What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part VI

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Illustration: Dudley, age 2

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 sixth and final response, by the writer Tina Chang, is below. Here are the first, the second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth.

I stand at the Great Wall of China, four months pregnant. My son grows within me. Before him, so much of what I thought would come, did not come in time. I am 40 and older than most. I did it all backwards: I’m not married. I’m pregnant, and traveling alone.

My son is a seed, and will one day be a boy, and then a man. I anticipate him, I expect him. In everything I read online, pregnancy is described as weird, terrifying, angry, and even alien and hungry. There are so many opinions about what pregnancy should be. There are so many voices around me, I leave the country hoping to leave the voices behind.

No one mentions pregnancy feels like a mounting heaviness that is both weight and memory. As my child grows, all my past wounds wait to confront me. At the Great Wall, the sky surges forward, staircases grow in every direction. I feel no anger at all, though hunger approaches. I am startled often. I’m surprised when my guide tells me hundreds of thousands of workers died when making this wall, many of their bodies buried within and beneath the structure. I am startled too when my father, the ghost, stands somewhere along the wall and nods at me. I tell him my son is about to be born. I touch the curve of my torso and release one long breath. I tell my father I forgive him for dying.

As I walk along the wall, my hands touch each hard-won stone. This is what pregnancy feels like: emotions toppling, illogically and irrationally. Each emotion collides against the other when I accept my father, the ghost, leaning into the sun. He is smoking and offers me a drag and I remind him, This is how you died, remember? This is what pregnancy feels like, fighting off the ghosts of fathers and forebears, the weight of history growing into a future life. No one tells you when you’re pregnant, history comes for you, legions of ancestors clamoring about legacy and inheritance. All of this bears itself in a physical weight that blooms from peach pit to mountain.

It culminates into a rumbling beneath me as if some kind of war is about to happen, but the war never happens. There are no an armies, no battalions, no weapons, but my son continues on. I feel something deepening like a force, a digging, a burrowing, a phantom delving down and a relic rising back up. Not a stone from the deep, nor the silt that buries it, but a boy. It feels like grace. Mercy. Deep down in darkness, I uncover it. Those spirits underground shake until I hold to the wall to keep still. Everything is now unleashed, a fathoming, my past dreams toward a strangeness of the future. The idea of a child is something so unreal, it can only be manifested by human hands. It’s like a ghost rummaging in your mind that says, Go ahead, imagine it.

Tina Chang is Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. Her third poetry collection, Hybrida, which explores motherhood and mixed race, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton in May 2019.

What Does Being Pregnant Feel Like? Part VI