The Basement Teachings by Kathryn Wallingford

I have this Second child growing in my belly.
 
While pregnant with my First, I dreamed of a little fat baby boy laughing with me, of sunsets and rainbows, and walking hand-in-hand with my husband. But I now have nightmares. I can’t remember the details of these dreams exactly, just waking up a little scared and ungrounded with the feeling of being chased by something.
 
With my First, I often caught women peering at me with curious eyes as I changed into my size 20+ swimsuit in the women’s locker room of the local YMCA. I granted them the shared-sisterhood-serenity-smile with mutual understanding and a gracious respect. The smile said, “Yes, I love being pregnant. Yes, please do stare at my belly. Yes, I know it reminds you of your own pregnancy. Isn’t it wonderful?” And I meant it.
 
But now carrying the Second, I find I do not want to offer friendly unspoken exchanges, but verbally express my emotions with something more like, “Devil woman, stop looking at me. Stop using my thighs as a vehicle for your own nostalgia. Stop measuring me up and sizing my protruding ass.” Then conclude with, “At least make me a nude model so I can be stripped from these damned maternity clothes and supported by the comfort of a chair and compensated with an hourly rate.”
 
We threw everything we had into the birth of our First. We bought organic cotton sheets, multiple strollers, winter and spring socks, and graciously took every gift that was handed our way. Our own unconscious strategy of ensuring the success and rightful passage of the First born, that our genes would be passed on-my husband’s legs, his soft voice, his good-will and then my freckles, my thoughtfulness. The accumulation and allocation of resources did not end with the registries and Proctor and Gamble created mom-must haves and baby-need products. We enrolled in pre-natal yoga and birthing classes, hoping the knowledge of the breath, the awareness of my body, and the belief in a greater Spirit would help enrich this forth-coming healthy child.
 
I had first learned about family planning as a child in the basement of my childhood church. For one week, below the candlelight services, the procession and recession of the black and white-robed choir, the red-velour covered pews, the youth-group classrooms, I sat on the white linoleum floor and sipped on artificially sweetened pee-colored lemonade and learned what happened when a man loves a woman. It was a birds and bees/only have sex when you are married/love God and he will love you sort of youth seminar.
 
Our mothers sent us and I don’t blame my own mom for my introduction to sex. I could not have been any older than 7 and I was too young and too fragile to really grasp the understanding of the coarse terms- penis, vagina, and intercourse. Man and woman, marriage, love, and commitment were softer on my pre-pubescent ears and were more readily absorbed. After a week of coming to terms with the importance of love and the faithfulness, the belief in the birth and death of God’s only son, I walked up from those basement stairs with a deep misunderstanding of the origins of a human life.
 
When I actually learned the anatomy of males and females and the fundamentals of sex in my middle school science class, while other children asked racy questions such as, “What is ‘69’?” or more useful and, perhaps, responsible questions about STDs and condoms, I recited silently in my head, “So, girls have 3 holes and boys have 2…” But at least I got it.
 
The pregnancy of my first child came as a surprise. My mother kept reassuring me that it was a blessing, that I should not be scared. Jobs would come and go, my body would get big and shrink again, and my life was not over. I believed her, I had to. Interpreting the bump in my belly as a blessing was easier than it was something I had actually inflicted upon myself. So, I stopped the tears and believed in the miracle. It was God’s will. And although by my late twenties, I knew the truth of how babies were made, I suddenly reverted to my initial relationship with my understanding of sex. I said thanks and praises to something greater than I for granting this new life.  I stepped back into the basement.
 
My restoration with a belief in the external, in His word, began with Sunday afternoons spent in a natural birthing class. After prying my husband from the safety of Sunday football scores, we congregated on the floor of a local birthing resource center. We sat along with a recently transplanted Pacific Northwest couple with big-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, tattoos, and multiple piercings. There was also the newly-wed couple that had met at their local church. Despite the traditional and institutional foundation of their courtship, this couple engaged in semi-appropriate tickling, provocative cuddling, obviously yet to be annoyed with the prospect of forever. They were planning a home birth, along with most of the other couples, the entomologist couple, and the woman whose partner sometimes appeared for the class.
 
