In another lifetime, I sat in a social worker's office with an old bar heater rumbling between us as we tried to talk through my sexual assault. Like many women in my situation, I didn't feel I deserved to be there, I didn't feel like my reactions followed the script or that I was 'recovering right.' It was my most acute experience of how pre-defined the experience of womanhood could be, and how I often fell flailing outside those lines. The social worker, an incredible literary woman who would later help me recover through books and poetry, said something to me I will always remember:
The map is not the territory.
Nothing has resonated with me more. There is a way of doing and feeling things, and then there is my way. This statement came back to me last year as Rhys and I started trying for a baby. In our personal bubble, we were hopeful, happy and supportive of one another, but the role I was expected to play as a woman in the outside world offended me. I was meant to 'try' yet 'not try,' occupying this serene, smiling space where waiting for nature to perform its magic did not stress me out or frustrate me. I was not allowed to show signs of effort. God forbid I mentioned I had a fertility app or was working on my health (I have a thyroid condition that impacts fertility, so it's kind of mandatory), I would immediately be dismissed with the platitude, 'it will happen when you least expect it.' If Rhys did not exist and I fell pregnant alone, sure, I would least expect that, but every other instance of my pregnancy wouldn't really come as a surprise. It made me realise how as we strive for a career, hope for a loving relationship or grow and balance our families, women are expected to show no signs of effort and quietly bear the labour of it all.
I discovered I was pregnant in early January, and a few days later my dream literary agent got in touch with me, saying that she enjoyed my manuscript but it needed a bit of work. Through fatigue and some morning sickness, I got the changes done in a month. A few weeks after that, she made offered me representation. In the period that followed, I forgot that I was pregnant. Publishing my work overseas is my biggest dream. My writing is what makes me, me. I am thrilled about having my baby, but equally thrilled about bringing my book into the world. My baby is a natural, biological blessing. My book is a personal achievement. They have just happened to happen at the exact same time.
So much goodness is hard to take. I cried with joy but I also went into my shell for weeks, trying to make sense of the Amy who is going to be born in September. Can a writer be a good mother? Can a mother be a good writer? All around me, I see motherhood and pregnancy represented as weakness, as sickness. The changes of my growing body are listed as 'symptoms.' The language around pregnancy is infantalised, as if through creating a child I become one myself. My stomach is public property, as old ladies cop a feel of it 'for the road.' Everywhere I read about how horrible childbirth and parenting is, how I will never know such despair. Yet this baby is so wanted, yet I have moulded the despair of my past into stories I am proud of, yet I don't feel weak.
I have never felt stronger, healthier or more myself. My body, once a contested, trespassed space, is finding its own path. I feel so loved and safe in my relationship, and am growing a soul in my body, something that flickered into being with my consent. There cannot be any closure more beautiful than that for me. I have found a yoga class filled with an overwhelming number of pregnant women where our instructor celebrates our strength and makes us feel prepared for the challenges of labour and motherhood.
So far, I have been lucky. I am sure many times in future I will feel pushed far beyond my comfort zone and feel deeply uncomfortable. I will find myself and lose myself again. But I cannot know what form this will take. I am throwing away the map of how it is meant to be like. Step by step, on my own path, I will grow into the woman and writer I am meant to become.