New-Found & Overwhelming Gratitude

In a couple weeks, or really any time now, baby Kurtz is going to make our acquaintance. As of now, I am well acquainted with baby Kurtz in the sense that he or she has been in my belly for nine months and is, baruch Hashem, an active baby. Around the 28th week, I was sure that the baby would grow up to be a pro soccer player or a member of the Rockettes. With far less room to move around now, baby Kurtz, who I’ll call B.K. for the sake of brevity, seems to understand the language of sugar. Pesach was party time for B.K. With four cups of grape juice coming at B.K. through the umbilical cord, B.K. had a major dance party at the seder table. As of late, B.K. can barely move, but tries to, and I actually have to push his or her little tushie back into place from the outside sometimes so that it isn’t bumping into my ribs. You need to have someone’s sacrum, however small, up in your rib cage to know what I am talking about.

Pregnancy has been like that for me: Experiential. I had no idea what it would be like. Each phase and step of B.K.’s development has been its own experience of being taken over by another entity. By now I am somewhat used to it, but having never carried a baby internally before, each day is still surprising. Turns out that carrying a baby inside your body is quite different from carrying one in your arms. It’s a little bit like the movie “Alien”, except I actually want B.K. to be in there and B.K. is an adorable little Jewish baby who I love and not a green slimy weirdo. Yet in pop culture, “Alien” is the closest comparison I can render. There are no movies about pregnancy or birth that in any way capture what it is like to have another being inside your belly.

Among the surprises of pregnancy that I’ve experienced has been a flood of gratitude. Gratitude for everything, because pregnancy has made every small thing seem very, very important. The immediacy of one’s needs when pregnant makes it such. I’m not hungry; I’m starving. I’m not tired; I’m exhausted. Etcetera. It happens that the past nine months have not exactly been la-dee-dah-peace-and-love in the world. I bug out about what it would be like to be pregnant under other circumstances than my own, which seem to be ideal. G-d cut me a break, big time.

It was around the time when I learned that people in Syria were eating grass to stay alive when I transitioned from fear and anxiety to gratitude. In the second month, I remember walking down Lexington Avenue actually shaking with fear of being pregnant. Fear of exactly what, I am not sure. I downloaded some cheap hypnobirthing tracks to listen to, and they made me more nervous. This Australian lady was telling me to envision my cervix opening and it made no sense to me. How could that be possible? For a cervix to open and a baby to come out of it?

It took some talks with my mashpia to get my head on straight. I ditched the rogue hypnobirthing tracks and invested in the Hypnobabies home study program. I got it through my head that women are built by G-d to go through pregnancy and birth, and no special talent was required from me. Pregnancy is normal and natural, and so is birth, and I relaxed about it. Just take vitamins, eat well, go to normal routine prenatal care, maintain general good health — there isn’t anything else to do. G-d does the rest.

When the food cravings started, that’s when the gratitude flooded in. What is with oranges? HOW CAN ANYONE GO THROUGH PREGNANCY WITHOUT ORANGES? For the past 9 months, I’ve wanted to eat so many oranges and drink so much orange juice. I consume about three to six whole oranges or tangerines per day, and some days juice too. The relief I feel when I eat oranges is immeasurable. There is nothing like it. It is life-giving relief. The thing with the oranges started around the time when I learned about Syrians eating grass to stay alive. I was also reading about children being born in refugee camps in South Sudan. How do those women do it, go through pregnancy in war zones without what to eat? How do they do it without oranges? I am not being facetious. Do you know how blessed I feel to be able to have access to oranges?

I used to tell myself that I was fat, and I’d feel bad about eating. That wasn’t a grateful mindset. Because of how hungry I’ve been through pregnancy, gratitude for food and the money to buy food and the access I have to nutritious foods as a New Yorker has been overwhelming. I feel like I used to make blessings on food because I had to, but it was lip service. Now, after 9 months of not wanting to eat but needing to eat, I’m walking around like, “G-d, thank you for giving me enough income to buy the food I need to nurture this baby and to feel healthy, and for the access to the food.” It’s not just “borei peri ha’etz” anymore. It’s like, “Oranges are the best thing in the world and I am so blessed and lucky and privileged to have them! Oh My G-d thank you for the oranges and for everything it takes to make oranges available to me.”

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Clean running water is another source of daily gratitude. Not living in a war zone is another one. Yeah, New York City has its fair share of criminals, but it’s generally safe for me. I live without threat to my life. I mean if your number is up, your number is up, but it helps not to live in a war zone. So much of the world has been at war for the past nine months. It keeps escalating. Through this time period of asking G-d “Ad matai?!” as half the globe seems to be blowing up, I’ve been safe. You realize that is a big deal? Given the state of the world, you realize that being safe is a big deal, right? I didn’t feel grateful for safety until I got this baby in my belly who I suddenly, fiercely want to protect. Life is fragile.

The other big source of the gratitude flood has been my home and husband. Did you know that it is not normal to actually have a kind and loving spouse and to actually want to be pregnant? I didn’t realize that until I started going through the intake process at the obstetrics group I’ve been going to for prenatal care. Intellectually I knew the statistics, but emotionally it had never sunk in. I go to a midwife group that is part of the obstetrics department at a New York City teaching hospital. Their clientele range from middle-aged professional women with sleek leather tote bags, to street heroin addicts. This is on account of the fact that they take all kinds of insurance, including Medicaid, and on account of where their office is located. That medical office is a slice of New York City.

Intake involved going through the same series of questions with various practitioners and nurses. Every single one was like, “Wow. That’s unbelievable!” when I answered all their questions like, “Yes, I am married. No, my husband is not abusive. Yes, we want this baby. No, I’m not on Methadone. Yes, I have a job. Yes, I live in an apartment. No, I don’t have any diseases.” I started to feel like a unicorn. Yes, I am actually OK. I know it is weird, but I am actually OK.

I read a lot and I listen to people talk. I’ve found out that it’s unfortunately not normal to have what you need and to be content. It’s unfortunately not normal to talk things out with your spouse instead of getting angry. It’s unfortunately not normal to actually want the baby who is in your belly. It took pregnancy for me to realize that G-d cut me a sweet deal in life. I don’t have problems; I have inconveniences. G-d gave my husband and me a lot of blessings, and continues to. The miracles are every day. They are open miracles — at least in my book.

If I could ask G-d for one blessing right now, it would be this: G-d should bless every woman who is pregnant or who wants to be pregnant with a safe place to live, a supportive partner, and the resources she needs to have a healthy and comfortable pregnancy.

Image info: Image from Thinkstock. I don’t know whose cute baby that is. But he or she is a cute baby!