it’s lately been the leg cramps. those suckers are intense, waking me up at 2 and 3am from a deep sleep, or as deep as i can sleep these days. pregnancy can be so strange. like an out of body experience, both extremely limiting and liberating at the same time. i still see myself as my 16 year old self; limber and flexible and so very unaware that those dives and hits and rolls in volleyball practice would be literally impossible for me to achieve now. but in my mind, i can still do it. then i walk up a flight of stairs or pack lunches or something and reality settles in as i breathe slowly and lift my chest to create a little room for my lungs amongst the fingers and toes and the one baby bum, the life, all wrapped up in there, messy and cramped and alien-like but still exactly where and as it should be, like pieces of a never ending puzzle. any tiredness i had then, when i was 16, came from long shadowed afternoons that left my hair wet and matted, my skin ruddy and warm, only to be met by a cold that was visible when i breathed and left me with a dried waxy layer all over by the time i got home. actual tiredness from doing, not just existing. not that i don’t do these days, it’s just that tying my shoes wasn’t hard, and never exhausted me when i was 16.
but these cramps, they last only a minute or two, yet it’s an acute minute or two. the next day my calves feel as if i’ve run 10 miles. which, i’ve actually never minded the feeling of sore muscles after a long run or during the first few days of preseason, a reminder that i’ve worked and sweat and there’s a reason and a goal for that pain. how much more apt and true that statement is now. from beginning to end this process is overwhelmingly marked by pain and sickness and discomfort and inconvenience. not fully, of course, but much of it. and as i near the end now, i know there is more that is hard ahead, one final dose of pain coming that will culminate in finally meeting my sweet reason and goal. and as i say hello for the first time, that winding, bone tiring, messy and painful journey suddenly becomes like an escaping dream, one that you wake up from and can still see the images and pieces from it but somehow can’t put your finger on what it was all about. and then it’s gone. completely gone. and i switch from trying to speed things up to begging the moments to linger just a little longer. that tiny, piece of the puzzle hand only clenches my one finger for so long. and then my heart is opened up to a whole new world of a different kind of a pain, one that never quite goes away.
on nights that the cramps hit, they sometimes leave me wide awake and struggling to settle down, both in mind and body. as my hips ache and i switch from side to side, twisting the sheets, my mind likewise gets tousled with thoughts. i start writing in my head, little snippets or ideas as they come at me. sometimes i’ll slip my socks off; it’s so freeing, but then i’m aware of the roughness and dried rivers curving around the smoothness of my feet. a palpable, somewhat gritty real life metaphor for ‘rough around the edges,’ a reminder that even the smoothest paths have their imperfections, their valleys. in theory i want to get up and write down my thoughts, because by morning they are also like faded dreams that i reach for but can’t quite grasp. but in reality i know i should try to still my body in hopes that my consciousness will follow, because the littles don’t operate on my schedule or even the sun’s schedule these days. they are up when they are up, needing me to be the same. little arms tug at me in expectation, and soggy diapered bums do not wait.
the advice is to immediately stretch the plagued muscle, as that will loosen the cramp and rid you of it quicker. it goes against what i naturally want to do, since initially it hurts like a real bitch. but surely, as i stretch, the poisons are released and i breathe long, wispy, thankful breaths of relief. the other night i was winding down from an especially vicious attack, probably extra strong because of my resistance to do what is necessary. instead of stretching, i tensed my leg, despite my knowledge and first hand experience with these little buggers. of course, it backfired, and i caused myself lengthier and more intense pain. as i unfurled my muscle, and came down from the jolt, my thoughts turned to what i wrote about a few days ago—about love and marriage and choices. just as it’s in my nature to oppose the literal stretch, it’s in my nature to shy away from the acts of love, the choices, that it takes to truly love someone when my feelings tell me everything quite the opposite. my feelings tell me to clench, when i really should be stretching myself to choose to love. it’s painful, and hard, but the poisons of resentment and bitterness and unforgivingness have to be released in order to move forward. and there will be a period of soreness that follows, as my heart catches up to my mind. it will, and as it does, the reason and goal of this particular pain becomes clear again as the bad dream gradually fades in the wake of everyday acts of love. the dishes done, unprompted. an unexpected gift, just because. the intertwining of hands, more naturally now, while doing nothing together.
when i was 16, i didn’t know the amount and extent of pain that is involved in loving someone. how, if we just let the inevitable hurt in to do it’s work, rather than fight it and fight for an unrealistic reality of a long standing emotional high, it can and will deepen, soften, nurture…create a genuineness that otherwise wouldn’t exist. i didn’t know how the hard times make the good days that much sweeter and authentic. i know it a little better now. i imagine i’ll get to know it even deeper and fuller as we live and try to choose and sometimes fail and pick up the pieces again. i’ll be aware as i pick them up, waxy skinned, in the dark and tangible cold, that they don’t know either. but they will. and my heart will subsequently ache high and low for them, not only that they have to experience the pain, but that they get to.