Of all the shapeshifters I read about in European medieval literature I read during graduate school, Melusine always stood out as a story about the anxiety surrounding women’s bodies. Melusine is punished by turning into a serpent every Saturday. She risks her life on a guy who just has to trust her enough to be left alone during that time (he doesn’t). He spies on her, which causes her to turn into a full dragon.
Her visibility is a punishment. She’s still on display all over the world right now too as the Starbucks figure. She’s permanently stuck in the position of getting caught as a half serpent on a Saturday afternoon. It’s pretty invasive.
Writing was very private to me still at that time. I can see now that I was desperate for readers, not really knowing that they existed. It feels like an individual wrote it, and it just caught on fire. I didn’t know you had readers and stuff. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was writing in the shadows, when I could find a moment away from academic papers. That attention feels temptingly close, but at the same time nobody outside of school is going to read your papers. I still wasn’t in an academic circle.
Still, the first year of grad school was easily the best year of my life. I didn’t make tight friendships at school, and I wasn’t making much money. I was renting a tiny room in a town house. The commute to school was long and included trains and buses and lots of walking each way. I’d spend the whole day at school sometimes—8am teaching to 10pm classes. But I loved it. I finally wasn’t working two jobs. I no longer had two majors. During high school and undergrad, I was too busy working and making bad choices to have any real school fun (that was all going out type of fun). People in grad school respected my voice, though, and pushed me to think.
I didn’t know, at the time that I read about Melusine that I would be pregnant later that year. I knew I wanted to keep it, despite not being in the perfect situation. I didn’t have a lot of money. I wasn’t with the right guy. Then why did I feel ready? I can’t tell you, but I just did. It wasn’t logic. It was something that felt right. Maybe the only time I felt it.
I spent half my degree pregnant as hell. I didn’t full realize that being pregnant the whole school year degree wouldn’t be the same as just carrying around a few extra pounds each month. It turned out that I felt like I was only half there. I was tired all the time. I couldn’t drink or smoke any more. I was forcing a relationship to work. I knew that I literally didn’t need to be with him, but I was in deep denial about the reality of being someone’s baby mother when I should have worried about if I was ready to be a person’s mother. That took me until he really came.
I got bad student evaluations that first semester that I was 1-4 months pregnant (yes, the pregnancy was from September to June). Running down the whole list of “things you’d change about the class,” a row of them wrote “the professor.” I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there anymore. My enthusiasm for papers and research and teaching was gone. I didn’t know who I was anymore. My work wasn’t circulating in any real way. I wasn’t trying to publish. I couldn’t tell if my summer experiences showed me that I was actually a separate person from my professional endeavors or if it was the pregnancy, but either way I was detached from writing.
The thing I missed most after he was born was the ability to just go. No socks shoes coat bag. He was a part of me. Once they’re out of you, they need so much help.
I didn’t miss saying I was pregnant. I mean, looking back it seems so incredibly stupid. Such a dumb thing to do at that time. But it felt like mine. It was strange to have such a private moment of my life be so public. I had to physically/permanently admit that I decided to parent even though I didn’t have a real relationship or a real job.
I felt comfortable being pregnant. I don’t remember a day when I started really showing, but by Spring semester, I had to tell my class. I played it down like I’ll give birth after the semester is over. This won’t affect the class at all. I didn’t tell my fall semester students that I was pregnant because I wasn’t showing yet. My advisor reminded me that semester that I technically never had to tell anyone.
Near graduation, a guy who was graduating with me asked what my plans for summer were. I pointed to body and said I’m going to have a baby. It felt like graduation was an extreme way for me to just disappear, only to come back as an adjunct. But next time anyone saw me I was also going to be a real mother, whether they knew it or not.