Today, I am 34 weeks pregnant. Nearly there, end in sight, life about to change forever/complete. Baby is big and happy, my hips are agonizing and rest and balance alludes me. I will not miss pregnancy at all. I am sad that I was unable to cherish this experience as I wanted to, because there has been no time to enjoy its miracle or to take care of myself, but the truth of it is, I’m not good at it and that’s OK.
My body is heavy, tired and sore. I have no energy and my pain switches sides every day because the other side works to compensate for the day before. Each step hurts and my bum feels destroyed with the tension and sheer weight. Restful sleep is so hard to come by. My feet are swollen, my boobs are huge and uncomfortable. As much as I wanted to believe it could be, if only the world had been different this year, the physical experience of pregnancy was never going to be enjoyable for me as it appears to be for others. But maybe that’s an illusion in itself. The number of changes pregnancy necessitates for the female form is relentless and unforgiving. How could physical disability not make it harder still?
So I won’t miss it. But this week particularly, I pray, just as I did through my pregnancy with Squidge, that it will continue on uninterrupted and unapologetic in its brutality against me as the expectant mother. 34 weeks is an irrational and emotional time for me.
I was born at 34 weeks gestation. So I’m very aware that there’s a fully formed, fully functional child in my belly, awaiting the world. I also know of several children born at the same gestation in perfect health. After all, this is no longer 1989 and mercifully, medical science continues to march on with its advances.
But the fear has never, ever left me. I have grown up acutely aware how my very existence, irrevocably entwined with the impact of cerebral palsy has affected the lives of my parents and my siblings. No one wishes for a disabled child. Everyone prays for good health and happiness and why should they not?
I have always carried guilt at how much my limitations affected the capabilities of my family. I am the last of 5 and I changed everything. My mum could no longer work because she needed to care for me. We were forced to rely on welfare benefits whereas before she’d been able to work for everything she needed. My needs took her independence – she did not work again till I was 16 – by which time, her dedication to my physical maintenance through physiotherapy had taken its physical toll on her.
My independence was hard won. My parents were protective and often it made me feel as though they didn’t believe I could be capable in the world on my own because the world is cruel and I am vulnerable. That view of myself has definitely had an emotional toll, but my mother suffered similarly with guilt that I did not escape unscathed from my early birth.
My mum was a lone parent by the time I was born. She presented to the doctor, convinced, with the wisdom of many previous pregnancies behind her, that she was in premature labour and she was dismissed and sent home, only to be proved right a few hours later.
Her waters broke, meconium and all present to signal my distress. I cannot imagine how terrified she must have felt to have to leave my siblings and labour alone, miles from home and too early. I’ve never pressed to know, my mum’s guilt about my situation tells me all I need to know about how hard it was for her.
I really wish I was able to take some of it for her. This is my lot now. It is no one’s fault, no one is to blame, it is simply what is. I’m OK with that and wish my mum could allow herself that same peace. By the same token however, I have no desire to live her experiences for myself as I build my own family.
As I said, my independence was hard won and I am fiercely protective of it. I don’t deny that this is often to my detriment, simply because I am so reluctant to make concessions for my disabilities. I am slowly learning that this is neither kind nor productive, but it is a hard lesson because it feels as though my disability weakens my person. It doesn’t of course, it’s part of my person but that realisation takes a lot of work on self-acceptance that only each individual can be tasked to undertake. It is no-one’s place to tell you how you must accept a life you have been thrown into without consultation.
However, I do know, that even for my children, for whom I would lay down and die without hesitation, it would be indescribably hard to relinquish my independence as my mum was forced to. I struggle enough to play the hand I have already been dealt and must play. This is your only life, I tell myself now, get what you want out of it.
For me, unquestionably, this was always family. Squidge is 3.5 years old now and I still regularly look at her in amazement and say “She’s my daughter”. I can barely believe that I will soon be blessed with another child.
But I do not know, nor do I have any wish to, how I could serve and protect a child that has struggled as I have? Physically. Emotionally. Would I still see my child learn to hate their bodies, their own beings as I did for so long and so, so deeply? I don’t think I could bear it, for either of us. It is not a facet of the all encompassing “mum guilt” I have any desire to visit. I cannot apologise for that because hard, sad experience lies behind the fear. It is real. Illogical and irrational yes, but very, very real.
And so, with every fibre of my tired being, I pray for another 5 weeks (-1 week removed in hope of our elective Caesarean meeting at 39+1) of the jabbing of solid impatient little limbs in my sides, of chronic heartburn and questionable balance as I rush to pee 20 times a day with 5 seconds warning. Just 5 more weeks. Till my perfect Baby Too will be here to meet my Baby One, family complete.