An Act of Reckless Optimism

I’m sure some of you have noticed my attention these days has seemed to be a bit … elsewheres, and that at times I’ve passed on potential projects I might have once jumped all over. I apologize, and hope this will explain why.

The doctor kept asking me the same question.

“Well? What do you think?”

She had a big grin on her face. There was a picture, in her hand, of a tiny smudge on a sonogram. My husband sat next to me, chattering excitedly about the sound our baby’s heartbeat made: “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.” He asked questions about my diet and exercise, about the back pain I was having, about the way the baby looked and whether it was a good sign that all I talked about was chicken wings.

We’d spent 10 years trying to have a baby. Three surgeries, four doctors, two clinics, six rounds of IVF, three (early) miscarriages. Test after test after test after test. In that time, through all those months, I’d never seen a sign of life this clear.

I should have been dancing.

I just sat there, stunned.

“Are you happy?” my husband asked me, in the car on the way home.

“I think so?”

My OB, when I finally saw him three weeks later, couldn’t understand why I seemed so non-committal about things. Why I hadn’t even told my parents yet. Why I was so reluctant to talk about any aspect of the pregnancy.

“You’re pretty much out of the woods,” he said.

Have you had any pain?


Any bleeding?


Any fever?


Your tests have all been normal. Textbook. So what do you think is wrong?

I didn’t know. I didn’t think anything was wrong. But I hadn’t yet figured out how to react to anything being right.

I’ve always thought of having a child as an epic leap of faith. Not only are you giving a middle finger to the hundreds of thousands of things that can go sideways in your body or a baby’s during a pregnancy or during a birth, you’re committing to an idea: That you can make someone else’s life a good one. That he or she will be happy and succeed in a world that too often crushes dreams of joy and achievement. That your life is worth sharing with someone else, someone new. It’s an act of radical, even reckless, optimism, and I have never been an optimist.

Even if I had been accustomed to looking on the bright side, that optimism would have faded after the first positive turned negative. After the second. After the third. For a decade every time I picked up the phone, it was to deliver bad news. No, it didn’t work this time. No, I’m sorry. No, you’re not going to be a grandfather, a grandmother, an auntie.

No, you’re not going to be a father. I’m not going to be a mother.

At some point the idea of failure settled into me, like muscle memory. The coping mechanisms I developed became habits that were all but impossible to break. My answer to the idea of my own baby shower was almost, reflexively, “I have to work.” The idea of going into a maternity store to find clothes gave me the willies. When my mother began telling our extended family, I flipped: All those people I’ll have to un-tell, if something goes wrong. Something could still go wrong. Let’s wait till the next scan, I said. Maybe even the one after that. Let’s knock wood. Let’s talk about it only in whispers.

Throw some salt over your shoulder, because it could all disappear.

It’s been several months since that first, shocking test. We’re having a girl, due at the end of January. The little pictures we get now show tiny waving hands and feet, a healthy heart, a little face. She stirs and twists in the middle of the night, reacting to food, to light, to the sound of my husband’s voice. I’m putting on weight; if I don’t tell people what’s happening, sooner or later somebody’s gonna ask me if it might be time to lay off the burritos.

Up until now, when I have told someone, it’s because I’ve had to: My boss, the manager at the animal shelter where I volunteer, a friend who wonders why I’m not drinking at a party.

Their joy and congratulation makes me nervous, as if I’ve been caught in a lie.

It’s been pointed out to me by well-meaning friends that this reluctance comes across as churlishness, and understand me: I don’t want to resist enchantment. I want to dance along with the creature inside me, to sing her songs of hope instead of guarding against despair. I don’t want to raise a child with this sense of impending doom, to let this directionless, destructive fear seep into her bones as it’s seeped into mine.

I don’t want her only thought at good fortune to be that the gods are sure to confiscate it, once she’s held its sweet taste on her tongue.

When I allow myself to dream of this child, I dream of someone happy and strong and free, arms flung wide to a world that breaks on her strength like waves on a rock. I want her to be everything I’m not right now, and feel everything I’m afraid of feeling.

In the coming weeks, as I finish preparing her small nursery and put away tiny clothes, as we make plans for day care and doctor’s visits and all the other things you think you can plan for but really can’t, I’ll to rock her to sleep knowing she has a right to the courage I can’t seem to summon in myself. I hope that will be enough.


