I took the pregnancy test because I was thinking about having sushi for dinner. A month later, at my first doctor’s appointment, my OB would rattle off a brief list — no alcohol, no smoking, no raw fish — quickly, as if I already knew the rules. And of course I did. I’m 36; I’ve had a long time to pick up this kind of knowledge.
But still, in those first few weeks, I Googled. They say not to Google, but I Googled all the time. My body had never been a thing I could control, but now even less so. It was reassuring to feel like there were ways to regulate what was happening inside of me, though what I found was mostly inconclusive. Why was I suddenly having intense cramps? Google said this was totally normal but also a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. (I was fine.)
I also Googled skin care. I just had a hunch. As with all medical Googling, I found nothing definitive but plenty alarming. Accutane is known to cause serious birth defects, but I was wading in murkier, over-the-counter topical waters. Various websites that seemed sensible enough told me I should avoid artificial fragrances, phthalates, retinoids, chemical exfoliants, and basically every ingredient in standard nail polish. I knew these recommendations were probably hyperbolic — if they were serious, I assumed, my doctor would mention them, and she never did — but I saw an opportunity, or a perverse challenge.
I was too nauseous to start eating ten servings of vegetables a day or go to yoga. But I could shop on my computer from bed. I replaced my glycolic acid toner with soft muslin washcloths, which I used to rub unscented, gentle cleanser in small circles on my face. I bid farewell to Buffet and took the opportunity to finally indulge in an order from the artisanal skin-care outfit I follow on Instagram (they’re also a goat farm). I bought myself “elasticity serum” for my face and belly — belly, a word I never used to refer to my own body before. It might not do anything but it smells like spearmint, and I felt like I was anointing myself every morning.
Eventually, I’d learn that even those basic dietary restrictions my doctor rattled off are hardly settled science. After more research, I’d bring sushi and wine back into my life. But even then, I wouldn’t rescind the skin-care product restrictions I embraced in the first few weeks of pregnancy. I liked them too much.
It turned out that the fragrance-free Alba body lotion I bought at Whole Foods left my skin the softest it has ever been. (Don’t tell me it’s not the lotion but the hormones.) My new conditioner, free of parabins, SLS, petrolatum, artificial colors, and phthalates, smells so intensely and perfectly of apricots that I salivate every time I open the bottle. (Excess saliva is also a pregnancy side-effect, but I really don’t think that’s what’s happening here.) I come to bed freshly daubed, and my husband says I smell like Froot Loops.
I know pregnancy is about having a baby, but there’s no baby yet, just my experience of this body and the way the world reacts to it. Every book and message board and doctor had different rules. No alcohol, or a glass a night. One cup of coffee is fine, or maybe three. Pseudoephedrine is fine, or it’s absolutely not. Don’t sleep on your back. (This turns out to be backed up by research, and I’m still baffled by our bodies’ poor construction.)
At the same time, most miscarriages have nothing to do with anything you can control. Things go wrong, genes twist, our bodies fuck up. It’s terrifying, and we want to protect our babies however we can. I think we also want to protect ourselves, in case things do go badly, so we can say I didn’t do anything wrong.
I wanted that safety, but I also needed to be more than a vessel while I waited nine — no eight, no six, oh God — months for my life to inexorably change. Sometimes that meant a single glass of wine, or a pill that would give me four to six hours of breathing through my nose. And sometimes it meant adopting an entirely new, possibly extreme skin-care routine. Like so many things relating to beauty, it’s not rational, but it makes me happy nonetheless.