Monday, October 12, 2020

Picture Perfect (For A Hot Minute)

With the due date in sight, I started prepping in earnest for the baby’s arrival. First up was figuring out the nursery. We didn’t have a spare room in the house, so it took some creative reorganizing to free one up. My husband painted the walls ballerina pink and put up a unicorn applique. (Unicorn was our “theme,” as much as we had one, as I considered this our “unicorn baby.”) Despite my big belly, my husband and I managed to move a creaky old rocker recliner from the living room to the nursery.

I bargain-hunted at Ikea and Target for sturdy but affordable furniture, picked up a handful of cheap newborn outfits from the warehouse club, stockpiled diapers, and sterilized a breast pump and all its accessories. 

My mom had come around on welcoming the baby, which translated to her purchasing all the big items off of our registry – a stroller and car seat combo, a swing, a playpen, a baby carrier, and an activity center. It was amazing to see how much space our little one was already taking up – and she wasn’t even “here” yet!

But she sure was making her presence known. The baby's kicks, flips, and hiccups were constant reminders that she was on the way. The kicks were strong enough that I could even see them in the mirror sometimes. My daughters loved placing their palms on my belly when she was especially active (usually after my afternoon fresh fruit bowl) and feeling her squirm around inside me.

Convinced this was my last pregnancy, I decided documentation was in order. I didn’t have any good pictures from when I was pregnant with my daughters, so this time around I splurged on a maternity photo session with a local photographer who we’ll call Haley.

When I was 30 weeks pregnant (the earliest Haley would do a maternity shoot), Haley greeted me inside her 2,600 square-foot storefront studio. One wall of the space was covered with props, outfits, screens, and everything else you could imagine to photograph preggos, families, and newborns. She even had a very inviting all-white bed made up.

I had planned to wear a tight black maternity dress from Target with my favorite knee-high boots for a “badass preggo” look, but when I sent a pic of the dress to Haley a few weeks before the session, she shut it down right away. Instead, she directed me to a maternity gown website (who knew this was an industry?!) and told me to choose one, her treat. They were all so feminine and elegant, which was not really my style, but I went ahead and picked a strapless gown in a burgundy hue. Now, she pulled out that dress and invited me to choose a couple others from her stockpile to try on.

I hate having my picture taken, and even being pregnant (and feeling gloriously so) didn’t make me more comfortable with the camera. “Would you mind keeping my face out of the pictures?” I asked before Haley started shooting. “Or at least can I be looking away?”

I knew this probably sounded weird (“Here’s a couple hundred dollars to take my photo, but don’t get my face in the frame, thanks!”) but I wanted to cherish the photos and if my face was too prominent, I would just keep thinking how old I looked – too old to be pregnant and proud of it.

Haley photographed me in three different dresses (burgundy, pink, and black) against two backgrounds (white and gray). Along the way, she let me peek at some of the images on her camera screen. They looked very elegant and dramatic. I guess she knew what she was doing after all.

While Haley photographed me, she told me all about her family. Her husband was in the military and got deployed during her first pregnancy. When her OB discovered her amniotic fluid was low, she had to be induced. I couldn’t imagine giving birth alone, much less being induced alone. To make matters worse, she was at a military hospital with minimal staff, so if she wanted pain relief, they had to administer it along with the induction drugs.

“I got Pitocin and an epidural at the same time, so I didn’t feel a thing the entire birth, not even one contraction,” she told me. “So when I went into labor with my second, I was curious what birth felt like, so I labored without medication for a while. After a few good contractions, I thought, forget this, and got the epidural again.”

I had learned to keep my opinions about birth to myself, and just nodded along as I listened to her stories. I hoped I wouldn't need to be induced and that I’d be strong enough to resist the epidural.

Haley had one boy and one girl. She insinuated that her husband got a vasectomy. “So we’re done now,” she said.

I wanted to reply, “We’ll see about that!” but didn’t.

“I thought I was done,” I told her, “but then my daughters became teenagers and I realized I wasn’t ready to be an empty-nester.”

“Well, now you’ve re-upped for 18 more years!” she said.


When the final images came back three weeks later, I felt somewhat vindicated – the best ones were those that didn’t feature my face. But because a pro took the pics, they looked lovely. Finally, the beautiful way my body felt while pregnant was reflected back to me.

I picked the best image, made my own edits, then posted it on social media. As happy as I felt to be sharing my news, I also wondered what the rumor mill would churn out. Some people in my social circle knew that my husband had had a vasectomy (and nobody knew we’d had it reversed); others had heard me say in the past that I didn’t want more children. Would they think our baby was a mistake? That I’d gotten pregnant on the sly? I wished there was a graceful way to announce that our baby was not only planned but very much wanted and that she was ours in all the ways that mattered. But I wasn’t ready to spill all the details of our embaby’s conception yet. After all, even our families still didn’t know the full story.

Perhaps we would tell them all at the baptism, which we tentatively planned for the summer. We attended a mandatory baptism class at our Catholic parish and filled out the official paperwork for the archdiocese. Seeing our baby’s full name (straight out of the Bible) on the form that would go to the archdiocese felt so official. At least there would be one place she would be accepted exactly as she was: our parish.

(Aside: the Catholic Church and God are not synonymous in my mind. While the Catholic Church does not approve of IVF, my parish welcomes everyone. A gay couple who conceived through IVF with a surrogate were even invited to share their journey at Mass once (which got our parish in a whole heck of a lot of hot water with the archdiocese). But the Church is a man-made organization, and a sexist one at that, so I honestly don't care what a bunch of never-married, childless, celibate men think about infertility treatments. I can't fathom a God who would disapprove of IVF or any use of science for well-intentioned, faith-filled, thoughtful people to grow their families.)

Everything was ready for our embaby, or as ready as it was ever going to be. I loved looking in on her room, which felt brand new and full of good vibes, and imagining myself rocking her to sleep.

I should have known that this bliss wouldn’t last, though. Amid these felicitous baby preparations, something happened, something that upended the entire world, along with the third trimester of my pregnancy and my birth plan: coronavirus.

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