Have You Felt the Baby Move Yet?
It felt unbearable to think I might say yes and be wrong.
“Have you felt the baby move yet?”
This question has followed me for the last two months. I knew it was coming, once I hit sixteen weeks, then eighteen. I kept scrutinizing my abdominal sensations—could that be it? Or could it maybe just be a touch of indigestion?
The idea that I could be wrong felt unbearable, the possibility that I might tell my partner that I’d felt the baby move and then it might have only been gas all along.
No, I would say. I don’t think I’ve felt it. Even when another answer might have been Maybe. Or, I think so.
It’s just that there were so many times I’d tried to conceive and it hadn’t worked, and many of those times I’d been so sure. So completely sure I was pregnant—sure because my nipples were tender, or my sense of smell was heightened, and I just knew I was pregnant because I’d never felt this way before. So sure I felt myself glowing. So sure I sang songs to what turned out to be an empty womb.
Before this pregnancy, I’d imagined that if I ever got pregnant, it would erase my memories of all the times I couldn’t, that a pregnancy would fill in the cracks of my infertility grief, smooth over the surface until everything felt whole again.
Whole, unblemished, and full of hope, like the day, more than five years ago now, that my period came back after years on testosterone, blood on the toilet paper in the men’s room at work without a spot on my underwear, perfect timing that felt like a good luck sign. I sat in meetings and glowed with my secret, knowing I was bleeding from a place none of them even knew I had, knowing I would soon be pregnant.
I wasn’t. Again and again, I wasn’t. No matter what I did, no matter what bargain with the universe I made, I wasn’t.
And now, after I gave up, after I quit my job because I didn’t need that much money if there would be no baby, after I moved away, after I worked to dream my way into a different life as a writer, now I am.
I thought I knew how my body worked. Once I thought I had a body that could get pregnant, and it didn’t. Then I thought I had a body that couldn’t get pregnant, and it did.
Now, I’m not sure what to think.
“Have you felt the baby move yet?”
With this question, I am tasked with the responsibility of looking out for and interpreting a sensation I have never felt before.
I began reading online about all the ways it might feel when a baby moves. Flutters. Bubbles. A tiny pulse. A cramp. A twitch.
Sometimes a cramp is just a cramp, I’d think when I read these descriptions of baby movements. Sometimes a bubble is a gas bubble. How will I trust myself to know if I feel it?
It’s interesting, of course, my reluctance to trust myself to interpret my sensations on this particular topic. I have, after all, written a whole essay about trusting myself that I am a writer, and just last week, I wrote about believing myself into being as a trans person. But with this, I couldn’t stop thinking of the time I sang to an empty uterus, how it made things all the more crushing later on.
I resented that I couldn’t stop thinking about that, resented the way I felt the tendrils of my infertility grief still reaching forward in time, ghostly fingers on my pregnant belly. (I don’t need my pregnancy experience to be like anyone else’s pregnancy experience, I tell myself. But still.)
Slowly, over the last few weeks, my internal Maybes have turned to I think so, then Yes.
Yes, I can feel the baby move.
It felt good to have gotten there. Good to have gotten to a place where I felt like the confident and exclusive reporter on my baby’s activities. Good to know something all by myself, without the need for external validation. To inform others only as I pleased. The baby is moving. Knowing something that I alone can know.
Then, this week, my partner felt it too. His arm was over my belly, and we felt it at the same time. “I felt the baby,” he whispered. I was so thrilled I laughed with joy. A big moment.
But I’m also thinking about what it means when something internal becomes external, even just a little bit. When something previously unseen, unfelt, can be seen or felt by another.
There was a time when I alone knew that I was really a man. I built that trust and knowing quietly, over months, before I could speak about it with others. Some believed me right away, saw it within me as soon as I told them. Others didn’t. Some of them came to see it later, perhaps after some reflection, or even later than that, perhaps when my beard grew in. Some never did.
In a reflection on my experience with gender transition in a Zen Buddhist community, I wrote, nearly ten years ago now:
Six months to a year after I had finished my transition in most aspects of my life, sangha members began to come to me, saying how happy for me they were. With as much grace as I could muster, I would thank them and tell them I was happy for them, too. And I was happy for them, that they could now see me in a way they couldn't before. But I was also sad for them, that they had missed this opportunity to see me as male before I "looked" male, this opportunity to learn to see gender in a new way.
Today, it occurs to me that the last sentence might be rephrased as, “To learn to trust that which we cannot yet see.”
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