I’d tell them, “I’m a writer and an artist.” And they’d look at me like I was insane.
Eventually it became clear that they weren’t asking “What do you do?” but “When are you due?” This happened over and over again. I missed it almost every time. My brain refused to hear it any other way. I know it was just stupid small talk, but it was hard not to project: suddenly, everything was irrelevant compared to when my baby was being born.
I was afraid of a lot of things while I was pregnant: environmental toxins, baby-killing bacteria, autism, birth defects, bleeding to death in the delivery room…I could go on. Also on my list was the fear of identity obliteration: that the me I knew would be totally consumed by the kid, or by the new mommy me that was born along with him.
Risk of listeria in pregnancy is .01%. Risk of autism spectrum disorders is around 1%. What percentage of women lose themselves in babies? And what percentage care? There are no statistics to placate the pregnant mind on this subject. As far as I could tell from these cocktail party chats, the rate of this condition was quite high.
I’ve always been fascinated (OK, obsessed) with identity and how people define it. I’d be lying if I said that once my baby was born, I realized I was worried over nothing. Having a baby does take over your life. The key, I think, is to let it happen and not be so afraid of it. The most painful part of the process for me was my own resistance. I wish I’d been able to stop kicking and screaming and see the baby phase for what it really is: a temporary “vacation” from normal life. More of a work camp than a spa, but you get the gist. Ideas and ego and adult interaction may be off the table for awhile, but they will be back. (Don’t ask me when.) You may feel stupid or boring to people who want to discuss Important Issues Unrelated to Infants, assuming you actually come into contact with any of these people. It may take some time to re-enter the world of the Otherwise Engaged. But your brain will not be broken. Your life will not be over. You will not cease to be yourself. And your baby’s birth day will never be this interesting to a stranger at a cocktail party again.