Last week at dinner one night Kent and I got to talking about baby names. Strictly in theory only, the theoretical baby still being years off for us. A few nights later I had a dream in which I was pregnant, and began having contractions. We rushed to the doctor, who felt my abdomen and asked, “When was the last time you felt the baby move?” I couldn’t respond, and she probed further, then told me, “Your baby isn’t dead yet, but it’s dying. We need to operate immediately.” As a stretcher spun me around and wheeled me towards the operating room, I remember looking down and seeing my belly, realizing it wasn’t nearly as round as it should be. It’s my fault, I thought. I didn’t eat enough because I was afraid to get fat, and now the baby is going to die.
I woke up, gripped with anxiety. I am prone to nightmares, but of the stressful, real-life fears types, no monsters or flying or imagined dangers. This dream seemed like just another of my worst-case-scenario nightmares, par for the nocturnal course. As soon as I’m done with school and making some money, we are paying for the best therapy we can find, Kent joked, aware of the nightmares that leave me exhausted when I wake.
But today, my copy of New York Magazine arrived, and the cover story caught my eye immediately. “The Perfect Pregnancy,” by Laurie Abraham ( New York, 9/27/04) devotes six pages to the new (at least, new-seeming) obsession with the prefect, stylish, hip, New York, and yes, THIN pregnancy. I am all too familiar with the “New York” mode of pregnancy (and the accompanying “New York” yummy-mummy lifestyle of size-27 denim, babies-at-Babbo, and Bugaboo strollers), having witnessed friends, neighbors, celebrities and anonymous mommies-to-be work their newest “accessory,” the Bump. There are downtown-chic moms wearing wife-beater tanks over low-slung mens’ pants, uptown moms clothed in wrap dresses and Liz Lange capris, gorgeous earthy yoga moms shopping at Pumpkin Maternity and Cadeau with their round, taunt bellies exposed in tanned glory. I used to work among fashion moms, who strutted through pregnancy in leather pants (with an oh-so-discreet maternity panel, natch), and stilettos. With all due reverence for the miracle of birth, my friends and I have rolled many an eye at this “pregnant is the new Jivamukti” trend. In New York one truly can never be too rich or too thin (no, not even Mary Kate), so the hypercompetitive desire to be the thinnest, hottest, coolest, funkiest, most un-Mom-like mom runs rampant.
In her article, Laurie Abraham does ask the rather unspoken question: “So to cut to the elephant in the room: Is all this downsizing hurting kids?” And the answers are inconclusive. Certainly low-birth weight is statistically linked to infant-mortality rates as well as numerous illnesses and disabilities. But the infants born severely malnourished and underweight are found largely in low-income populations, not on Park Avenue or Morton Street. The women in Laurie Abraham’s article are not low-income, are not malnourished, are not without proper health care. And according to the obstetricians and nutritionists consulted, are not endangering their infants. So what does that mean? Freedom to calorie-count and go Atkins and hire a trainer - No excuses, mommies! I really fucking hope not.
I already struggle with my body image, struggle with the competitive bullshit that comes with living in New York, right along with ridiculous rents and alternate side of the street parking. Not only do I have to strive to be the perfect mother and send my child to the perfect schools, but now I have to have the perfect pregnancy. My role models are Gwyneth, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica. Most definitely not Kate Hudson, Debra Messing – cautionary tales of mothers who went beyond The Bump and “spread out”, did not lose the pregnancy weight immediately, dared to be seen in public with fuller faces. I almost threw my shoe at the television the other night: I was watching the E! Fashion Police review of Emmy attire, and the absolute snake of a co-host, Janice Dickinson, pointed to Debra Messing and commented that she didn’t like her dress, but qualified it by saying she understood Debra “hadn’t had the baby yet.” The other host of the show corrected Janice (herself pulled, nipped, tucked into one tight-ass shrew), saying that actually, Debra Messing already had her baby. “Well, she should lose the weight,” spat Janice. I took offense on so many levels to that comment. First, Debra Messing looked lovely and healthy and could not be any larger than a size six, and while she may be noticeably heavier than her pre-pregnancy days, she still looks lovely and healthy. Two, she has lost weight, and I’m sure will be back down to stick-thin before too long, seeing as how that is the ONLY option on network TV. And third, BUTT THE FUCK OUT, JANICE DICKINSON. Does Debra Messing – do any of us - need to hear you chastising a thin, healthy woman for not losing her baby weight fast enough?
Where am I going with this? Honestly, I’m not sure. But when motherhood became a hot Hollywood trend (was it Madonna who started it?), you can be sure that sexy motherhood became a niche market. The New York Magazine article references websites devoted to logging weight gained by expectant mothers, plotted against the weeks of their pregnancies. “13 weeks, 0 pounds (Okay, I might have gained a pound or two in the very beginning but that’s the most…),” “24 weeks, 20 lbs!” Is this kind of scrutiny natural in the image-obsessed bubble of New York? Are moms in Seattle and Cincinnati and Tampa Strollercizing and squeezing into their teensy Rock & Republic jeans within two weeks of birth? And really, why do I care?
Well, I care because the last thing I need is one more fucking reason to worry about my size, looks, wardrobe or behavior. And honestly, I always hoped for pregnancy to be a liberating time, months during which I could scarf ice cream at 4 a.m. and have a baked potato every night if I wanted one. I imagined being luminous and earthy, glowing and serene. But the kind of pregnant that is so “hip” now? Takes a lot of fucking work. Serenity hasn’t a chance. Not to mention that now pregnant women are looking hotter, thinner, better than I am, which is kind of depressing.
I think the issue also bothers me because I feel myself teetering on the edge of what is normal food and weight concern, and what is obsession or disorder. I can see myself falling easily down the slippery slope of vanity and competitiveness and downright Crazy. Lordy, speaking of nightmares, if I am in New York when (I should say if, really) Kent and I get pregnant, I will be hell on wheels. Or heels, perhaps. But I have not learned how to turn off that "I Want What She Has!" devil which sits permanently on my shoulder, and if pregnant, that little devil may hire an assistant.
Blah blah blah…I guess I also resent pregnancy and motherhood being positioned so clearly as a trend. I hate the sense of entitlement that city mothers seem to display (and I know I am not making any new mommy friends by saying so). I hate the Stroller Armies and the babies being taken along to a 10 p.m. dinner reservation and the toddlers in dressing rooms. I know it’s a really, really hard job being a mom. But just because Gwyneth appears to be capable of “having it all” does not mean that everything goes back the way it was, pre-pregnancy, once the tot is clad in its first outfit from Burberry Baby. I assume that Gwyneth has a staff of people helping her into her skinny jeans, and the Celeb Mom Marketing Ploy is giving me anxiety. It’s misleading, but dangerously effective. I will never, ever be Sarah Jessica Parker, but damn if she doesn’t look good leaving the hospital in Manolos.
The dream I had the other night underscored what I already knew: That I feel thoroughly, totally unprepared to be a parent. Kids, I am still figuring out how to take care of myself and make sure laundry is done and the dog gets fed on time. A baby seems unimaginable. And messy and scary and stinky, too. But, if I become pregnant, I hope that I am able to maintain a healthy perspective, if not a healthy weight. I also hope that the latest celebrity trend involves sweat pants and backfat.