For Women Everywhere
Alison, in her ninth month, finds she can no longer turn over in bed at night without waking up. The hydraulics of shifting her belly are just too complex, and to get from her left side to her right, she has to maneuver herself delicately, tucking her elbow under and using it as a lever, swinging her abdomen over the top. Turning over the other way, belly down, is not possible; if she could, she imagines, she would look like a circus seal balancing on a huge ball.
When her best friend from high school arrives to keep her company and wait for the birth, Alison hopes to be distracted; lately, she thinks of nothing but the advent of labor. When will this baby come out, when will the pains start that will be unmistakably something new, something she has never felt before? Her obstetrician suggested that they might feel like bad menstrual cramps, which Alison has never had. And she is now accustomed to the small tightenings inside her belly that occur every now and then; Braxton-Hicks contraction, she tells her friend Doris, who thereafter asks her, if she should happen to clutch herself, “Another Brixie-Hixie?” It is very nice to have Doris around. For one thing, unpregnant, Doris is easily as big as Alison in her ninth month. Doris was big in high school and she’s bigger now. She buys her clothes in special stores that sell silk and velvet and linen for the fat working woman, and all her lingerie is peach. She smells of a perfume named after a designer, familiar to Alison because of little scented cardboard samples in a million magazines - open this flap to enjoy the magic - opposite honey-toned photos of naked bodies arranged like fruit in a basket. Doris’s possessions fit surprisingly well into what she calls the tawdry jungle glamour of Alison’s apartment. Among the overgrown plants with Christmas lights strung through them and the life-size stuffed animals and the bongo collection, Doris reclines in her jumpsuits, taking her ease as if waiting for her palanquin. When Doris and Alison walk down the street together on their way to get hamburgers and onion rings, Alison feels like they are a phalanx. Finally she has the nerve to wear a big straw hat with fuchsia flowers out in public, stealing it off her stuffed giraffe. Hey, big mamas, she imagines someone shouting (not that anyone ever does). Together, she and Doris take up their share of the street and of the hamburger restaurant, where the waitress greets them by saying, The usual, right?
Alison is by now pretty well used to the rude and stupid and none-of- their-business things that people say to her. But good old Doris walked into her apartment, put down her two suitcases and her handbag and her camera case, and informed Alison, looking narrowly at her ballooned abdomen, “Alison, you are doing this For Women Everywhere.” Then she gave a Bronx cheer.
“Right,” said Alison with relief, wondering how Doris knew. The world is full of well-meaning people who feel the need to tell Alison how brave she is, how they admire her. I always wanted a baby, but I don’t know whether I would dare, they say; or, This is a really great thing you’re doing. Alison’s mother sends clippings from People magazine, keeping her up to date on Jodie Foster, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell. Even Michael, when he calls up, shyly, to ask does she really think this baby might be his, and won’t she please tell him when it’s due, and is she going to find out the gender, and would she tell him if she knew - even Michael feels a politically correct need to tell her what a strong woman she is.
“Some people never grow up” is Doris’s comment after Michael’s next call. At first Alison thinks she is referring to Michael, which is really unfair; of the three of them, Michael could be considered the one who most notably has grown up. He has a house and a marriage and two children and all the correct car seats and coffeemakers. “You,” says Doris. “Here you are at your age, and the best you can manage is a friend you went to high school with and a boy you’ve been sleeping with since high school. Don’t you ever think about moving on to a later stage?” There is some justice there, Alison supposes, but if you are thirty- five and your favorite people are left over from when you were fifteen, then that’s the way it is. What am I doing, after all, she thinks, if not moving on to a later stage? Michael’s marriage, acquired in adulthood, does not make Alison’s mouth water. Neither does Doris’s legendary liaison with a penthouse-dwelling real estate tycoon. Doris is mildly, or maybe avidly, curious to know who the other possible fathers are, and makes some pointed remarks about people who expect their friends tto Tell All and then hold back on their own juicy details, but Alison is not telling and not willing to be drawn into the same game of twenty queeeeestions that Michael keeps wanting her to play. Is it anyone I know? Is it anyone you care about? How many possibilities are there, anyway? “I am not,” Alison says with pregnant dignity, “the kind to kiss and tell.” Alison is consuming something close to four rolls of Tums a day at this point. Automatically before and after every meal she reaches into her pocket for the cylinder, pops off three little chalky disks, and crunches them, feeling the burning go away. Doris tells her this is somewhat disgusting, and Alison informs her loftily, “My obstetrician says I have progesterone-induced incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter.” “Talk about disgusting,” says Doris.
But it is a pleasure to have Doris there to go with her to the obstetrician, a pleasure not to go alone for the umpteenth time. She hands Doris the straw hat and steps on the scales unhesitatingly, watches the nurse move the weight from 150 to 200, then back to 150, then start messing around with the next smaller weight. One eighty- two; very good. Smugly, Alison steps off the scale; how educational for Doris, she thinks, to realize that when you are pregnant you get on the scale proudly and hear a number like 182 and then a commendation. But Doris is studying a wall chart, a drawing of a full- term baby packed into a mother. Note the scrunched-up intestines, the way the baby’s head presses on the bladder, and so on. “Yich,” comments Doris, and follows Alison into the examining room, there to be notably unmoved by the amplified fetal heart.
Alison’s obstetrician, Dr. Beane, is a good five or six years younger than Alison and Doris, and is such an immaculate and tailored little thing that it is hard to imagine her elbow-deep in the blood and gore that Alison envisions in a delivery room. Also, she has such tiny hands; can she really grab a baby and pull? Is that what an obstetrician does? Alison started by dutifully attending the classes, but she dropped out long before they got to the movie; she has never been one to read instruction booklets. Dr. Beane gives Doris the once- over, considerately doesn’t ask any questions, and feels around on Alison’s belly with those small, surprisingly strong hands. “You’re engaged!” she says, as if offering congratulations.
Alison wonders briefly whether this is some terribly tactful way of acknowledging Doris’s presence (better than, say, Is this your significant other?), but it turns out that engaged means the baby’s head has descended into her pelvis and the baby is in place, ready to be born.
“Have you thought about anesthesia?” asks the doctor, who then launches into an educational lecture on spinals and epidurals, both of which involve ha...