Our teacher bounced on a medicine ball with bare feet as she spoke, her unattended breasts accompanying her rhythm. And there on the ball she told us about early and late labor, the dangers of the drugs, and the importance of human touch.  We watched videos of women in labor submerged in tubs, on their hands and knees, pulling on ropes, squatting. I looked on with fascination and horror while my husband semi-secretly pulled out his I phone to check ESPN’s continuous updates. I realized I had seen similar pictures on Animal Planet.
 
Occasionally I would raise my hand and ask hypothetical questions about epidurals, pain killers, and other labor-relief tools. I would get answers, but I could feel the whispers, the stares, the judgment. Did I not believe in my body? The magic of the experience? I shamed myself and bowed my head. I then feverishly took notes while our teacher bounced.
 
In addition to the classes, we went to concerts and baseball games with the First in my belly. Every time we came home with memorabilia-posters and cds. We planned to tell our child, “This is what we did before you were born. We were so excited for your arrival.”
 
We also baby mooned in Santa Fe.  And there an afternoon’s drive in our rented Kia led us to a bridge that crossed the Rio Grande. We walked that bridge, suspended hundreds of feet above the water. In the background, the mountains were not like rounded, softness of the east. They were sharp and brown and jutted upwards. They seemed to touch the blue New Mexico sky. And there we stood, heads downward, big sky above, weathered dirt escaping the desert plants hold and falling slowly to the moving water. We stood there for a long time. But our downward thoughts were interrupted by a fast-pace police chase that shook the bridge’s foundation. We held on to the railing for support. And when my husband ran, I followed, waddling off the bridge.
 
We made it to back to Kentucky, but the baby came soon after that. We have not stopped running since. The anticipation of the First child was replaced by the reality. I begged for the epidural. I experienced the sleepless nights. I knew what it felt like to have a baby on your boob for eight hours a day. I became responsible for another human life.
A rhythm soon overcame the reality and by my son’s first birthday, being a mom was all I knew. But I saw how my son looked at other children and his slowly growing discontent with his own mother. He needed someone other than me.
 
So I did not pray, but I did buy a journal, opened to the first page, and drew 3 columns. I labeled Column 1, ‘date.’ Column 2 became ‘time’ and Column 3 was ‘basal temperature.’ Planning another became a great experiment. For part of that summer, I woke up each morning and resisted the urge to pee and make my morning caffeine. Instead, I let my dog outside, sat on the porch stairs with a purple thermometer in my mouth, and wrote down numbers. Like all great scientists, I quickly formed a research plan. It went something like this:
 
Hypothesis: Having sex during the period of high basal temperature will lead to conception
 
Procedure: Have sex
 
And the Results supported my hypothesis.
 
I conceived a child and smiled at my planning, my ability to control my body, to make new life. Now there is no money for birthing classes and desert trips and concerts. I spend my time loving a child and changing diapers.
 
But there is this Second child growing in my belly.
 
Some scientists argue second children are ‘conditional strategists’- they make do with the scrappy seconds, becoming more creative, independent, and adaptive than the first child. And some of the most innovative individuals of our time fall in this category, like Charles Darwin. So maybe I am doing the Second a favor, foregoing all we did for the First to make a successful child. And I am truly not worried about this Second child. I know he or she will adapt.
 
And I know my son will make amends to this newness in his own way too- maybe in between the tantrums, the jealous rages, his bouts of confusion. We are not the first family in the world to have a second child and he will not be the first big brother.
 
But I do worry about me. I miss the feeling of believing in something greater than I. I know that the something guided me with the Second, more than that temperature journal and my great experiment.  I know I can’t always count on myself and my ability to make 3 columns and formulate hypotheses.  Life will inevitably present challenges that will force me to look outside myself.
 
I need the cold linoleum floor, that lemonade sweetness, a belief.
 
So, as I glare at those locker room women or wake up scared in the middle of the night, I try to remember those basement teachings.  Yes, life is more complex than those teachings of my formative years. Yes, I can’t disregard meiosis and mitosis and the development of the cell. But I can remember the power of the external support and the comfort of a non-verbal, unseen supportive hand. What about the power of the breath, the magic of the experience?
 
I have this Second child growing in my belly, help me believe.
 
Kathryn Wallingford resides in Lexington, KY with her husband, her First, and now her Second.  On good days, she writes about science, religion, and mothering.