Something different for Sunday. A while back, I wrote some posts about the books I bought while I was in France, and I promised to read Marielle Blanchier's Et Ils Eurent Beaucoup d'Enfants first and get back to you.
This, you'll remember, is the memoir of a woman, trained as a chemist, who has twelve children.
Well, I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm a few chapters in, and for a fun evening project I thought I would translate a bit of chapter 3.
Chapter 1 is sort of the story of how she and her husband met and married and how her rather surprising lifestyle unfolded. Chapter 2 is called "Mother's Day Treasures" and is a humorous account of how she deals with all the handmade gifts her children bring her home from school.
Chapter 3 is called Neuf Années de Grossesse: "Nine Years of Pregnancy." This is the first part of it.
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In the last twenty years, I have lived through nine years of pregnancy.
And, no, it's not so much that I like to be pregnant.
Yes, and no. My feelings are very ambivalent. Honestly, it's not a pleasure in and of itself. Carrying life is a great joy, in my view the most marvelous that one can experience; but it's also a handing-over of the self, and a time of anxiety: will I have a miscarriage for the umpteenth time? And what if by the fifth month I'm already completely drained? Will my cervix dilate to soon and bring on a pre-term birth? There is also the apprehension of having to accompany a new human being for a whole lifetime. And my body, changing. I feel weakened, diminished.
Digging out the foundations of a house in the middle of winter, under the rain, would that be a pleasure in and of itself? Not really... but we likes the result. To give life to one m0re person. Carry that life within oneself, feel the baby move in one's belly, discover him on the screen of the ultrasound. A new marvel every single time... However, as the pregnancy draws toward the end, there are so many challenges to take up. Putting up with the constraints of fatigue. Keeping charge of the house despite having no energy. Finding time to rest enough to allow the baby to grow. Enduring the ordeal of the transformation of my body, the burden of these 25 to 40 extra pounds.
At the beginning, the baby bump is cute. Then, naturally, I grow... and grow. I eventually get to the point of asking myself if I'm not going to end by losing all femininity. To become, once and for all, "the fat old bag who had twelve children." The kind about which people think: "The poor thing, she is already on her twelfth..." That prematurely aged woman who people mistake for Grandma.
Even though what I really want is for people to keep asking me if the child in my stroller is my first. Happily, that still happens to me sometimes when I am out by myself with Charles [the youngest].
I answer "No," obviously.
Then they question me: "Oh, he has a little brother or sister?" And sometimes they go on to give me a few child-rearing tips.
I let them speak, then I savor the effect when I reply, "Oh. this is my twelfth child."
"What?!? How many?" My interlocutors never recover from this.
Some can't believe it at all, and toss "Ha, that's a good one!" over their shoulder as they walk away. But most often, they shout to their husband, their wife, their children, or passing strangers, "Did you hear that? This lady, she had twelve children!" Then they add: "Well, you don't look like it---you look good!"
Naturally, I like to hear this, because it means that I haven't been permanently scarred by the pounds, the fatigue, the tension. Because it demystifies the caricatured mother of a large family: I have made an unusual choice, but I'm not some kind of alien. And also because their reaction testifies that I accord this baby the same attention as if he was an only child. I comport myself as if he were the first. Quite a lovely compliment!
I have noticed that sporting a bulging belly has a lot in common with walking a dog or fixing a car in the middle of the street: everyone wants to talk to you about it. It is a way for people to make a connection---and I have noticed that people often have a need to talk. They seize upon this pretext, and it pleases me that they are willing to speak to me so easily, even if it means moving on to other subjects afterward.
Even so, on thorough reflection, there are one or two things that irritate me. When anyone tries to touch my belly, for example---but people rarely attempt this, they must sense that I am ready to bite! Or when they tell me for an hour about the family life of some second cousin who had just as many children. Or when they prognosticate, "A pointy belly means it's a boy, a round belly means it's a girl." And it's not just the grannies who play Madame Fortune-teller. I never know what to answer to avoid offending them. They really seem to believe what they say.
--- From Marielle Blanchier and Pascale Krémer, Et Ils Eurent Beaucoup d'Enfants (Éditions des Arènes, Paris, 2013)