Solidarity in pregnancy

Pregnant women in Bongouanou, Côte d'Ivoire. (Flickr / United Nations)

Pregnant women in Bongouanou, Côte d’Ivoire. (Flickr / United Nations)

The baby is doing more than kicking right now. She or he is rolling, rocking, doing flips, causing my whole massive midsection to seize and spasm. I can watch this fetus swim laps across my belly under my shirt. I’m two weeks away from my due date and it feels like a lifetime — it feels like a heartbeat.

Someone asked what I am going to miss about being pregnant. I was quick to enumerate all the things I am not going to miss: heartburn, Charlie horses, stiffness, my bulk, suffering through the Polar Vortex without a maternity winter jacket. I cover my belly with a wool skirt, stuff it under multiple fleece jackets, and then top the whole business with a large down vest and a few scarves. But the bump is still always cold. I had to stop myself there because I saw the person’s eyes begin to glaze over.

But, all complaining aside, there are things I am going to miss when our baby Valentino/a (due February 13, get it?) is born. This whole other person has been living inside of me for almost nine months now. I feel like I know them. There is something simultaneously magical and commonplace about sharing space with this growing being. And I am going to miss that. I have grown accustomed to their heartbeat and their hungers. I have marveled daily in their slow, steady, miraculous, meticulous development from a mass of microscopic cells to a breathing, hairy, moving tiny person who this week — according to TheBump.Com — is the size of a winter melon (whatever that is). Of course, once the baby is born, all that growth and development will be so much more dramatic and evident. But I will miss this special connection, this constant awareness of and appreciation for life at its most elemental. I will miss a communication that is so basic, so simple, it is like breathing: “I am here, baby.” “Me too, mama. I am here.”

Being connected to a being that I have not even laid eyes on — except lying in a dark room as a woman interprets the blobs and blips as head and feet and ribs — reminds me of my connections to other people too. I feel at one with humanity: It sounds cheesy, but it is true. I feel especially connected to other pregnant women. It seems like half the women I know are pregnant, so we are able to compare notes on appetite, energy, bulges, fears and hopes.

I even find myself simpatico with super stars like Kerry Washington, the actress who plays the inimitable and implacable Olivia Pope on Scandal. She is about six months pregnant now and wore a beautiful one-of-a-kind maternity gown to the Golden Globes last week. It’s funny; why should I feel connected to Kerry Washington or Olivia Wilde or Drew Barrymore, all of whom are pregnant? My daily reality and theirs could not be more different. I am rocking hand-me-down and Salvation Army maternity wear and stretching out some of my husband’s sweaters in a pinch. The frock Washington wore to the Golden Globes probably cost more than a good used Volvo, which we are in the market for — the Volvo, not the gown, obviously.

But, just as fundamentally and much more seriously, I find myself connected to women in warzones who are pregnant. I find myself trying to imagine what it is like to be growing and nurturing a tiny, helpless creature in the face of bombs and drones and deprivation and constant uncertainty.

People wonder how my husband and I can handle not knowing the gender of our baby. It is a small thing. What I cannot handle is knowing that for so many women around the world (and in this country too), the not-knowings are so much more immense and terrible: not knowing if the house will still be standing the next day, not knowing if the husband will still be alive, not knowing if the other children will be fed and safe and whole, not knowing if there will be money, medicine, clean water, a safe place to labor and give birth. In Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Nigeria, in the Central African Republic, in many parts of Mexico and countless other warzones, violence, fear and uncertainty are a huge part of women’s daily experience — while pregnant and as mothers.

What can I do in these last few weeks of pregnancy to make the connection I feel with these women less about some vague notion of biological empathy and more about a concrete commitment to global solidarity and ending war and violence? Code Pink pushed for women’s representation at the Syrian peace talks in Geneva this week. Women to Women is helping women in South Sudan rebuild their lives. The American Friends Service Committee is working with Somali women to heal the wounds of war. Semillas (seeds in Spanish) is funding women’s empowerment and development in Mexico. No Women, No Peace is organizing for women’s full inclusion in politics, economics and social spheres in Afghanistan. And the list goes on and on and on. I can still ogle Kerry Washington’s maternity wardrobe, but what little I can spare is going to these organizations, not new maternity jeggings.

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