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?
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.