Pregnancy has taught me to relinquish control. So when lockdown arrived, I absorbed the shock

I found out I was pregnant on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday in early April, ordinary except for the fact I’d been counting down to this day, the earliest possible I’d permit myself a test. Three minutes of averting my eyes for fear of jinxing the result and then the faint blue cross confirming what I’d already known for a week, with no proof but for a barely perceptible shift inside me, somewhere previously unknowable.

So began a blissful time, a sweet introduction to the ongoing paradox of pregnancy: a complete shrinking of the outer world alongside a glorious expanse of our inner lives. And then the sickness kicked in – already the bliss was a distant and inaccessible memory.

Keeping up appearances became painful and I began to learn, with some stubbornness, a humbling lesson in relinquishing control. I invited friends over and burned my cooking, struggled to keep my eyes open past 7pm, let them make conversation without me. I tried to go for coffee, out to dinner, even a leisurely walk through the markets. It all felt like fighting: my body versus this new body not yet whole.

I fought with weakening conviction until one day I collapsed in tears, admitting defeat. Coffee and dinner dates would be off the cards for now. So was work as I knew it: my particularly social job was too much to bear and I retreated home with vague mention of “a stomach bug”, immensely grateful for kind colleagues and paid sick leave.

The first trimester of pregnancy was destabilising and overwhelmingly isolating at a time when I expected to be feeling love and connection more than anything else. It was a shock to suddenly live at the behest of my body, feeling completely animal and out of control, unsure how to be around anyone except myself. I didn’t feel pregnant, I felt sick and forced into isolation. As Chitra Ramaswamy writes in Expecting, her brilliant memoir of pregnancy: “You can be at your most lonely during the one time in your life when you are never alone.”

Not long after the positive test in April, I was on a trip interstate, when a visit to the bathroom confirmed what I suspected I’d felt: bleeding. There I was, away from my partner and my GP and any comforts of home, on starchy white hotel sheets and hit by a painful truth: the desire or want or will that I felt – and I felt it furiously – would have absolutely no bearing on whether or not this pregnancy would continue.

Deciding to become pregnant, to have children, is to invite into one’s life the ultimate vulnerability: an immediate and intense risk of loss. I realised if I was lucky I wouldn’t just feel it now, I would feel it for the rest of my life.

I was lucky: the almost-mythic 12-week mark came and went with no fanfare. It wasn’t, as I’d been promised, an end date to illness and a beginning of the glowing skin and limitless vitality I saw on Instagram. Eventually I started to feel myself again, in the smallest of ways: I could stomach a salad! I could walk further than the corner shop! I even felt the first flutters, the popping and bubbling sensation of the life inside me. It started to feel like we were on the same team.

And so it was just as I emerged back into the world, ready to show off my growing belly and brag about my appetite, that Sydney went into lockdown. The suburb where I live has a high concentration of new Covid-19 cases and the most trying parts of 2020 are back: working from home, leaving the house for exercise or essential shopping only, no socialising. In other words, an extension of my first trimester life.

Ramaswamy writes of the term “confinement” (used to describe labour in the 1770s) that while it now describes a resting period postpartum, might still make sense for the growing period: “Pregnancy as a kind of solitary confinement, restricting your liberty in the most immediate of ways … Hemmed in by time and freed by its confines, I saw more.”

Is this why I felt so prepared for lockdown this time around? Pregnancy had forced me to accept my own limits and so when new limits were imposed on me, the shock was mostly absorbed. Pregnancy had taught me that so little of what happens to me is within my control. Thoughtful friends sent messages of commiseration, about how difficult it is to be pregnant in lockdown, and was I OK? It’s the fact that I was that was most jarring.

The excruciating and confronting necessity of relinquishing control has in fact become the most solid foundation on which I can build each day. I think back to 2020 when we were first sent home and indoors: how quickly we all scrambled to download Houseparty, to set up Zoom drinks, to binge on Netflix or podcasts or reading or baking, and it occurs to me that most of this was keeping the inevitable at bay: sitting quietly with loss. Allowing space for grief. Genuine introspection. Solitude (crucially different from loneliness).

I went through an early pregnancy version of this, too: downloading multiple tracking apps, Tinder for new mum friends, Tinder for baby names. Googling every inane thought that flittered into my brain for even a millisecond: “Is nail polish safe in pregnancy?” “Perfume when pregnant.” “Alcohol free wine.” “Chloe Sevigny pregnant”, along with more upsetting things that I won’t repeat.

Now halfway through this pregnancy and [insert best guest here] through lockdown, I feel if not content then at least capable. Yes, I miss friends and I am at times torn emotionally asunder by the thought that state borders will remain closed and I don’t know when I will see my family. I am frightened for my health when I go to the supermarket. But what pregnancy has also taught me so far is to feel my fear and then hope for the future anyway.

Elsewhere in Ramaswamy’s Expecting, she quotes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “We shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.” Of course I hope that the new attachment and connectedness I feel won’t remain in isolation. It can be sort of thrilling to let a lack of control steer me towards hope rather than despair. I might get what I hope for; I might not. The weeks are going to happen to me either way.

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