When she was pregnant, my friend Carolyn announced that her personality turned off at 8pm. When not pregnant, the usual shut off time trends towards 10pm so the difference is considerable for those spending an evening with her. As it happened, we were pregnant at the same time. While I was impressed with her precision, and felt similarly wilted by day’s end, I had one major question: What personality?
Carolyn is lovely – she has a sharp wit and a daunting intellect so this question was no reflection on who she was, just a mere observation from the pregnancy trenches. As much as I tried to fight it and show my non-pregnant friends just how unlike all the other pregnant women out there I was, constantly talking about weird food stuff and swollen body parts, I failed miserably.
On a recent This American Life episode, I came to understand exactly what a failure I was. One of the producers’ mothers explained her Rule of Seven: the topics she deems too colossally boring to inflict on your friends (or even close family members) during casual conversation that should thus be avoided entirely. They dedicated the whole show to trying to prove Mrs. Matthiessen wrong, an endeavor they failed. Her conversational no-no’s are:
On a typical day while I was expecting, I could knock out at least five of these taboo topics before breakfast. I didn’t have a chance for Mrs. M’s approval.
When I was pregnant, I felt like my brain had been hacked by a clever Russian teenager. A boring-bug breached my firewall and simultaneously wiped out the usually reasonably varied subject folders in my hard drive (politics, new movies, gossip) and replaced them with subject areas only concerning variations of the word “symptom.” When I would actively try to suppress an (unsolicited) report of my last night’s sleep (or lack thereof…Did I tell you I had terrible insomnia in my last trimester? Which is funny because…Oh, never mind.) I would draw a complete blank. Sometimes while grasping it would occur to me to vary my talking points by making fun of myself for talking about my pregnancy symptoms so much. I soon realized, however, that this didn’t really count. It reminded me of Bette Midler’s line in the movie Beaches: But enough about me. What do you think of me? Any way you sliced it, I was the belle of my own conversational ball.
The symptoms in and of themselves aren’t particularly interesting (only so many ways to serve up heartburn as a conversation starter, I found) but, in my defense, the process of being betrayed by one’s body in the name of the “miracle of life” is very distracting. I was lucky enough not to get cankles, but I promise you that if I had, I would’ve put it in the conversational rotation approximately every four minutes. I would’ve been comparing my cankles to everyone else’s cankles and explaining why my lower leg “situation” was just a little bit, eensy weensy, worse than everyone else’s.
Complaining about cankles probably isn’t what the Zen Buddhists have in mind when they implore you to live in the moment, but observing and broadcasting pregnancy symptoms is a form of living in the moment. It doesn’t happen to be a moment you want to be living in (or that other people want to hear about), but it’s still a moment. Those monks never said, “Live in only the good moment.”
I did have at least one opportunity to be a much more interesting pregnant lady than I turned out to be. At a benefit for women’s health centers in Texas, I entered a raffle. I must have been at the lucky table because my friend Kelly won a $30 coffee gift card and another friend won dinner for two at an up and coming foodie restaurant. I also won a prize. I won a five-class pass at a pole-dancing institute. I can’t imagine embracing this prize at any point in my life, but at six months pregnant it was especially ridiculous. I tried to give the prize back but the very nice young man at the raffle table wouldn’t take it back. “I hear it’s a great work out!” he told me. “I’m sure it is, but I’m six months pregnant,” I said. “So you can do it in three months!” For once, I stopped talking about my symptoms – I was speechless.
Though I might not have succeeded, I did try to override the boring-bug and leave some space in the room for non-reproductive talk with the people I knew. When I was out in the world, however, all of that hard work was summarily undone. I don’t want to blame anyone else for the pregnancy-induced narcissism, but I will. There are only so many things one can say to an obviously pregnant stranger, and we all say them – you know the list: You must be so excited! When are you due? Is it a boy or a girl? Do you have a name yet? Do you have any weird food cravings? Do you have morning sickness?
It was only polite to tell them about the global food aversion that affected me weeks 6 thru 13 then disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived, and the reason I knew it was gone was that, out of the blue, I craved French Toast. At the time, this seemed as interesting as string theory.
One interpretation of the self-centered monologue is that it’s an evolutionary trick designed to distract from what will be happening at the end of the miserable pregnancy: the ejection – somehow – of the baby. A less generous perspective might suggest that it’s just the practice narcissism to help bridge to the real narcissism gold: telling everyone your hellish/heaven-sent birth story. Speaking of which, have I told you my birth story?? No?? Oh my god. OK, where do I begin?