Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde accidentally spread the idea that the earnest are far more ridiculous than the flippant. What he actually meant was something more along the lines that false piety is even worse than honest irreverence.

I have been thinking about this a lot today because two of our favorite bloggers (I think I’m safe in assuming they’re your favorites too) have just offered up highly apologetic posts, in which they confess that they still feel acute anxiety and/or engulfing depression even as they live the dreams of frustrated infertiles everywhere. Julie feels guilty for not being happy after enduring sleepless months in the wail of a small human fire alarm. She feels guilty for telling us she feels sad. But I want to thank her and Grrl too.*

Because no one ever told me what pregnancy was really like and I sure could have used some earnest information going in.

In my imagination, pregnancy went something like this: swelled with the secret of budding life, I would spend the first couple of months indulging in delicious and languorous late afternoon naps before waking up to indulge my wild attacks of the munchies with whatever strange delicacies my fancy commanded. I’d be a touch queasy on the occasional morning, but that’s when I’d exercise the excuse to ask the dear husband to deliver a light breakfast in bed. Out on the town, my husband and I would exchange secret winks and loving glances when we encountered new babies in strollers or in those cute little baby backpacks. Before long, I’d begin to show—my radiant skin and inner glow would be the real give away, along with my amazing spurt of second trimester energy. This would be the time for drooling over baby catalogs and planning one last romantic get away together, a vacation devoted to good sex and the excited contemplation of impending joy. Not long after that, just when things were becoming the teensiest bit crowded and uncomfortable chez moi, we’d start having marathon sex, eat lots of fabulous spicy Thai takeout, and, before you could say “coconut chicken curry,” I’d be delivered to the land of maternal bliss. The single funniest part of this fantasy, of course, was my na├»ve assumption that pregnancy would result in a baby.

In reality, my three unsuccessful experiences of pregnancy have gone a lot more like the “recreational” acid trip that Anne Lamott’s character Elizabeth (in her fab novel Rosie) takes with her boyfriend shortly before they both go into rehab and sober up. First Elizabeth takes the tab and sits on the porch swing thinking (I’m paraphrasing here), “La, la, la, nothing happening. Bet this thing didn’t really work.” That is, the pregnancy test is positive, but you don’t believe it cause you really don’t feel anything much different, apart from the slight increase in urinary urgency, and heck you’ve had many more emphatic UTIs. Then all of a sudden, “Whoosh, wham,” the trip begins. At first you’re delirious with excitement. The world is in Technicolor. You did it! You’re going to be a family. You are the embodiment of love, of life. But then, not very long after, the paranoia part of the trip back down begins. You realize that you are absolutely positively literally and figuratively f-cked, that you’re pregnant and there’s no turning back. Life will never be the same. Elizabeth vomits the morning after the acid trip--and so ends the pregnancy, only the sickness lasts and lasts. Your body is flooded by wave after wave of nausea tsunamis. We’re talking 24/7 misery that has you loosing bladder and bowel control while you’re throwing up into the toilet and seriously considering suicide as a practical alternative to pregnancy. The physical suffering ends only after the heartbeat does—and that’s when the emotional misery really begins.

I’ve been a little less scared of parenthood, a little more desperate to become a mother, and a little more anxious about the probability of miscarriage with each successive pregnancy. But other than that, the pattern of physical torture followed by emotional devastation has been more or less the same every time. No one tells you pregnancy itself will be so utterly awful. (And of course for a few women we hate, it’s not, it’s everything my fantasies said pregnancy should be.) You’re not supposed to be so selfish as to hate vomiting your guts out. And, especially if the pregnancy didn’t come easily, you’re not supposed to be so ungrateful as to resent living through hell. Well, that’s nonsense.

I, for one, really wish I’d realized what I was getting into. The elemental all-encompassing desire to be the loving mother of a living child does not mean one can’t be honest about the fact that pregnancy and parenthood may bring some of life’s worst moments. Obviously I’d do it anyway (here I am about to embark on my 4th try). But I’d have appreciated the chance to get my affairs in order first, before dying the little death of pregnancy.

As Oscar Wilde himself put it, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!” So here’s to honest, earnest blogging, allowing the most modern form of literature to tell complicated truths.