Here are some Anna's Observations on Motherhood.
The prenatal exercise and education class was held every Sunday night at Madame Olga's studio, located in Madame Olga's basement.
I was skeptical of paying for a class that instructed me in how to breathe, as I was pretty sure I could manage my autonomic functions for free, but it seemed like a good way to meet other pregnant women.
I arrived exactly on time for the first class and rang Madame Olga's doorbell. After a few minutes she came upstairs and let me in. “You're the first one,” she said. “I was just setting up the studio.” She led me down the stairs, reminding me to hold the handrail.
Her studio consisted of a shag rug that I had seen for sale at the local thrift store, as well as a variety of candle holders, candelabras, and candles. It had an ambience.
“Atmosphere is important for birthing,” she said. “Not just for the mother. What world do you want your child to enter into? Think about that when you plan your birthing room.”
Another woman came down the stairs, made herself at home on the shag rug. “I want my birth to be surrounded by shades of green and blue,” the woman said.
Other women arrived, and once all six of us were assembled, Madame Olga gave a brief introduction, apologized for the spiders lining her basement, and had us introduce ourselves. She wanted us to give our name, how many weeks pregnant we were, and one word to describe out birthing plan.
I tried to think of a better word than “clinical.” By the time I came up with “healthy,” I had already missed the other women's names. Their words had been organic, aquatic, transformative, intimate, and fairy dust. I decided to try to become friends with the woman who’d said 'fairy dust.”
“Birthing is like ballet,” Madame Olga informed us. “There are a few basic positions, and infinite variations on those positions. You need to choose the ones that are best for you. Let us start with squats.” I suddenly wished that this were a breathing class.
After a few painful and embarrassing stretches, we got back into our seated position. “Time for visualization,” said Madame Olga. “Visualizing your baby helps you grow closer. How many weeks pregnant are you?” she asked one of the women.
“Just seven weeks,” she answered.
“Then your baby is the size of a raisin. Picture a raisin. Now let it slowly transform until it takes on the shape of a baby. Its face will not have definite characteristics, just shadow of where features should be. It will be almost transparent, and a bit fish-like in appearance.”
The woman closed her eyes, presumably imagining some being from the Mariana Trench floating in the sunless depths of her womb.
The next woman was 12 weeks pregnant. “Your baby is a large grape now. Picture a round, juicy grape. Give that grape arms and legs. Give that grape a prominent nose. Give the grape the first inkling of sexual organs. That is your baby.”
“How about you,” she asked me.
“16 weeks,” I answered.
“Your baby is the size of a nail,” she said. “In length, it is a long nail, like you would use to fasten two planks together to form a raised garden bed. Picture a nail.”
In my mind I saw a long, rusty nail with a dull tip.
“Now, inflate that nail, let it grow arm and legs, let it have a face, let it curl around its belly and lie in fetal position. Let it suck its thumb.”
I pictured my baby curled up, alternately sucking her thumb and gulping amniotic fluid – a practice for later breathing and nursing. I could see her face in my mind, round and expressionless, with no knowledge of where she was or of the existence of light. I had the sudden sense that there was a baby inside me, and that I loved the baby. It wasn't just that I was pregnant, but there was a baby. I began to tear up.
No one seemed to notice, as Madame Olga had moved on to a woman whose baby was an ambulatory soda can.
The next woman was nearly at term, and her baby was somewhere between acorn squash and pumpkin, a round, heavy bit of life.
It was breathing time now. We were supposed to visualize our breath like water flowing over our heads. Madame Olga taught us how to vocalize our breath, make it a bit forceful and thoughtful. The soft, deep groan she made sounded just like my mother when she was in the kitchen doing dishes and suddenly remembered a grudge she was holding.
I started to miss my mother.
Each time I tried to visualize my breath, I didn't see cool water, or gentle zephyrs, but rather hot, stale air trapped in a car that had been parked in the sun. Or I pictured opening a refrigerator only to discover that it had stopped running, and the inside was warm and filled with rotten food.
Or I remembered my mother in her bathrobe, sighing loudly late at night, and me asking “what's wrong,” and her just looking at me like I could never understand and she probably couldn't even articulate it.
I decided to stop visualizing.
It was time for more birth positions. Madame Olga told us that the key to an easy delivery was to let gravity help us. She had us sit on birthing balls and roll our hips back and forth. We needed to get the baby to move around until it reached the proper position, at which point the forces of nature would pull it toward the center of the Earth.
“What are your biggest worries surrounding birth?” she asked us.
“The boat,” was the consensus. “What if we go into labor late at night, and it goes quickly, and we end up delivering on the Issaquah, or the Cathlamet, or, God help us, the Evergreen State?”
Madame Olga reassured us. “Babies come when they're ready. If your baby wants to be born on a boat, that shows they’re a free spirit.”
“But would it be sanitary?” I asked. Everyone looked at me.
Obviously not, was the unspoken answer. “Everyone will deal as best they can in the moment, with any situation that arises,” Madame Olga said. “Have faith in your fellow humans.”
The next week, Madame Olga asked us what our biggest aches were, and what physical concerns we had.
One of the women talked about her chest. “I used to be a 34A. Now I'm a 38D. Why did the circumference of my chest change?”
“It's the broadening,” explained Madame Olga. When you're pregnant, your ribcage expands, allowing you to better breathe and take in more oxygen. It never really reverts to its original size. Your body will never be the same again.”
I thought about how much my body had changed in five years. I was pretty much unrecognizable from the person I had been.
Our bodies are always changing. They grow and renew themselves, replacing themselves cell by cell. It has been said that the only way we are continuous through time is through our memories. But memory is flawed, deceitful, and empty of many of the long moments of life. Maybe we aren't continuous through time at all.
Who will I be after the baby is born? I won't be me. My memories of the pregnancy and of all my past selves will be jumbled, like pieces of paper dense with writing crumpled up. Bits will remain readable, but the most salient features will be the colors and textures. I'll remember this time as an impression, a few images, a general feeling that is impossible to articulate.
And who will my baby be? She'll be hundreds of people throughout her life. At times the people we are will intersect, be harmonious. At other times we'll be discordant. I loved my baby very much at this moment, and already felt disappointed in myself for not being the right mother for her at all times and in all ways.
The woman sitting next to me tapped my shoulder. I was stuck in down dog, not realizing that Madame Olga had told us to sit down and stretch. I sat back down and breathed in and out as Olga told us to visualize a healthy birth, a baby emerging from our bodies, new life being brought into the world.
This originally aired on 101.9 FM KVSH, Vashon Island Washington