For a brief period during which I hosted a basic cable decorating show, I was kind of famous. I wish I could be famous again, without having to emotionally implode from the cognitive dissonance of thinking I was a nobody and the world thinking I was somebody and the compulsive need to prove myself right. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t glower at people who shouted my name at airports. I would wave and smile. Like I deserved it.
If I could be pregnant, give birth and care for a baby again — oh wait, I can.
For once, life has given me a do-over. Of all the major life cycle events, the big moments, the passages and transitions, the ceremonies, beginnings and endings, of all the big deals I have screwed up just by being terrified of failing at them, I never get a chance to try again with the full knowledge of how I will look back at it. However, as I sit here four months pregnant with my second child, all I can think is: this pregnancy thing certainly is different when I don’t spend the day Googling “miscarriage causes” or “chromosomal abnormalities of Ashkenazi Jews” or “the dangers of eating soft cheese during pregnancy.”
The kid is just fine, my two year-old. What I couldn’t have predicted is that my love for him would give birth to some kind of ever-multiplying fear monster, that instead of just experiencing him growing in my stomach, or instead of just watching his tiny face sleeping, I would spend most of his early days on a maternal death watch. If he slept for too long, my heart would race, something was wrong. If he had the hiccups, or a rash, or a fever, or a crying fit, I knew the end was coming.
Sorry, this is dark. But I have to admit it. My love for this creature, before he was born and after, made caring for him a perpetual shift on the front lines of a little war I was losing against my own anxiety. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. Those things still might happen to me, to this new baby, but I can tell you this: I truly don’t think my contemplation of doom either manifests or protects against it.
And another thing. Another thing about the first-born. You don’t know anything about anything. Or at least I didn’t.
Now, I can tell you how a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels as opposed to real labor, I can school you on when to take away a pacifier or how to pack a diaper bag. I already have a pediatrician, I even know the parking drill over there and it won’t panic me. I have a daycare. I have hand-me-downs. I know where to find indoor playgrounds and I can tell you which bookstores and restaurants in Los Feliz have changing tables in the bathroom. I got this.
The first time around, thanks to the omnipresence of www.babycenter.com, I knew exactly how many weeks and days pregnant I was, whether my fetus was the size of a plum or kiwi, whether it had eyebrows or a spleen yet. This time, I lose track. Sometimes, at least until someone offers me a cocktail, I even forget.
The most prominent symptom I had the first time around wasn’t morning sickness or bloating, though I had those, the most pronounced side effect of carrying a baby was acute self-absorption. It’s not that I was self-involved out of some sense of my own importance or awesomeness, I was just so scared something would go wrong that I somehow became convinced, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, no one had ever carried a baby to term before. I was the only pregnant person on the planet, it was all about me, my swelling ankles, my ultrasounds, my need to find a name, my due date, me. The thing about this pregnancy is that I’m finding it almost impossible to focus on myself, on all the bad things that could happen, while caring for a two-year old who needs me to play garbage trucks and spray Oxy-Clean on butter stains.
So, here’s to do-overs. Oh wait, I can’t drink. Just pass the Camembert.