Make Way for Motherhood

I write this nearing my 36th week of pregnancy, when words like “sleep” or “concentration” or “breathing” can only be uttered with derisive little quotation marks around them. Forgive me, therefore, if the following thoughts seem a little scattered. Blame CommonWealth‘s editors. They’ve asked me to, um, weigh in about what it’s like being an expectant mother in Boston and if I can just concentrate and breathe at the same time (make that “same time”) there are a few revelations to note.

Such as, for starters, the loss of anonymity. Every mom-to-be evolves into a conversation piece. But it’s a more sharply sweet and startling occurrence in any city, I’d wager, because many of us have chosen an urban life in order to win, as E.B. White famously said of New York, “such queer prizes” as “the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” Adios, prizes.

The city looks different when you’re carrying a child.

Sure, plenty of strangers still pay me no mind–like all you bleepin’ finks who never gave up your seat on the T! But there’s a high proportion of passersby who glance at my belly, then my eyes, then smile in complicity. Some have stopped to empathize about the summer’s heat. Some–literally–wink. I’d swear that Duck Tours single me out for especially hearty quacking. And anyone and everyone feels free to ask when I’m due; when I disclosed the date to the gay man who sells me my morning muffin, he gushed “That’s when Madonna had Lourdes!”

By now, I’m can’t-miss-it big. When I answer the bell at my office in Bay Village, mailmen and UPS guys note my condition and tell me about their wives’ labor experiences. “I deliver…” the Airborne Express guy even joked “…but not babies.” On a tar-liquifying afternoon in August, I was laboriously crossing the Tremont intersection by the Transportation Building when a trucker cheerfully, knowingly, yelled out, “That’s quite a load to carry on a hot day!” He drove rather a big rig himself. I’d never compared myself to a truck, but there was a certain identity merge that, in the heat and with my aforementioned dearth of brainpower and breath, seemed profound. Le Mack, c’est moi.

So anonymity is gone. But paranoia has arrived. Before the baby, I felt relatively savvy about what was safe in the city and what wasn’t, where to walk, where to avoid. But now that I feel so noticed, my radar is all scrambled. In Cambridge’s Central Square, the local mentally ill outpatients or homeless drunks unsettle me more now. A guilty, painful fact, that. It also stings that my skeptical-but-still-lefty politics are fraying. I’ve always been proud that humaneness used to beat out gentrification in Central Square–a crime that Harvard Donut died for Starbucks, Woolworth’s tanked for Foot Locker. But, on one especially fatiguing day, I spied the big, comfy chairs in the hated Starbucks. I’d vowed never to go in the doors–an activist friend of ours had been protesting their more-odious-than-usual predatory business tactics. But the idea of plush furniture was too powerful. I sank into the cushions.

Okay, taking a seat at Starbucks is hardly a felony. But it’s an indicator of the fact that I’m about to be a mother, someone whose sense of ease, of caution, has new colors and depth. Is this how you become more conservative? Is this how the tectonics of anxiety shift into an exodus from the city? I hope not, but I’m not sure.

Meet the Author
What else? Well, I’m one of those people whose world, whose urban existence, was revamped from the very start of pregnancy. That’s because I was apocalyptically nauseous. A friend artfully coined the euphemism “your friend Ralph” for my condition and Ralph visited as often and with as much welcome as a telemarketer on speed dial. As a result, various spots around Cambridge and Boston–the part of Mt. Auburn street leading to Mt. Auburn Hospital, the intersection of Comm. Ave. and Clarendon–still bring on a Pavlovian response. I won’t say I won’t drive or walk on either street. I do think twice, though.

In the end, there was only one place in the city where I could lean into the proper state of maternal awe and anticipation. Blessings on the Public Garden! All those strollers. All those toddlers chasing after ducks. All that dappled grass and heartening luminosity from the water, the flowers, the sky. I would picture my husband and me and our child amidst these other families and feel what one so needs to feel during pregnancy: that everything’s going to be all right. No matter all my ambivalences, that was Boston’s sweetest gift.

Contributing Writer Katharine Whittemore lives in Cambridge and is the editor of American Movie Classics Magazine.