I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).
Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.
The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.
This astounded people.
Especially white people. When I was up on a ladder moving basketball nets off the courts, a volleyball dude called up to me, “Okay, Autumn, we’re friends so I can ask – are you pregnant or are you just getting fat? Because maybe you should take it easy if you’re pregnant.”
“You’re wrong. We are not friends,” I informed him. “Also, I’m pregnant AND fat – at least according to my father-in-law. But I’m still gonna block your ass. Now catch these screws, I’m coming down.”
Yes, I was up on a ladder a few times a week while seven months pregnant. Because I was impatient and no one else was moving the damned nets.
When Andy and I hosted a BBQ, combining both of our visiting families, I dragged around tables and carted chairs. My ExStepmother nervously asked if I should be carrying so much stuff. I rolled my eyes and told her I was fine. “Besides,” I added, “Andy’s busy cooking and who else will make sure my in-laws are happy with their seating arrangements?”
My Chinese-American in-laws, of course, never once offered to help or expressed concern that I was doing too much physical activity. Perhaps their mindset was firmly rooted in the old school “daughter-in-law is one step up from a servant.” Or perhaps they enjoyed being waited on too much to complain.
When Andy and I went to Utah for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I ignored the altitude and walked around the local track. On one drive home, Andy got pulled over for doing 90 miles an hour. Then our dog Woofie wanted to “play” with the Utah State Trooper, which resulted in Mr. Trooper grabbing his holster. We had a few tense moments while Boyfriend-Stealing-Baby Sister wrestled Woofie all the way back into the car as I explained to the officer that a) my husband was an idiot who should know better than to speed with a pregnant wife, and b) my dog was also idiot but really harmless and mostly a goofy Labrador even though, yes, he certainly looked terrifying with that big, almost black head.
We escaped with our dog intact and a regular speeding ticket. Andy was grumpy and depressed. I took the wheel at the next stop.
We hit standstill traffic between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Repeatedly. It took us 9 more hours to get home. Stuck behind the wheel, I was ready to kill.
Thankfully, Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister was used to road trips and studying to be a music teacher. She insisted we sing songs and came up with all kinds of games. No one was killed. We even laughed.
When I finally collapsed on the couch at home and looked down at my ankles, I was horrified. I’d had always had long, slender legs. I’d been nicknamed everything from “Legs” to “Pretty Legs” since I was 15. And now? My legs were so swollen I no longer had legs. I had tree trunks.
“Honey!” I wailed. “Oh, my God. Look!”
Andy took one look and recoiled. “What happened?!”
“This is what I get for driving. I sat too long in one position and the blood pooled. Shit.” I swung my tree trunks legs around and put them up the wall. “I have absolutely no definition between knees, calves, and ankles. I’m like one of those massive linemen that John Madden used to point out – I have ‘cankles’!”
Andy and I laughed. I called my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister.
She didn’t laugh. “You utter idiot! How could you have been so stupid. You’re lucky you didn’t get a clot! Why didn’t you change places?”
“Uh, I dunno, we were in the middle of the Interstate?!”
“Why didn’t you pull over?!”
“There was nowhere to go. It would have taken an hour to inch to the side of the road and an hour to get back on the road.”
“Never do that again, you fool. Don’t you remember why you can’t fly after 7 months? It’s because you can’t move on a goddamned plane. When you’re pregnant, your blood is more likely to clot so you don’t hemorrhage during delivery. So you’re already at risk for deep vein thrombosis, where blot clots in your legs or pelvis, and it can turn into a pulmonary embolism and kill you. And you sat in a car for eleven hours? You might as well have flown to fucking Finland already! I can’t even with you. Stop thinking you can do everything you used to do. You’ll kill yourself and the baby.”
In a very small voice I said, “Okay. Got it.”
That week, I sent someone else up the ladder at volleyball.
The week after that, I put my gym membership on hold.
I still walked the dogs, but either with Andy or one at a time. That way I was less likely to trip and get dragged.
Like I said, we aren’t good at coddling in my family.
But we’re really good at kicking each other’s asses.
Even if it’s to say, “You should fucking coddle yourself.”