new mom

What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part II

Illustration: Pippi, Age 5

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 five writers what it feels like to be pregnant. The second response, by the writer Vanessa Hua, is below. Read the first here, and check back for a new one each Wednesday of this month. 

Each time my lower back ached and an incipient pimple pulsed on my nose, I let myself hope this month might be different. In the two years we were trying to conceive, I’d been attuned to the minute changes in my body, hoping every twinge, skin breakout, and mood swing meant that a baby had taken hold. So many signs of a period coming on cruelly mimicked those of early pregnancy.

The fertility regime consumed me: foul-tasting Chinese herbal brews, off-label prescriptions of nauseating cancer and diabetes drugs, and medications to control my ovulation, injected with needles so thick they could have tranquilized an elephant.

I’d never felt more alone, plunged into my flesh, which had never disappointed me more. Breaking out in hives from the stress, I scratched until I drew blood, and my lips were swollen into a duck’s beak. Every symptom crowded out the possibility that I’d ever know what it felt like to be pregnant.

To my surprise, after I conceived my twin sons, the memory of that agony quickly faded, almost like the pain had been someone else’s. The rapid shape-shifting of pregnancy overtook all else. My husband and I had been private about our struggles, but now I was hugely with child — with children — and the dome of my belly measured weeks ahead of a singleton pregnancy.

My body became fodder for public discussion: “When are you due?” “Are you having a boy or a girl?” “Twins!” The comments from strangers didn’t feel invasive; they felt like an expression of goodwill, as people reminisced about when they’d started their own families, or their experiences while growing up.

It seemed they felt connected to me because I was pregnant. And mostly, I felt the same — perhaps never more so than in the throes of labor. As the contractions gripped me — my abdomen hard and tight, the small of my back caught in a vise — my thoughts veered to my loving grandmother and my scientist mother, and to all the women ancestors who’d come before me, and even to all the mama mammals who pushed forth their young from between their legs.

During my pregnancy, it felt like I’d stepped through a threshold, into another world of emotions and ideas that I was eager to explore. I started writing my debut novel after hearing about clandestine maternity centers in Southern California that housed pregnant women from China; the mothers-to-be wanted to bestow their babies with U.S. citizenship. As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I’d long wondered: what’s it like, to give birth so far from home and family?

Did some of those women — like me — trust their bodies again after difficulties conceiving, and marvel at their newfound capability to carry children?

Vanessa Hua is the author of the short-story collection Deceit and Other Possibilities. Her debut novel, A River of Stars, comes out in August from Ballantine Books.

What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part II