45 thoughts on “An Act of Reckless Optimism

  1. Athenae, I just couldn’t be happier for you if you were my own daughter. I’m sitting here crying tears of joy for you. You will be such a fantastic mother! And you will have so much fun! I wish you lived around here so you could come to the new parent’s group I facilitate! The first few years are so extraordinary, you learn so much and you feel so much that you never, ever, knew you could learn and feel. My youngest daughter turns 15 tomorrow and Mr. Aimai and I were just discussing children and their moral and emotional development over coffee this morning. The fascination never, ever ends.
    Because thats the way I roll I want to recommend Alison Gopnik’s two books “The Scientist in the Crib” and “The Baby as Philosopher.” Though they cover the same studies, more or less, they look at them slightly differently in terms of how babies learn and how they think. I wish they had been out when I had very young babies–they came out a few years ago and so mine were well out of the toddler stage.
    Many, many, many congratulations to you and Mr. A. I am just thrilled for you. I hope you post pix of the baby when she is here!

  2. All your friends will insist the crack van be open the day you deliver, you do know that. Consider us your doulas!
    Congratulations!!!!!! Weeping happy tears for you.

  3. I understand. My first pregnancy had a fatal birth defect, and I had to get a late term abortion. I could never relax during my next pregnancy even though all the tests showed everything would be fine. I couldn’t accept that everything would be ok. When my baby girl was born, beautiful and healthy, (19 years ago) that all changed. You will feel the joy that everyone else is anticipating for you. congratulations and good luck

  4. *sniff!*
    You have permission to be worried and uneasy. Your little girl will be happy because she’s a baby. They’re little delight-machines.
    I have a snapshot of my son experiencing something wonderful — Christmas? Snow? — for the first time. The expression on his face is my get-out-of-guilt free card. Whatever happens, I gave him that.

  5. Baby, in spite of the inevitable hurdles created by the shit-mess we’ve made of this civilization, that is gonna be the luckiest fucking kid on the planet. You. Will. Be. **AMAZING**.
    All my love and encouragement is with you.

  6. Wow, Athenae, that is so wonderful. I’m all weepy.
    Fortunately, you’ve been well-trained to parenthood by your ferrets.

  7. congratulations. kids are great. (and grandkids are even better!)
    now i understand the weekend question 😉

  8. Oh, A, I am so happy for you and Mr A. You will be amazing and amazed. You will experience such love and joy and hope when you finally hold her.

  9. Athenae,
    Your little girl will have the best role models a child could ask for. Smart, compassionate, worldly, and adoring.
    You will be marvelous, worries and all.

  10. I have been in the same situation, almost 27 years ago and am now a grandmother of 3. I too am a skeptic, but those babies of mine and of my children are the best thing that the world has to give. Rejoice and don’t look back! Congratulations!!!

  11. Super Congratulations, A! I completely understand how it’s difficult to recover optimism after repeated disappointments, but now you can put that in the past.
    You will find that the world is new again, with a child that is seeing the world with brand-new eyes.

  12. This is so exciting for you and Mr. A. I will never forget what Mr. Gato told me “we are starting out on life’s real adventure.” All true. Our son is 22 and is a wonderful, kind and loving human. We are so happy for you three.

  13. Watertiger, when you said “Your little girl will have the best role models a child could ask for” it took me a minute to realize you weren’t talking about the ferrets 🙂
    Yes, A, your little girl will have excellent role models, of both the 2- and 4-legged variety.

  14. I went through the same thing, and my baby girl is fifteen now, drawing cartoons in the other room. I don’t blame you for your terror. Some days I still think maybe the universe is going to snatch her back!
    But she is here, and she is wonderful. Yours will be too.

  15. Yes! YES YES YES YES!!! Happy Dancing for realz in celebration!!!
    So, yeah CRACK VAN on delivery day!!!
    “Kitten:3, Punch:2…PUSH!!! Dolphin…Slap:1!!!!”

  16. After 10 hard years, you’re entitled to some ambivalence/disbelief/trepidation.
    Nonetheless, my hearty congratulations to you and Mr. A. And I have to think that after January, your worries/joy will be focused on the newest A.

  17. So wonderful—congratulations! I hope you will accept my prayers of blessing and safety for you and your family.

  18. Happy tears. The baby years are wondrous. The ones that follow as well. So good to read this. Blessings to you all.

  19. Zip A DEE DOO DAH, Zip A DEE AAY, my oh my, what a wonderful day…
    Congratulations Athenae. Please promise to put as many cute little winter hats on that baby as you can.

  20. Oh, those last two paragraphs. Without knowing you beyond your words on a screen, I will say that it is enough. Trust that it is enough.

  21. So, Athenae … may she live long and prosper, along with her parents, and the Force be with you as a family, all ways and always.
    Because … you know … you deserve a happy, healthy daughter and a happy, healthy future as a family. It’s your turn, darlin’.

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