“I suck at being a woman,” I told my husband one day as we drove by the Richard Bloom Tot Park (otherwise known as the Tater Tot Park) near our house. The park was filled with its usual afternoon congregation of toddlers and moms—the Mom Club, I call it. The Mom Club is always there about the same time I take Leo out for a walk, and the moms either ignore me, or give me sidelong glances as Leo drags me down the street.
“You don’t suck at being a woman,” my husband responded.
“Yeah, I do. I’m not cheerful like women are suppose to be, or chit chatty. Instead I’m quiet and sullen most of the time. I hate small talk. And I don’t look feminine like other women do, in their little cropped yoga pants and bouncy ponytails. I look like shit every day. I look like a rural lesbian,” I said, gesturing to myself (hiking boots, knit hit and layers of thermal underwear; the damp Oregon climate doesn’t agree with me).
These were just the externals, though. What was really making me feel like a failure as a woman was my inability to get pregnant. I was 40 years old and unable to conceive. Month after month was a disappointment and a reminder that my female body—uniquely built to create life and give birth—wasn’t functioning properly. This, more than anything, made me feel like a lousy excuse for a woman.
And then, out of nowhere, when I had given up all hope of ever being a mom, I realized I was pregnant. “It can’t be,” I thought. “It won’t last,” I worried. “Something awful is going to happen,” I was convinced.
Instead of being filled with joy and excitement, like I imagine most women are when they discover they’re pregnant, and want to be pregnant, I was filled with worry and dread. But one week rolled into the next and I was still pregnant.
Then the nausea and exhaustion set in. I felt like I was on the verge of vomiting every minute of every day. When I felt hungry (which was every two hours), the nausea would get 10 times worse. So I ate every two hours. I couldn’t even sleep through the night without getting up to eat. Leo and I soon fell into an easy routine: at 3 or 4 a.m., I would get up for a bowl of cereal and Leo would join me in the kitchen for a dog biscuit.
I was constantly exhausted, constantly hungry and nauseous, and an emotional wreck. Everything made me cry. Watching the Canadian figure skater whose mom died a day or two before her Olympic performance made me cry like a baby. (Scott Hamilton and I should have been sharing tissues.) Hearing the song “Tin Man” by the band America in the grocery store (“Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have”) also brought me to tears.
I thought of all the women over the years who had told me, “I loved being pregnant! I loved seeing how my body was changing week after week! I loved having this tiny creature alive inside of me!” I thought of the pregnancy “glow” that women are supposed to have and how beautiful pregnant women can be.
“I suck at being pregnant!” I told my husband. I was tired, nauseous, cranky and teary. He didn’t contradict me.
When we had our second ultrasound done, I showed the picture to Leo. “Look Leo,” I said. “I’m gonna have a pup… Or maybe it’s a bear cub; it’s hard to tell from this picture.”
But I'm pretty sure Leo already knew I was pregnant. One day I was standing in front of the full length mirror in our hallway, inspecting my growing belly, scratching it (it’s always itchy), wondering how things were going in there. I felt someone watching me and looked up to find Leo staring at me with the strangest, most intent look in his eyes.
"I know you're gonna be a mom," his look seemed to say. "Now don't suck at it!"