Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pregnancy is like RA...

I'm pregnant. With twins. I'm just at 22 weeks and already my belly-button is threatening to pop out like the "done" indicator on a turkey.

Being pregnant isn't that big of deal. I mean really, it's the act that keeps the species going (besides the act that got me pregnant in the first place) so it's pretty routine, species-wise. My fellow humans have been conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to babies quite routinely for a long, long time.

But for ME, for my subjective existence on this earth, this is a pretty unique 9 months. For one thing, I'm carrying a boy and a girl and suddenly I'm rethinking all my opinions on gender and society at the moment I'm trying to buy onsies. (Really, is it all that bad to want pink things for my girl? Will it kill her? And what about the boy? Is it wrong to not buy him pink things as well?) All of my beliefs on disability and ability are challenged every time I am offered a pre-natal test, or when I decide whether or not to take a medicine.

What I'm finding most baffling and unexpected, but also the most welcome, is how my belly opens doors (well, not literally but it could) and starts conversations. I'm included, I'm asked about how I'm doing, I'm part of the circle of women in the teachers' lounge. I've always felt sort of excluded, no matter where I taught. For one thing, I was "just" an implementer, aide, para, special ed teacher, etc. I wasn't in a classroom of 22 like they all are. My kids are usually the "extra" kids, the ones with disabilities, the ones who are slightly outside the main life of the school. I've also always been the new kid -- job and life circumstances have caused me to job hop, so I've never been in a building more than a year and 1/2. Here, I am new to this small town, new to everyone and their family units, don't have children in football, wrestling, or 4-H. On important things, politics, religion, big ideas in education, etc., I try to keep my mouth shut because I know I will disagree with most everyone. I'm not afraid to speak out, but speaking out when we're trying to choke down lunch is counter-productive.

I'm strangely "one of them" now. I don't understand it but I don't begrudge it either. My big belly invites questions about due dates, names, epidurals, feet swelling. And yeah, I suck up the attention like the giant sponge I'm starting to resemble. This is the most baffling, wonderful, and vomit-inducing few months of my life and I like -- need -- stories of those who have been there before. And everyone is eager to share them.

They are also eager to accommodate me. When I say I need to sit, I get to sit. I bring a bar stool out to duty instead of standing on my feet to direct cars as they pull up and greet/supervise the kids as they come in. I'm late, I'm thirsty, I need a second. My husband too is eager to watch out for me. Which is nice, because I'm becoming more and more impaired physically by these two little aliens who still only weight about a pound a piece.

What I'm finding about becoming more impaired by my little darlings is that I'm reminded of having a rheumatoid flare. Sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, things hurt. The other day, a bad combination of standing too long, a fiber one bar, and two little babies suddenly sitting on my bladder had me walking slowly, painfully, with a pronounced waddle. My stomach was immediately my calling card -- people knew to stay out of my way and even smile sympathetically as I crashed through the grocery store to get my reflux prescription. A few weeks ago, I rode an electric cart through Wal-mart when my feet hurt too badly to consider walking any more. At the mall, I have to sit and rest. It takes too long to go to the bathroom with the layers of maternity clothes. I sometimes feel sleepy or bad for no reason. And all this is understood.

Pregnancy doesn't really prevent me from doing anything, but it makes everything a tiny bit harder. Sorta like rheumatoid. I can never predict what is going to be harder (except bending over to get things off the floor -- that's a given) but I'm always surprised by it. Reflux, foot pain, late for school because I was throwing up? That's the world of the pregnant chick.

What happens next year when I feel bad for no reason other than having rheumatoid? When a knee locks up and I waddle through the grocery store? When I have to use a cart and my handicapped sticker? I'm so grateful that people understand me now and I'm almost angry that I've never had that sort of understanding before and I won't have it again.

The other day, as I was explaining that I'm really hoping to avoid bed rest, a colleague said "What's more important? Your job or the health of all 3 of you?" I can agree that our health is more important, but I've never allowed myself to think like that for more than a day or two. MY JOB is more important because I have to convince my bosses, my colleagues, and everyone else that I CAN do the work, that I'm NOT disabled, that I WON'T be a liability. Suddenly, I'm a ginormous liability and it's okay. It's liberating but strange.

My little sister suffers from debilitating migraines and is in constant danger of losing her job. Her HR director sneered at her, "These headaches of yours are getting old." My sister wanted to say, "Tell me about it." Pregnancy is temporary and wide spread enough that it's okay. It's understood. Bosses, colleagues, loved ones are much less accommodating when it's a condition that doesn't go away in nine months.

I sometimes think about how much harder life itself will be when I'm trying to schlep two babies around. It's so far out of my realm of experience that I can't even imagine it. And I think that's my life with rheumatoid -- no one WANTS to judgmental or frustrated with me when I'm slower or sicker one day than I was the day before. It's just out of their range of experience. At least now I have one more metaphor -- "It's like being pregnant without the belly." Not sure it will get me very far. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying being understood in a way that I never expected.