Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Those big bellies
I didn't know exactly what to think when an ex-student of mine sent me and a thousand others some gorgeously lit portraits of his pregnant wife's much distended belly. I mean, what kind of prating Puritan am I if I say that those photos weren't beautiful?--they were, after all. He'd shot them most adoringly, almost worship-fully, in fact, his wife's soon-to-be mama's breasts tastefully hidden.
Besides, who would dare to say that a torso so dramatically swollen by nothing less than life itself could be anything but beautiful? Life, after all, is what we're all about. More people should be having more babies, saith a man about two years away from Medicare. One of our gravest economic problems begins with our not reproducing enough. Once upon a time, a novelist friend of mine told me that if there was a birth in a novel, it had to be the climax since nothing on earth trumps the miraculous drama of new life.
Not that I felt somehow perverse. Honestly, looking at her pregnant belly wasn't registering in this Calvinist as some kind of sin. I didn't feel guilty. I didn't look away or shut down the window.
It just felt strange. Sorry. And, pardon me for saying it, but not even all that comely, you know? Big bellies are big bellies, aren't they? I'm so ashamed of mine that I go to the gym to try to keep it from leading me around the block.
Besides, it's not that long ago that ordinary people out here in the hinterland couldn't even bring themselves to use the word pregnant. Once Mama was, once again, "with child," the acceptably delicate manner of referring to such a (avert your eyes, please) condition was to say she was "in the family way." In Dutch, the phrase specially regarded as not only purposeful and tasteful was "in verwachting," which is to say, sweetly, "expecting."
Young maiden schoolteachers manning ye olde country schools were simply expected to quit once they got married, as if their doing the task which creates babies were a thought that had to be kept from the children, most of whom were from the farm and saw it, in the animal-raw, most every spring anyway.
Think of it this way. Sex, whose basic technique hasn't changed since Adam and Eve got it on, used to be different. And you can't help wonder how much "the pill" had to do with it. Once upon a time, sex and procreation went together like a horse and carriage. No more. Once the possibility of a baby was lifted, once conception became a matter of choice, everything changed. What was daringly pro-creational became joyfully re-creational, which is not to say it was never fun, I'm sure, at least you don't hear Adam or Abraham complaining.
The pill changed all of our lives, men and women; but to say its effects are disbursed in equal portions is silly. The truth is, the pill rerouted the paths of women's lives so that getting oneself "in the family way" became an option, rather than a given.
And when it did that, the pill also robbed sex itself of some of its ancient mysterious power, the way Ben Franklin took the fear of God out of lightning, claiming it was only a matter of electric charges and not the booming voice of the Almighty.
Look, I don't doubt for a moment that there are, somewhere back in the family histories of the dad who splashed his wife's queenly belly all over my computer screen, some grandparent who undoubtedly considers putting those pictures up in front of hundreds of eyes rather uncouth, in bad taste. After all, you don't have to talk about every last thing that happens in life, you know? Somewhere not all that far back in both mom and dad's family trees there are great-grandpas and grandmas who kept their pregnancy hidden as long as they could simply because it was bedroom stuff that good people simply didn't talk about. Maybe in the barn, with just the men.
Things have changed. Today, big naked bellies grace the covers of women's magazines. Today, we choose what once came, well, naturally. Today babies are, most often, choices. It's no wonder we make a big naked deal of them, even pre-birth. The babies in those bellies are exactly what we wanted. Praise the Lord.
And those portraits of his, of her, were tasteful, after all, carefully, even dramatically lit. He worked at making them beautiful--they did: I'm sure she wasn't sleeping.
Makes me smile. I for one am too much a Calvinist to be a true progressive--I don't subscribe to the theory that life is always getting ever sweeter and sweeter, better and better.
But I will certainly admit that with respect to big pregnant bellies, we've come a long way, baby. I for one am glad to be on this side of the divide.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:25 AM