Why I Wrote Poetry During My First Pregnancy

Read how this soon-to-be mom practiced mindfulness during pregnancy.
I was brushing my teeth one morning in late November, wondering if I was pregnant. Out of nowhere, a little haiku welled up inside me — a small little verse I unfortunately don’t remember now. It was just a sing-songy sentiment springing from the depths of eager curiosity about the unknown-and-in-between space I was in. It popped into my consciousness unbidden, and promptly left again.

Fortunately, the effect of that small moment lasted longer than the lines of the poem, since it was then that I decided I, an unequivocally unpoetic person, would attempt to write poetry throughout my first pregnancy — whenever that might be.

It was still a week until I would know with certainty that I was, in fact, carrying my first baby. Even throughout those days, however, the idea to write poetry felt confirmed in myriad impulses and observations. I started to imagine the ways it would capture the surrender and sickness, awe and aches that pregnancy eventually promised. I was struck by the idea that a poem seemed to mirror, even mimic, the nature of pregnancy; the way something small and simple and concise — a few words or cells strung together just so — could contain such relentless capacity, such possibility, to expand and to mean and to yield. I couldn’t imagine a medium more perfectly suited to the task.

The following week, I took a pregnancy test and, consequently, wrote my first poem.

To give a sense of just how uninclined I was to the craft, for that first poem I intended to jot down another haiku based on my husband’s reaction to the news. Instead, I accidentally wrote lines of seven-five-seven syllables, instead of the five-seven-five that defines a haiku. I didn’t realize this mistake for months. When I did, it seemed like a fitting (even poetic!) error for highlighting the way my whole world was inverted, turned over, flipped.

At times, I was surprised at what came up when I approached this daily task. Fear in those early days that we might still miscarry; fatigue at sharing the news and fatigue at keeping it secret; renewed grief when thinking that my child wouldn’t know his uncle — my brother — who died a few years ago. Nausea and cravings, regrets and hopes. Worries and wonders about how my relationship with my husband would change and grow. Prayers, praise, and icons of motherhood I witnessed in those around me. The experience of someone else’s hiccups in my womb; the glacial feeling of my slowly growing belly.

I wrote one poem trying to describe quickening. I had heard from others what it felt like but, when I finally felt the baby’s movements for the first time myself, found their descriptions totally lacking. In my own attempt to wrap words around this completely new and completely foreign experience for myself, however, I realized its ineffability.

March 14
Not like a butterfly flapping its wing at all
Or like gas, for that matter
But something in between a muscle twitch
And the image of an oar moving through calm water
A curling, somersaulting undulation
The sound the mouth makes when doing an impression of a bubble’s glug-glug
More friction than a wing batting in air
More depth of movement
Slower in that underwater way:
Where time is the same but gravity and movement are not

The habit of writing poetry (even… bad poetry, like this gem from 6 months into my pregnancy: The air smells like hot dogs / And now I want hot dogs) forced me to stay fixed on the present, when pregnancy in particular has a way of implicating the future and forcing forward-thinking. When I go back to my notebook now, some of these moments are no longer familiar; they would have slipped out of my consciousness entirely if I hadn’t scribbled them down in their most vivid iterations.

With my infant son — the telos of this exercise, in a certain sense — in my arms, the small things and mundane moments I recorded seem charged and renewed by knowing him. He was there for all of it; these were shared moments: a small record of minute observations on the path we undertook to meet each other.

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