It’s been years since pregnancy hormones coursed through my veins. So how to explain the fact that lately I’m acting like someone in the grip of a sudden oxytocin rush? Me, a casual cook at best, and yet I’ve been hauling out the slow cooker and standing at the stove to make soups, stews and casseroles — anything in the comfort food or healthy/convenient category. Then I go on a “freezing frenzy,” stockpiling these carefully labeled meals as if I’m expecting a famine. It’s not that. It’s that my daughter is expecting a baby, a first grandchild.
And it all feels very familiar, a faint yet potent echo of the “nesting” instincts that took hold just before my own two children were born. I think back with amusement — picturing my 20-something self, nine months pregnant, standing on the kitchen counter (yikes!) feverishly relining shelves. Who knew compulsions like this were going to resurface?
My husband hasn’t escaped this mysterious pull, either. For the first time in recent memory, he’s taking a proactive role in seeding the lawn, clearing the attic, tasks he usually hates and postpones. It’s as if both of us are responding to some primitive biological cue, the need to clear out old debris and make a warm, unsullied place for a new life to take root.
Since this is a spring baby, rebirth metaphors are hard to resist — even the ones that sound trite and sentimental to our usual snarky selves. Because that’s the other thing about this whole amazing process: nature takes over. These days, we find ourselves acting less likeourselves, and more like (grand) parents-to-beeverywhere. As my daughter got closer to her due date, it felt like I had a once-removed version of Pregnancy Brain, both foggy and hyper-vigilant. I jumped whenever the phone rang (how did we do this before cell phones?) and felt vaguely uneasy if I didn’t know exactly where my daughter was. Anytime I did have her safely under my watch — a womb metaphor if ever there was one — I was calmer. Nothing bad can happen as long asI’m here. That maternal conceit has nothing to do with reality, but my reptilian brain doesn’t seem to get the message.
I once had to write a detailed explanation of the fight-or-flight syndrome. Up till then, I had no real idea how it worked, how nature knows exactly which mind/body resources to amp up — and which to click off — when a challenge arises. (For instance, a sudden output of adrenalin helps you react fast and move quickly; hunger becomes less urgent—in fact, a nervous loss of appetite can be the body’s way of staying “light,” a holdover from the days our ancestors had to be physically agile to confront primitive dangers.)
Right before a baby comes, it can feel like this whole fight-or-flight preparedness system is stuck inthrottle mode, like an idling engine. You know that any time now…wham! A whole new life is about to burst into the world. But, unless it’s a scheduled birth, there’s no controlling the when or how. That fact alone has an unaccustomed feel to it, in this modern world where so much can be pre-programmed and micromanaged. (Occasionally, when my daughter and her husband discuss some aspect of pregnancy or breastfeeding, I catch myself saying, “Is it still done it that way?”… momentarily forgetting that dealing with a natural process is nothing like making the switch from Blackberry to iPhone, or from DVDs to on-demand streaming.)
As it turned out, my daughter and I spent the night before the birth in the delivery room together. Once she was out of pain (I could feel my own self becoming unclenched as the epidural brought its welcome numbness), we were left with the sweetest blend of calm and excitement. The room was dimly lit and cozy; everything felt hushed and safe, and we were lulled to sleep by the steady whoosh-whoosh sounds of the fetal monitor transmitting my soon-to-be-born grandson’s heartbeat.