my back in the dark, listening to the audio versions of children’s books: I listened to all of Harry Potter this way, and when they ended I listened to a Canadian woman on YouTube as she read all the books from The Little House on the Prairie, occasionally interrupted by the barking of her dogs. I tried not to move, but the room was always tilting. I felt like I was below deck on a tiny boat — seasick, off-balance.
When I emerged from that sickness, I ate as if I was starving, because I was afraid I had starved my baby. “Don’t worry,” my doctor said. “The baby takes everything it needs from your body, it’ll leach everything right out of your bones.” I laughed, because it was so extreme, this business of being pregnant — and I was relieved. I had never felt worse, and I didn’t care, as long as the baby was safe.
Soon after that conversation, I found out I had gestational diabetes, the kind that couldn’t be managed with just diet and exercise. I had to walk miles every day, go swimming before bed, and go up and down the stairs when it was raining outdoors. I had to prick my finger to see if my blood had spiked too sweet after meals. I had to inject myself every night with insulin in the hopes that it would bring my blood sugar down. I felt as if I was living inside a math problem I couldn’t solve: I was supposed to consume a certain number of calories, and a certain number of those calories had to come from carbohydrates, but even seven raspberries would spike my sugar too high. Any amount of potatoes, rice, bread, even more than one tablespoon of pearled barley, I found was too much.
Pregnancy! It was all so extreme! Every day my body demanded more of me. And yet my body had declared its loyalty to this other being, made evident by its willingness to relinquish everything so that this other body inside it could be. And bound up in the concrete and physical reality of what my body was doing, was the great mystery of what it was engaged in — the mystery of existence itself. Even now, my words seem to fail me — all my descriptions seem wrong. (How can I call it “my body,” after all, when the body was shared? And what do I mean by “other” when the other was in me, and made up partly by me?) I understood I wasn’t creating life, but that life was making life out of me.
If at first pregnancy felt like a boat I’d stepped onto, a journey I’d embarked on, later I felt like I was the boat — massive, a vessel — carrying precious cargo to shore. It wasn’t until my baby was born and I held her to me, that I discovered something that had been true all along: We were also the sea, and the shore.
Catherine Chung is the author of Forgotten Country. Her new novel, The Tenth Muse, comes out in 2019.